Friday, January 25, 2008

Barack Obama (Size Does Matter)

I received the photo on the left, along with the following message, in my email box a few days ago:

Senator Barack Obama, Governor Bill Richardson, Senator Hillary Clinton and Ruth Harkin stand during the national anthem.

Barack Hussein Obama's photo (that's his real name)......the article said he REFUSED TO NOT ONLY PUT HIS HAND ON HIS HEART DURING THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE, BUT REFUSED TO SAY THE in the hell can a man like this expect to be our next Commander-in-Chief????

A quick Google search turned up this page.

What strikes me most about the photo is the body language and proportions of the people arranged on the stage, not the scurillous suspicions raised in the message about Obama's fidelity to the country, a point I'll return to later.

First, let's deconstruct the elements that make up the photograph and see what we can discover.

Obama certainly appears to be the most relaxed of the four: shirt sleeves rolled below his elbows, fingers hooked together in front of his crotch, body centered, shoulders square, gaze focused. He is the tallest figure in the photo and stands in front of and just outside the frame of the American flag. He is firmly positioned at the forefront of the group.

Richardson, to me, looks like a deer caught in the glare of the headlights. His body is positioned in full frontal view of the camera, his head and torso surrounded by white stars against a blue background. From the camera's perspective, he appears half a head shorter than Obama. He's wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots, and an off-the-rack sports jacket. Despite the causual attire, he appears a bit uncomfortable to me. His mismatched clothing sends a discordant message, in contrast to Obama's better assembled, more collected look. Clothes may not make the man, but they can certainly help to define him.

Hillary is a shrunken figure, compared to the two male candidates, due to the camera angle. Her head is well below the level of Richardson's shoulder. The outward positioning of her body is similar to Richardson's, but her head is turned to the right. Unlike Richardson, the fingers of the hand placed over her heart are closed and her left arm is flat against the side of her body. Her outfit is fairly nondescript. She stands with her nose pressed against the blue square of stars that seems to rest on her right shoulder. She's the incongruous element at the center the composition, emphasizing the gross distortions in body size of each person in the shot.

Ruth Harkin is the least consequential person in the photo, and the most ill-at-ease. Her neck is bent, throwing her head out of alignment with her body. The flesh of her arms is exposed and her pants are too short to cover her bare ankles. The acute angle of her arm brings her right hand closer to her neck than her heart. She is clutching a paper in her left hand. She is the most isolated figure in the picture, analogous to the white chair on the far right--separate from the group and greatly diminished in size.

The photograph definitely casts Obama as a larger-than-life figure, standing a full half-head taller than Richardson. The flag, used as backdrop, proves to be an interesting measuring device that symbolically reveals the stature of the candidates.

The following video clip of the event offers an entirely different perspective from that of the photograph.

As far as the email comment goes, I think that anyone who can resist falling into the conventional postures most people automatically assume when in the public arena, would make an excellent commander-in-chief. I hope the next American president will be able to rise above national and partison interests and adopt a truly global perspective on world events. I think Obama has shown the greatest capacity to move in that direction.

Is there anyone in the field brave enough (or foolish enough, depending on your perspective) not to pledge allegience to God or to country? Such a gesture would be the kiss of death to any candidate. Obama is much too savvy for that.

Here is another email about Obama currently in circulation. Dirty politics, as usual.
The candidate who follows the dictates of his own conscience, who resists political posturing and pandering, wins my vote.

I'm intrigued by the symbolic content underlying the campaigns. I'm paying attention, trying to decode the deeper message, carried away on the powerful currents of this time cycle. It's all a matter of perspective:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

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