how to disappear completely a semiotics study
On July 15 I examined the two major Presidential candidates. Their respective and official Facebook.com pages served as my platform. I went to Facebook because Facebook levels the playing field: every candidate must fill out required information and no monies can alter the basic Facebook.com format. Forcing a politician’s hand is how you discover what cards they truly hold. For example one must like something. One cannot halfway like—it must be a click adding to the thumbs up number, showing alliances, friendships, and interests. Also pictures have to be displayed—and here is where I believe we will find gold. And so through semiotic analysis I will closely read the text, images, and between the lines of President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney. Everything on the candidate’s pages are a choice, put there only after heavy scrutiny and think-tanking. And it is with the help of semiotic’s anti-reading that we will learn the true identities of these politicians.
To keep any latent tendencies silent, I will only examine the front pages of each man and the last three things posted as their status. I will not drill into any hyperlinks to keep the variables as pure as possible. President Obama’s facebook.com will be explained first. Here is his cover photo:
The photo is the largest on President Obama’s page and remains a constant presence, statically headlining his Facebook page. The center point of the photo is of a white baby. The baby becomes marked inside of our President’s darker hands. Not only is the blonde kid white but so is his baby clothes. And of course, the baby is smiling. Obama’s campaign already seems to be saying—your future family is in sturdy hands. Not only are they sturdy hands, they are also heavily marked—gold ring and black watch. Displaying Mr. Obama’s left hand is no accident of course. We are reminded of the notion of family man with the gold ring. The watch however, tells us much more. The watch is black and traditional (analog instead of digital). The watch matches the rolled up sleeves and blue collar. The President is screaming for us to believe he is a traditional, hard-working, family man.
Mr. Obama’s cover photo is dominated by two main colors: blue and white. For party purposes, I suppose, we see backdrop of blue. In front of the blue appears an army of old white folks. Not counting the baby, I count 9 white elders—even white hair and an organizational fez can be seen in the background. Either old white people love Obama or he really wants us to see things that way.
With a hyper bright light on his face, President Obama smiles, surrounded by all black for his profile picture. The absent background forces the face into the foreground—outlining his smile in iconic fashion. We see much of the President’s upper body. Never do we see his legs or shoes; for icons don’t wear shoes. Shoes become grounders, connecting to the Earth, which is the opposite of deifying the icon. The same can be said for the camera angle. We are not permitted here to look our leader directly in the eyes. We must watch the bright smile from below. Which may be seen as we are his support or he may be pointing out his advantage: he’s already President. And again, the skewing of the camera frame adds to myth. And I ask, is there a greater myth than our nation’s Presidency?
“This page is run by Obama for America, President Obama’s 2012 campaign. To visit the
White House Facebook.com page, go to facebook.com /WhiteHouse.”
Semiotically, there isn’t much to his “About” section. We know he’s a politician. He wants us to know that a group (Obama for America / President Obama’s 2012 campaign) runs the Facebook.com page. So here, I think he wants the mirage of people backing him—because people like joining larger groups it. It adds comfort to know one supports a cause instead of just backing a single person—and of course, the President’s victory is really for just one person. The President is also reminding us that he is the incumbent with the mention of the White House. The Obama for America crew could have put anything in the “About” section and they chose to remind us that the incumbent has much support and is already an establishment of American culture. To this end, we find the “About” section isn’t really about Mr. Obama at all—it’s carefully crafted to remind us again, of the President’s myth.
Next to the “About” section we find a place to “Donate,” “Store,” and “Get Updates”—the donate box is in a red box and in white rounded font it says “DONATE.” The box is given a heightened appearance with a shadow around the box. The 3-D effect makes a person want to click, exploiting some of our primal urges—namely here, the urge to push buttons. And the color red, conjures panic, danger, and attention. Therefore, one may say, the President needs donations in a panic.
For the “Store” and “Get Updates hyperlinks,” we see only Mr. Obama’s campaign sign—meaning our contribution doesn’t simply go to Mr. Obama the man, but Obama / Biden, the mythic figurehead of the Democratic Party. The circular symbol looks suspiciously like something we’d find on a Pepsi can. I wonder if Pepsi Corp. contributes to his “DONATE” box? It is in this way I find the President attempting to brand his name as a trademark—or better yet, as an already established myth. We can now safely say the President understands the advantage offered by incumbency.
