Election 2008

Open Thread: Obama Poster Likened to Hitler's

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On today's show, Steve Seidman, chair of the strategic communication department at Ithaca College, talked about the iconography of Democrat Barack Obama.

Seidman says some of the campaign's posters remind him of images from history. He argues the "Dream" poster, which shows Obama with a halo, might offend some religious people. But it was this bit that got our Twitter crowd going:

"He's gazing into the distance, almost like a visionary. This is a common approach I've noticed in my research. I would say that I've seen Nixon posters, Carter posters, George Bush — the second Bush — posters, even Adolf Hitler. Posters in his election campaigns in Germany have shown him gazing into the distance."

Judge for yourself: Google Images for "Hitler election posters"

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I'm sorry, but the "looking off in the distance" pose is simply iconic. To bring up Hitler smacks of Seidman being purposefully inflammatory. How about he looks like Captain Kirk? I mean, come on, if anything it's a cliche of the noble leader, nothing more.

Sent by Kerstin Upmeyer (Kittydew) | 8:49 AM | 6-30-2008

I guess George Washington was a Nazi?

Seriously, that comment was pretty dumb. That pose is a standard portrait pose. Sure, Hitler is seen that way, and Chairman Mao, and George Washington.

And I think we have a photo of my grandmother from 1957 posted the same way.

Perhaps the Hitler comment was meant to be provocative or something. I'm not sure what he was trying to imply.

But if his research is demonstrating that portraits show faces of people staring in the distance, well, it's not exactly groundbreaking research.

Sorry to be so snarky, but, really, am I missing something here?

Sent by Carlo (cscan on twitter...) | 9:44 AM | 6-30-2008

Wasn't he actually trying to to say that the pose is, indeed, quite common? He mentions Nixon, Carter, and G.W. Bush before he mentions Hitler. Hitler probably wasn't the best example to use, to be sure, but I believe he was trying to say what you all are saying as well: that this is a pretty common strategy. Also, to give the Hitler comment a little more context, Dr. Seidman recently published an essay titled "The design of Nazi election posters, and American advertising and public relations." So it might have been on his mind more than usual.

Sent by Jonathan NIchols-Pethick | 10:16 AM | 6-30-2008

I totally wore my "Obama for Yo Mama" (it has a picture of him in the middle) shirt yesterday, when I was in NYC. I love the reactions I get when I wear it.

Sent by Tarah | 11:25 AM | 6-30-2008

@Jonathan --

I don't know *what* he was trying to say. If he was trying to say that portraits often show the subject staring into space, well that's not at all groundbreaking.

Which suggests it was perhaps what you mentioned, drawing a link between Nazi propaganda and American advertising techniques (the latter is certainly something politics sits squarely within).

But, again, to my point with the portraits of GW, the "staring into space" look has been around much longer than the Nazis.

So, I just don't get it.

I did a quick google search (scholar, too...), and couldn't find a link to that paper -- does anyone know where it can be found?

Maybe the Prof. can wade into the comments here and help us out...

Sent by Carlo | 11:49 AM | 6-30-2008

@ Carlo -
The citation for the essay is:

Seidman, S. A. (2008). The design of Nazi election posters, and American advertising and public relations. In M. D. Avgerinou , R. E. Griffin & C. G. Spinillo (Eds.), Visual literacy beyond frontiers; information, culture and diversity: Selected readings (pp. 193-200). Loretto, PA: International Visual Literacy Association.

It looks like a publication of papers form a conference and thus may be difficult to find (I got the citation from Dr. Seidman's Ithaca webpage).

As for his point (whatever it really was), my guess is that he wouldn't disagree with you; he just may not have had the time to really elaborate...hard to say.

Sent by Jonathan NIchols-Pethick | 12:17 PM | 6-30-2008

@Carlo,
He wasn't talking about portraits per se, he was talking about political campaign materials. I belive his thesis was that in recent years these materials have not featured depictions of the candidates, but that (particularly unofficial) campaign posters for Obama have bucked this trend and depicted the candidate in way that seems more closely related to campaigns of old.

The mention of Hitler's propaganda was a part of describing the long history of this style of campaign collateral. There was nothing in what he said that compared Obama to Hitler, or to any of the other politicians that he mentioned, in any way.

Sent by Maura | 12:57 PM | 6-30-2008

Two words: Godwin's Law.

Sent by Matthew C. Scallon | 1:56 PM | 6-30-2008

I like this conversation regarding poli-speak and comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis. I've noticed in the last few years different persons and organizations using these types of comparisons to degrade and attack opponents of their cause. This to me is a definite cheap shot and dirty tactic in any argument (but somehow especially heinous on a level as serious as politics).

The fact is many comparisons can be made to the Third Reich... and SHOULD BE made in the most grave of situations -- not as attacks but rather as warnings not to repeat terrible periods of history. Because when all is said and done the Nazi rise to power was relatively average -- the birth of another crazed fascist state isn't as unlikely as one would hope. But when political candidates/pundits toss these comparisons around idly, it cheapens the seriousness of a very real and serious topic.

So with that in mind, I think a lot of us get especially defensive when we hear the H&N-words tossed about. But in this case I don't think the speaker spoke of Hitler casually -- on the contrary -- I thought the mentioning of Hitler was very thoughtful... He wasn't making a comparison of ideols to Obama, but rather of the political propaganda methods that is used by any aspiring leader. And I would tend to agree that any sort of propaganda -- be it democratic, communist, fascist, or whatever -- is all a little too similar for my comfort!

Also @ Kerstin... Captain Kirk! Kudos to you, my friend... I too would like to see the beloved space captain referenced more often in the contemporary media! Haha! ;-)

Sent by Dan Kovalcik | 2:30 PM | 6-30-2008

@Jonathan -- thanks for the citation. And I agree it probably more a time thing than anything...

@Maura -- I didn't at all think he was comparing Obama to Hitler. My GW line was just a silly joke. (Tongue-in-cheek hardly comes over well on the web...)

But I'm still a little stuck on the portrait thing. I mean, isn't that an iconic depiction of certainly American leaders? It's just the medium has changed, from oil paintings to paper posters to now digital graphics. I guess what's new is that we haven't used it, and now it's back.

I guess I gotta read the Prof's paper...

Another note -- the Obama folk art thing has been picked up earlier -- see here and the link that's inside, too.

Sent by Carlo | 2:35 PM | 6-30-2008

have you seen the barack obama bicycle spoke cards? available via obamaspoke.com.

the original design was a poster inspired by shepard fairey's first obama poster and can be found via artbymags.com.

and tshirts - cafepress.com/artbymags

Sent by margaret coble | 3:49 PM | 6-30-2008

These are awesome Obama posters!!! Where can i get them to buy?

Sent by Leo | 6:02 PM | 6-30-2008

@Dan, hey I do what I can. :-D

Seriously, he really has the noble visage of James Tiberius Kirk in that image... except for larger ears.

And @Matt, I agree, Godwin's, it never fails. I've seen discussions about dog breeds end that way. Sigh.

Sent by Kerstin Upmeyer (Kittydew) | 10:56 AM | 7-1-2008

I just can't take them seriously, they're so over the top.

Sent by Jessie G | 1:36 PM | 7-1-2008

I would say false prophet, I voted for him, and i will vote for him again even though i don't like what i hear.

Sent by William | 11:53 PM | 7-1-2008