Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The US presidency and Harry Potter's magic invisiblity cloak

the s(h)itting president
According to the legend, the Cloak of Invisibility has the power to shield the wearer from being seen by Death. - Harry Potter - Wikipedia
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In the picture that illustrates this post, a picture which appears in all the major American media, an actor playing the current President of the United States, strikes the pose of Rodin's "Thinker", obviously engaged in having a bowel movement.

During the entire presidential campaign, primaries included, many people, both for and against, have been asking, "Can an African-American be President of the United States?"

They have been missing the whole point.

Not only can a black man be President of the United States of America; it is now a essential requirement for the job.

Until seeing the poster of Josh Brolin as Oliver Stone's "W" sitting on a toilet in cowboy boots with his pants around his ankles under the caption "Sitting president", I admit I didn't understand how essential this was either. But, on seeing the poster, I had an epiphany, a revelation, and saw the whole question clearly for the first time.

Today, after eight years of George W. Bush; as the image and the brand and the reality of American power unravels, only a black man can be president of the United States .

Why is this?

Not because, as Andrew Sullivan suggests, a brown face in the White House will make us suddenly beloved in places like Pakistan... it wont, not at all, perhaps quite the contrary.

But rather because nobody would dare to put a black person on a poster like the one advertising Oliver Stone's film, that's why.

Political caricature is ill willed and cruel and after centuries of our cruelty it is taboo for civilized white people to ridicule a person of color.

For example, Steve Bell, the Guardian's brilliant cartoonist, characterizes George W. Bush as a chimpanzee. Obviously if Bell drew Barack Obama as a chimpanzee he would be considered a vicious, racist beast.

Probably the most famous political cartoon of all time was Herblock's 1954 drawing of Richard Nixon crawling out of a sewer... Would any American cartoonist ever dare draw something similar of Obama no matter how much he disagreed with him? Would a major newspaper like Herblock's Washington Post ever dare to print such a thing?

To draw a caricature ridiculing a politician you have to cruelly exaggerate the victim's salient physical characteristics. How do you draw or represent any African-American with ill intent without crossing the line into racism?

Barack Obama pictured on a movie poster sitting in a warm bathroom, wearing comfortable cowboy boots... defecating?


This is what I call the "Harry Potter magic cloak of invisibility" that Americans don when they cloak themselves in Barack Obama.

By electing Barack Obama, Americans want to protect themselves from themselves and at the same time protect themselves from the world's ill will.

The political climate in America is toxic and it has been since Richard Nixon launched his Southern Strategy and caused Republicans to pause from their golf and stock coupon clipping long enough to plunge into neofascist populism and charismatic religion. Reading the traffic, commentaries, forums and blogs of the American Internet, I find myself sickened by how vindictive, petty, personal and ad hominem it is; both on the left and on the right. If it has been so in relatively good times, there is no reason to expect it to sweeten up in truly bad times.

Things are very bad and they are getting much worse.

Whoever is elected president is in deepest doo doo even before their inauguration.

The country is going to be in a bad mood and surly, but commentators, cartoonists and even most popular bloggers will walk on eggs when treating president Obama. At this time the default position for Obama supporters, when confronting anyone skeptical of Barack Obama, his personality or accomplishments, is to treat them as racist. As president Obama finally takes his bruises from reality instead of speculation, this position should harden. The taboo against racial abuse should guarantee America at least a few months of most welcome peace.

Things have gone so far that electing the untested Obama and invoking this taboo, is probably the only way Americans have of restoring, in their own eyes, the sanctity and the prestige of the center of American political life, the office of the presidency, the post of the nation's commander in chief.

And when someday a million Shiites take to the streets in Iraq shouting, "Death to America! Death to Obama!", they too can be dismissed as racists.

That is how far things may have gone. DS

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Late night comedians, for example, are afraid to make fun of Obama, because 1) they support him; 2) their audiences support him and don’t respond well to Obama jokes; and 3) if a joke happens to come out the wrong way, their careers are in jeopardy.

It will be an interesting presidency for them, once the victory glow wears off.