Posted 10 hours ago:
“He’s fighting for American families – join him: http://OFA.BO/JcTmR5 ”
The picture recalls those inside school classrooms country-wide. It is indeed a mythic posture, with the man on the right speaking actively the words we read on the left. The words are put inside of grey-colored quotations. Coloring the quotation marks grey removes the text from the current time—instilling a historic feel to the statement. Of course, the quote belongs to the (all caps letters) PRESIDENT OBAMA—yet another reminder of the incumbent and the myth! Sleeves rolled up again, he uses the word “work” twice, which is all another sell of Obama the blue-collared workin’ man. Open arms and large hands convey a message of welcoming and safety, and here, the Obama people use it to match the workingman’s message. I must also notice before continuing the sea of white folks littering his background.
72,819 people like this picture 6,140 Comments
Likes (in order)
African Americans for Obama – Politician
Latinos for Obama – Politician
Women for Obama – Politician
Joe Biden – Politician
Michelle Obama – Public Figure
The President’s first three likes have been absent from his page so far. No African Americans. No Latinos. And no women. Therefore the three groups are Mr. Obama’s baseline—or rather backbone of his support chain. The President is confident in curtailing the minority vote, so we have seen only majority types so far. It should be safe to say, minorities are largely responsible for Mr. Obama’s election. They will be this time too, only, incumbent Obama must think they will vote less this time, and that’s why we find the target audience quite different around the “DONATE” box.
Joe Biden is certainly a politician as listed, but are we to think of Michelle Obama as a “Public Figure” because she is a girl or what? And so I ask the Obama Campaign, in what way is the First Lady not a politician? Perhaps through semiotics, we’ve discovered the liberals aren’t as liberal with their thinking as advertised.
Barack Obama added a milestone from October 3, 1992 to his timeline: Barrack Obama marries Michelle Robinson in Chicago.
The photo is the first of his wife on Mr. Obama’s page so far. It is also photo-shopped heavily, forcing the image into a nostalgic, old-school antiquity; for theirs is a love born of tradition and long lasting from the past—the family man, the traditional man, and the smiling man is presented again.
I found another example of the forced nostalgia. This one comes from 1992 on the President’s facebook.com timeline:
23 hours ago
“A warm welcome from a fellow ice cream fan in Cedar Rapids today.”
91, 114 like this 4,602 comments
This photograph scored much higher likes and comments than the quotation image. People must like ice cream. I do. It is not until we take in the image’s action before we notice the woman taking an i-phone picture of the event. The picture wasn’t taken by the lady—the perspective is from the left. Other men photograph the event too. The many cameras form to signify an event. Mr. Obama has turned ice cream eating with kids into a historical spectacle with the co-signing of the many cameras. Notice the large man, bending at the waist to shake the young lady’s hand. He’s talking to her and she smiles. Here, we find another attempt at turning the Executive Branch Head into the common man—sleeves rolled up and all!
Barack Obama shared Michelle Obama’s photo 21 minutes ago:
“The First Lady made some new friends while visiting an Orlando YMCA yesterday. Thanks for the great visit, Obama for America – Florida!”
9,254 people like this 363 comments
President Obama shares his wife’s photograph of her and some children. Now the President’s wife is bending down to the kids’ level and this illustrates a semiotically relevant theme of the politician: bending down to interact with children. On a primal level we must value those that are kind to our youngest humans, as they are the ones to inherit our work. And for some more evidence here’s another two from Mr. Obama’s timeline:
Barack Obama shared Latinos for Obama‘s photo.
“Thanks to President Obama, young, law-abiding undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children—the Dreamers—are protected from deportation. Stand with the President in support of a more fair, efficient, and just immigration policy: http://OFA.BO/UrQPep”
This particular post takes the color, font, and layout of many beer advertisements, namely Miller Lite, which often uses the same font, colors, and badge-like triangle (the signifier for an award won) in the top right corner. And here, the Obama people want me to equate illegal immigration with “right thing to do.” Beer commercials and this advertisement are aimed at similar people then: folks that need to be told what is right—and folks that buy into the Democratic Party’s notion that morality choices are the same as strategic ones.
And now let me move on to our President’s opponent, Mitt Romney.
