The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Subtle Cues

In a speech, the politician can use subtle visual cues in order to communicate and push their point. In Obama’s speech given on August 31, he uses visual cues to subconsciously give the viewer a sense of what he is communicating. Everything he uses, from his speaking tone, his seating and his backdrop are all a carefully planned out visual representation of what the speech is communicating and about what the speaker is trying to communicate about themselves. Obama knows and uses this to a great extent with many visual cues the average watcher will not consciously pick up on.
When looking at the backdrop of Obama’s backdrop one of the first things to see is all of the pictures of his family. This is an interesting thing to have in the background of a political speech. Obama must be trying to convey a message or point. He is representing himself as a family man, someone who loves and protects his wife and children. This could have two meanings or points he is trying to communicate. The first is his position as the paternal protector. This would represent Obama as not only the protector of his family in the pictures, but he is also the protector of his other family, the United States. His whole speech revolves around the revival of the United States economy and the ending of the war in Iraq. It seems he is trying to make a reassuring atmosphere. It’s an almost “daddy’s gonna make it all better” feeling to his speech. The second would be that he is just like the “average” American. Obama has pictures of him and his family and also just his family. He uses this as a way to connect with his audience. Through this he is making everyone feel like they are being addressed by their leader who isn’t held in a higher state but is just like every one of us. However, not only the backdrops for the speech were important clues as to Obama’s intentions.
Obama’s uses many visual cues while speaking to convey his feeling and intentions of his speech. His mannerisms are very calm and collected. He speaks straight to the point with a very confident posture. He is sitting in a way that can almost be described as a businesslike manner. He is poised as if he is proposing his idea, pitching what he is going to do to improve his business. In this case his business is the economy of the US and to pull out of a bad business deal (the war in Iraq). In this way he seems like a cutthroat no-nonsense businessman who cuts to the point and gets things done. This approach is exactly what his audience is looking for in these tough times. A slightly more subtle visual cue is the color of Obama’s tie. At first it seems like nothing until you consider the republicans color is red as well. This does not seem like a coincidence as much as a subtle yet careful visual clue. It seems to suggest Obama wants to reach out to not only to his supporters with his plans, but also to his opposition. With this it is maybe a suggestion to reach out and be willing to work together in order to complete a goal to benefit everyone.
Obama uses many good subtle visual cues to supplement his speech in order to reinforce and reassure his message. Whether or not everyone recognizes these cues they are effective subconsciously in conveying the overall intentions in Obama’s speech.

Travis Ormsby


  1. I really liked the attention you paid to all the small details in the scenery of the President’s speech. However, I felt some of your interpretations may have been a stretch—such as the color of the tie. Overall, though, I really appreciated the analogies throughout and thought that the message was good. Zach Kadow

  2. I agree with the visual cues and how they did not do it on accident but strategically placed. I also liked the analogies you used with President Obama and the family pictures he had. It makes a lot of sense and I think it gave Obama a more welcoming and warming feeling. –Alex Kaster