Obama’s Simulacra

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…

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

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