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Obama's Simulacra


Posted by Mark Sinclair, 25 July 2008, 14:34    Permalink    Comments (18)

Obama poster Berlin
A poster for Barack Obama's speech in Berlin yesterday. But was
there substance beneath this well-honed visual styling?

Standing amidst a crowd of 200,000 Berliners yesterday, writes CR contributor Daniel West, Barack Obama was Jean Baudrillard's messiah. As his sermon boomed over the Tiergarten, our presence was explained: this was a pilgrimage to postmodernism, not politics. We came to snatch a tiptoe glimpse of the man who has dominated our inboxes, TVs and newspapers. A man whose logos and slogans and soundbites have so comprehensively flooded our collective consciousness. We came to witness reality. But Obama's performance was not a speech, it was a simulacrum...

Vast screens relayed his face to a flotilla of mobiles and cameras. Speaker stacks saturated the air with his voice. A hall of LCD mirrors stood between his flesh and mine; image cannibalising image, echo breeding echo. Obama's rhetoric, too, was a hymn to superficiality. Pledges to halt poverty, discrimination and climate change replaced concrete policies with a glass pyramid of promises.

Obama's truisms rang with the hollow comedy of Patrick Bateman's pseudo-moralistic spiel against domestic violence and AIDS. Like Bateman in American Psycho, Obama lives as a construct; a referent; the crown prince untarnished by power.

As stars and stripes fluttered above Tiergarten's Bratwurst stands yesterday, Obama became the American dream: the hotdog, the Chevy, the I-HEART-NY, YES-WE-CAN indulgence of fantasy. He was, and remains, a virginal dream preceding the nightmare of truth.

Daniel West is a freelance journalist based in Berlin


Not sure about the view from ubercoolische Mitte or whatever simulacrum or observer-created reality this fey dose of Critical Theory 101 came from, but here in the States the 'nightmare of truth' has been going on for most of the 21st century.

But hey, if BO's too full of truisms, there's a candidate from Arizona and whole bunch of folks over here who'll agree with Baudrillard, go ahead, join in the chant: The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.
2008-07-25 15:15:32

"nightmare of truth"?

riiiiiight. So that's your reality, is it?
2008-07-25 15:48:28

I applaud CR in daring to raise any critical questions about senator obama and his policies (or lack thereof). It seems as though everyone in the creative community at large has uniformly thrown critical dialogue out the window in favor of the easier to digest bush=hitler/obama=savior dichotomy. Ahh, if only the issues were that simple. I must have missed the day in art school where we all traded in our brains for an unquestioning membership to the democratic party.
2008-07-25 21:48:13

This post is what's commonly known in interweb land as off topic. Since when did CR do low grade sensationalist political analysis with a few big words thrown in to sound clever? Call me crazy but I prefer the usual mix of high quality design and advertising...
2008-07-25 21:56:12

The post is fine as far as it goes: as a subjective account of being in the midst of a giant piece of political theater. Whether it is a massive, staged rally or a mediascape, the content is usually designed to take a back seat to the experience or image, respectively. Twas ever thus.

The fallacy is to conclude that this construction is the full extent of the reality worth considering. If it were, then the choice between candidates is as meaningful as changing the channel.

But related to nick's point above, no one can seriously argue that after eight seasons of the Bush Show, the world's in the same state as if we'd all been watching the Gore Channel instead.

But behind/below/alongside this simulacrum is actual policy, actual executive decisions, and exercise of real power over the apparatus of the state. No matter how unlikely, it's incumbent on a citizen to look beyond the "soundbites" and study the "actual policies" herself.

It's the kind of communication that's better suited to a website than a concert-sized rally in front of a largely non-voting audience anyway.
2008-07-26 14:35:41

Well... we all know there's a bunch of f***ers waiting to fly over the White House searching for more Meat, but, Obama is not going to save the world either. The real problem is that a politician cannot fight the economic system that is responsible of it all, even of himself... He might avoid the Hawks from getting money from taxes to feed their "Security Companies" in Irak or wherever (and so on...), but they'll still be speculating with our lives, our food, our energy, our environment... etc etc... Although, if Obama is the best among the worse, then welcome in man...
2008-07-26 18:04:07

First part of the article was good, and i was expecting a good article on how Obama has used design in his campain. THAT would be interesting, an article (although well-written) on how bad and mean Obama is.
2008-07-26 18:29:38

oh yes critical dialogue -

seems like some people take it for deep thought

to mention "that we should be critical" as if they just had an epiphany

gues what i figured that one out in kindergarden, when a "friend" of mine stole my sand mold, while we were sitting in a sand box (he was my friend, you know?)