The image is dark. There are no crowds surrounding Mr. Romney. Perhaps he wants us to see America as a lost, black, and dark place—where he is confidently standing at the podium. The font is white and sharp, conjuring authoritarian motives. And the message is clear: Obama is not working. Notice he is careful about keeping the word “President” away, because President implies power which Romney is replacing with his own power icon: the podium. As people we cannot process two polarizing power symbols. To our ordered minds power must fall into an exact hierarchy, so Romney ensures his is seen as central. But we do not see Mitt Romney’s own name in his headlining picture. The only name is of Obama’s and it’s there twice. Therefore we may say that Romney is the opposite of Obama in binary terms. Romney is literally standing on a platform of anti-Obama, so much so, he uses slogans like “Repeal & Replace” rather than advertising under his own brand name.
Our supposed savior is shown in a white shirt, and of course the sleeves are rolled. To this end we understand Romney to be a workingman too—only his collar is white. To add to the mythic image, a bright light shines upon his head. And his head is certain, brow sharp, upright, and slightly smiling. In this way his people are showing Romney as a solution (standing in dark) to a problem. The smirk tells us that he’s got a secret and the posture stands with a moral firmness—or so they are making the case. And where is Mr. Romney looking? As an answer he fills the exact center of the photograph, though we as an audience view him from bellow. We watch in a crowd while he looks at others in the distance. Looking at us would need the prerequisite of familiarity and comfort, which he doesn’t believe he has, so he stares in the distance, hoping the crowd will notice the problem more than the solution. Here, the problem is created by the Republicans in the form of Obama. And to negate Obama, the answer is “Reform,” therefore a vote for Romney becomes the only default.
Whereas Mr. Obama wanted to pop out of the black background as an already established icon, Mr. Romney must borrow some of the flag’s mythic appeal for himself. Both Obama’s and Romney’s main headshots are an angle going from top left to bottom right. In this way, we make eye contact first to ingest the man’s face before moving on to his clothes. Romney does not include his name, as he’s more interested in matching his sure brow with the stars and stripes. No doubt, fewer symbols to decode must be the better.
To learn more visit my website:
http://www.mittromney.com or follow me on Twitter
http://twitter.com/mittromney or @mittromney
The language here is all straight forward and plain. He is interested in getting you to see his name and he wants you to follow his Twitter. It is interesting how Romney advertises his Twitter account, while Obama has ignored the media so far as I could tell. Obama linked his ‘about section’ to the White House’s mythos. Here, Romney is actively attacking the President’s myth, with his own myth of social media culture. Romney then becomes a bit of a counter culturalist, a revolutionary of sorts, again echoing the myth that we are currently flawed as a nation.
Next to his information is the Donation Box, Official Romney 2012 Gear box, and a link to an area called “Stand with Mitt.” The donation box has the backdrop of Romeny’s name. This is the first time we see it besides as his name, and perhaps he’s alerting those seeking to donate how little name recognition he has—meaning he needs more money. Here, I understand Mr. Romney to be playing up the fact that no one knows who he is. Instead of “Shop” like Obama’s page invited, Romney equates election with battle, voting with destroying and t-shirts and pins with “gear.” The term itself (gear) conjures an image of survival. His carefully chosen words are to carefully force a subtle fear. The fear requires a response. On Romney’s page, the response is to “stand with Mitt.” People hold up Romney’s name and photograph themselves standing. Standing is a form of power, solidarity, but to a further extent a revolution; for one cannot sit through a revolt, one must be active and stand—Tommie Smith and John Carlos come to mind at the podium of the 1968 Olympics. I must also note the red buttons in the background of both the gear and donation boxes. He wants Republicans to know that he knows they will conglomerate and they must all stick together and stand with their gear at the ready. Romney clearly values his Party’s cohesiveness and Obama’s mistakes more than forging out his own platform.
“The Obama economy is upside-down with fewer jobs, higher unemployment, and millions of Americans struggling for work. It doesn’t have to be this way. http/mi.tt/Oqbwac “
26,046 likes 4,579 people talking about this
The language is ambiguous as possible. He uses cliché to mask data: “upside-down” economy. “High-er unemployment” explains nothing concrete. “And millions of Americans struggling for work” could mean anything from Americans struggle at work (which is to be expected of work’s nature) or Americans are struggling to find work. After the problems are ambiguously sketched out, the answer is presented in the form of today: a hyperlink is
presented. The link, of course belongs to Mitt Romney. The ambiguity is to open the problem to as wide an audience as possible, meanwhile we are shown a photo of Romney standing before workers and an American flag.
