On August 31st, President Obama gave a speech about the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The speech is sure to be critiqued by hundreds of analysts from across the country. The scene of the speech, however, is sure to be less of an object of debate. But this does not mean it is any less important. Analysis the scene of Obama’s oration brings to light the many emotional responses that the speech is meant to invoke to American citizens. By exploring the image’s two layers, the intents of Obama’s decorators become clear.
The first layer of the photo shows President Obama sitting at an empty desk. Logically, the desk is empty in an attempt to eliminate distractions and draw the viewers’ attention to Obama. Clearly, then, the attire and posture of President Obama must be important. His suit is simple, his tie plain—the look of a businessman. This image is meant to tap into every American’s collective perception of a businessman, hoping to bring to surface thoughts of power, control, and wisdom. At the same time, however, Obama’s posture is much more welcoming. His fingers are interlocked and face is ever reassuring—the image may be intended to remind the viewers of a father having a stern—yet loving—talk with his son. When I personally ponder his posture, I immediately think of a father telling his family he lost his job—he is firm and in control, while at the same time calming and reassuring. These two plays at the audience’s collective memory may seem conflicting, but together they are meant create a powerful, yet approachable, persona.
After a minute or two, the viewers’ eyes are sure to wander to the backdrop, where multiple picture frames stand containing photographs of President Obama’s personal life. Again, these pictures are used as a device to relate to the audiences collective memory—every dad has pictures of his wife and kids at work. The photos clearly are attempting to make us as viewers relate to the president. The pictures, though, also have another purpose. They act as models for civic life. Obama’s scene decorators realized that a speech such as this is an opportunity to subtly drop hints as to what encompasses an acceptable American life. The pictures show traditional American values, such as getting married, having children, and living a happy life together.
While at first look the scene of Obama speaking may seem ordinary, the truth is actually quite contrary. Within this image are powerful devices used to play at the collective memory of American citizens while, at the same time, demonstrating to them a model for civic life. The government clearly understands the power a simple image can have.