and i tell you - he is still my friend

why? because when i stole his sand mole, he did not start hitting me , but we argued .
both made our point, realised that we both made a mistake, and stayed friends -

then he gave me a hug - just a symbol you know?, but works great! -

maybe Mr.O. lives a construct, but at least its not imsosmartism
2008-07-26 22:31:53

Yes. I was just around the corner from this well constructed show too..
I don't really get it. What the hell is he doing going on tour?
I mean, fair dues but - can't he wait until he actually is 'President'?
action man
2008-07-27 16:10:24

Whilst I can understand some Americans deep desire to be rid of Bush, the corporate duopoly that runs American Capitalism isn't about to put up a candidate that really challenges anything, like Blair it's all in the show with no substance behind it, or rather all show to sell the same old substance behind it…pro-Israel, pro-war (in Afghanistan if not Iraq) etc etc…it would be a simulacra if it were not frighteningly real.

Question is for those of us interested in design, what the f*ck is Shepherd Fairley and loads of other designers throwing in his weight with it all? I mean can you really be that stupid?!

The only hope with Obama is that he raises hopes to such a degree that when he doesn't deliver that hope turns to anger and people do something.
noel douglas
2008-07-28 04:10:36

Ho ho! Let's not go into a frenzy here! This is a far cry from Gonzo journalism Mr. West!
What the dumb Child President and his criminal scum have managed to fuck up in those last 8 years can't possibly be undone by 1 generation. So why bother!
No these are professionals after all and so are We! Thank god for choice Mr. West, we (well the american people to be precise) can always vote for War Hero McCain instead and let the Bush family reign the world as they did for the last 25 years.
Thank god for Choice, Chevy's and Hot Dogs Mr. West!
Not Another Graphic Designer
2008-07-28 10:37:05

Is Obama a socialist? Because the poster suggests he might be. Hail the new new left.
2008-07-28 11:40:36

well said. I agree. Visually as well, he's def the new left, which by that turns right. there's no dif, really btn a ne0-conservative and a neo-liberal. That's all the choices we're given, pro-war, pro-globalism, pro-israel....Also, I heard there were no banners or posters allowed at the rally, just incase, which seems trange to me from someone who claims to be a democrat. Blue is the new red!
2008-07-29 22:45:42

I completely disagree with slevlessness. I've just found reading the article and the many comments very interesting and helpful (my dissertation is developing on this topic). I think it most certainly has a place on the CR Blog, purely because as visual practitioners 'broader thinking' is very important and simulacrum is something I feel we all need to be very aware of. Its inherence in mass visual culture is very apparent and to see its roots in a political sense is as interesting and as important, if not more. Also isnt it interesting how in the poster BO appears with his face lit directly from the front and in a tint of blue? I've seen this re-occuring in many photos that have obviously had their colours edited.. How about that for simulacrum? Thanks Daniel.
Steve Fenn
2008-07-31 00:20:31

Great post.

I completely agree with Dan and I also agree with Steve. What's also ironic about this, is that I was surfing around the web and I noticed an interesting t-shirt.

It was Obama wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
Greg Mihalko
2008-08-01 14:49:40

Interesting...I always thought the simulacrum hides the fact that there is no reality beneath it. I think it's clear, based on comments to this post, that the reality of corporate/capitalism-conscious professional politicians maintaining the American status quo, is in fact, reality.

Does it not give weight to the hype surrounds Obama, to affirm the notion that his so-called "simulacrum" is upheld so tenaciously by countless people around the world?

If his image is so independently influential, then perhaps all he needs to do, politically speaking, is secure and maintain a constant "poster-boy" facade.

Otherwise, he will simply be the next president, in a long line of presidents, who spends his time in office being as typical as the bloke who came before him.

To refer to Obama's rhetoric as "superficial" is merely tipping one's cap to the ever-pervasive nightmarish truth America just can't seem to dislodge itself from: politics is, and has been, a superficially competitive, competition of superficiality.

The simulacrum has reconstituted itself into a dissolution of its own
2008-11-14 08:46:14

Other than Mark Steyn and myself, Daniel West is only other person I know who has identified Obama as a simulacrum in the fashion of Baudrillard's description.

Barack Obama has been destroyed. President Obama is a simulacrum. Any resemblance of the latter to the former is purely coincidental and intended to make the simulacrum seem "more real" than the original.
2009-09-11 19:40:17

2010-05-17 08:30:13

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