Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Master of Imagery

Whether you love him, hate him or feel absolutely nothing towards him, there is no doubting that President Obama and the team that surround him are utter masters of imagery. They - and he - know exactly what to do to create a moment.

We saw it all through the campaign, and we've seen it in the days since, when he, for example, left the stage during a Town Hall meeting to comfort a distraught homeless woman.

Today it was Canada's turn to be wooed by the small gestures designed to leave us flushed with pleasure.

In spite of a very tight schedule, President Obama made an "unscheduled" stop at Ottawa's Byward Market, a nationally-known farmer's market and Ottawa's chief informal gathering space. He bought a beavertail pastry - a beavertail - the President bought a beavertail - the quintesentially Canadian treat (coincidentally the first beavertail I ever ate was at Byward Market) - and then stopped to buy some maple leaf cookies with "Canada" written on them in red and white icing which he mentioned were for his daughters (because everybody loves his daughters). It gets better - he tried to pay for the cookies with a Canadian $20 bill (the cameras actually zoomed in on it - The President's carrying the local currency!).

His team must be extremely pleased with the results. Crowds at the market posed for pictures with him, screamed as if he was a rock star, and media outlets across the country are bubbling about his perfect nod to Canadian culture. (Not to mention the media back home -even if the AP reporter got the Market's name a bit wrong.) It's the note-perfect inclusion of the little touches - the site, the choice of a beavertail, the shape of the cookies, the pulling of the Canadian money from his pocket - that resonate with people.

He has some Canadians on his staff, which no doubt was a great asset when planning this excursion. Me, it's no secret that I'm hopeful and optimistic about his administration, although I am also holding him to account, and I think he's made some serious missteps.

But as a dedicated political junkie, watching the performance unfold at the market makes me nervous. Was it so good because he's genuinely tuned-in and because he listens to his staff?

Or was it so good because his people are awfully good at theatre?

ronnie

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7 Comments:

Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

I suspect that it's both, ronnie.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous m.e. said...

ronnie, do you really think president obama's effectiveness has been or will be because of spin entirely?

if he and his handlers think he can manipulate broadcast coverage by staging x number of warm, fuzzy teevee moments that will automatically make it on the morning or evening news, he's naive at best. producers don't always [read rarely] go looking for good things. i'll bet his handlers fervently wish that would be even remotely possible.

also, let's give him a break. he's been in office a month. he inherited a world-class mess, the extent and depth of which most of us don't even fathom yet. the traps for his every step are real and diabolically clever in the making. if there's one thing the republicans have been good at, it's destroying government. the justice department attorney firings are a prime example of this, but that's only one issue in one area that obama must deal with.

go, barack!

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is a beavertail similar to a bearclaw?

Mike's Mom

12:29 AM  
Blogger Brian Fies said...

Don't underestimate the importance of theater in his job. I think that's about 51% of it.

My concern with Mr. Obama has always been his thin resume (I'm not aware of anything memorable or impressive he accomplished in his brief years as a state legislator and senator). We'll see how it goes. He's off to a rocky start, some of which isn't his fault. I'm just kind of holding my breath to see what happens when he actually does something.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I noted that the Beavertail was a deluxe version with lots of fixin's and toppin's

2:28 PM  
Blogger ronnie said...

Thanks for all your input. I agree, imagery/theatre is important in politics. (As a civil servant, I see it - and contribute to it - at the local level.) And I certainly didn't mean to imply that his success is solely based on theatre! I am nearly finished "The Audacity of Hope", and I'm a bit amazed at how much of his campaign platform was rooted directly in the thoughts he articulates in that book. He has ideas, Big Ideas, and I can't wait to see how he tries to implement them. If he's successful, America will be a better place, especially for blue-collar people.

Brian, I'm not as concerned about his admittedly-thin resume since reading "The Audacity". He may not have done a whole lot yet, but he has some very good ideas, he knows what he wants to do. The challenge now will be to see if he can figure out, with his team, how to do it.

Mike's Mom :) a beavertail is a bit like a bearclaw in that it's big and soft; but a bearclaw (as I know it) is flavoured with molasses; beavertails are fried white pastry flavoured with cinnamon. They're heavenly!

Dave, the beavertail in question is an "Obamatail" (I am not making this up). The Beavertail people developed it during the campaign, and at the inauguration had a booth set up in Washington marketing them. I can't remember the exact recipe, but I do remember it prominently includes chocolate sauce. Choose to interpret that as imagery/theatre as you will :)

ronnie

10:28 PM  
Blogger Dann said...

All I can add is that it is pretty easy to generate positive media coverage when the media is on your side in the first place.

That's a criticism of the media rather than of Mr. Obama, who I like on a personal level very much.

Regards,
Dann

8:17 PM  

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