Again, the Mitt Romney name is absent from the image. “Obama isn’t working” fills a blue banner with all caps lettering—to infuse some panic, authority, and immediacy to Romney’s call. Under that, he subtitles the banner with an acronym: OIW. The “O” is red. It looks like a target. He is placing the President symbol “O” under the Republican’s aim of Red reform.
Of course the venue is factory like in setting. Pipes, metal, and workers surround the man at the podium. All white and advanced in age, the crowd’s factory is supposed to agree that OIW, and this is especially poignant because it’s a factory that stands with Mitt. His people are selling us a photograph of evidence: at the ground level OIW.
“Washington’s big government agenda should not smother small-town dreams. In the America we love, every town counts. Every job counts. And every American counts.”
23,124 likes 2,508 people talking about this
`“Smother” is a liberal word to use here. It holds no specific value but adapts rather easily to the reader’s specific notions of America. And Mitt is counting on this psychology too (Mitt says, “In the America we love”). Here he’s claiming to know (wink, wink) that your ideals match his directions for our country. And although the language says “every” America counts, his message is toward the authoritarian that believes their notions to be right. Rightness, thus implies anointing of some kind. Therefore we may say Mr. Romney lobbies to and from people of belief. Instead of Obama’s mythos of Hope, Romney peddles the mythos of Beliefs.
The picture bellow the caption is there to back the myth. First we notice the after-snapped photography software hard at work. There is a widescreen format evoked on the image. In cinematography, often the widescreen is deployed to conjure a nostalgic and wide-sweeping epic feel. The nostalgia is to link any viewer with that specific notion of America Romney feels the two of you share. The scope requires epic, to exaggerate the mythos of leadership, groups, and revolution. Steven Soderburgh shot the several hour bio-pic, Che (2008) in two formats: widescreen for Guevara’s rise; and full screen for the fall. Mr. Romney’s people want us to see a riser, an upstart, and a revolutionary. In fact, Mr. Romney disappears into the banner of this image, dominated by the sea of people supporting his coupe. The photo begs us to join. Begging involves desperation however.
“On Friday, President Obama inexplicably said ‘The private sector is doing fine.’ Since the president is completely out of touch, these middle class workers talked about their experiences to remind him of the realities of the Obama economy.”
50,725 likes 6,678 people talking about this
The picture of Obama, chosen by Romney would be perfect for a funeral, in expression, attire, and with its black background. But it’s not for a funeral—it’s for a statement the President allegedly said. And the language by Romney is strategic indeed: adjectives help to steer his reader. “Inexplicably” is added to show Presidential bewilderment (an obvious flaw of a leader); starting a second sentence with “since” implies a cause, thereby needing a solution, which Romney owns the prescription. “Completely” out of touch adds more bewilderment and of course “completely” has no tangible weight. But even more mythos is resurrected with a cliché: “out of touch.” “Out of touch,” like “completely,” or “since” are words with vague and null meaning, while guiding a reader toward Romney by linking concepts of cliché with a leader of today. Simply stated, Mr. Romney is using old tradition to illustrate Obama as out of touch. In this way, I’ve discovered Mitt Romney to be a master of the Zero-sum game, as zero meaning becomes a pattern of his Facebook.com page. By using old tradition (flags, Republicans, clichés) Romney the man remains at a distance. Distance affords secrecy.
This paper’s hope has remained to illustrate a semiotics exercise. I wanted the workout to be as transparent as possible, allowing more of a method than an answer to any specific query. An interesting parting observation however: both candidates remain enigmas, though while perusing our two past President’s Facebook pages, I have learned much about the two men. I have learned of George W. Bush, the golfer, the cyclist, and the volunteer. And I have learned much of William J. Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative, The Clinton Foundation, and about Global warming from President Clinton’s Facebook.com page. So I suppose the one specific data we have revealed by the method reading, is the candidate’s obsession to connect with myth while rejecting themselves, leaving two Siamese twin empty vessels for Party realpolitiks to fill with banter.
And just for fun: