By Mary Rizzo
Barack Obama is a very handsome man. He has the charisma of a showman. He speaks very well, and what’s more, he can even dance. It’s not clear whether that is sufficient criteria to make one into a president, oops, not "a" president but "The President", but it certainly was enough to get one elected for the position.
And yet, Obama is nothing if not humble. He recognised that he really didn’t (yet) deserve the world’s most important honour, the Nobel Peace Prize, but he also recognised last week that while he is “The President”, someone else is “The Boss”.
What does all of this mean in the big picture? Quite a lot, actually, because whether he deserves it or not, Obama is there, in the highest echelons of power and glory, getting the greatest achievement awards for being … handsome, charismatic and cool. Since the advent of widespread mass media, style has definitely overcome substance as the top priority, the winning attribute. As a matter of fact, the soul of commerce is advertising, and Obama has been selected to represent the “American Image” that wants to be loved once again, whether or not they deserve it.
In the world of advertising, the biggest question is about appearance, finding a soundbite, a face, a slogan. Enormous resources are invested in developing a successful image. As Joseph Levine wrote “You can fool all the people all the time if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough.” There’s little doubt that Obama has understood this concept.
Does Obama want to fool anyone? Well, that’s hard to tell. He apparently knows his market though, because they are a generation that “tweets”, makes friends through “social networks”, actually enjoys the deadpan face (what comic genius) of Obama’s “He’s The Boss” tribute. He’s cool, and he’s one of us, ergo, we are cool. We might even be a friend of his, on some social network. We are actually cautioned against going against him, and the mantra, “he’s still new, give him time”, or the comical “it’s his first 100 days”, being uttered long after the expiration date, were there to warn us that we better stay out of things where Obama is concerned. He might be an imperialist, but hey, he can’t change things overnight… as if he would if he could?
There is a level of wishful thinking in the idol worship that has accompanied Obama since he came onto the scene. It stopped mattering what he might do, what counted was what he “was” and how that communicated great things about the American people and their advancement and true belief in achievement and equality for all: he’s got it all, he’s young, black, urban, well-educated, modern but also traditional, graceful but also a with that charming nervousness that makes one look like they are going to worry about your problems for you. That’s what the president is supposed to do. And if you are “The President”, you can be either a Father Figure or a Brother. Bush struggled to be the Father Figure, since his position as “official son” made him turn that ambition into a full time job, and… let’s face it, it was not attractive and was no longer going to be a winning strategy. People only love and listen to their fathers when they are either very young or quite mature. So, Obama is our cool brother. We would share CDs with him if he lived in the same building, wouldn’t we?
America is in its teens. It feels young and it likes starting over. It needs to be unconditionally loved so that it can really be free to do what it wants without being told to change. After a series of wars and a growing list of nations that can no longer tolerate the single superpower doing what it wants and damn the torpedoes, it is looking for a new girlfriend, a European one, and if possible, a Middle Eastern one. These are the places that have political history as former superpower or immense natural resources that will determine the next superpower in a not-so-distant future when resources will count more than abstract things like the deposits of the Federal Reserve. America really needs the rest of the world that counts to fall in love with it again. Fulfilling the expectations, (there was indeed a need for love) it didn’t brush off the seduction, and the mass media of the international community had a huge crush in November 2008, as if the world was all of a sudden different and far better, and Obama hadn’t even taken oath yet. Even those who aren’t members of the club of “friends of America” were ready to at least go on a date and see how things might go. That might be a legitimate expectation, but Obama was sure to give the banks, Israel and the military industry a gigantic helping hand as his first steps. He would not dare criticise Israel during the war they waged in Gaza… as if “not being sworn in” was some kind of excuse.
Things got a little rougher with the deployment of more troops and the mass exodus in Pakistan because of American and NATO military actions, so then Obama decided to engage in his specialty, rhetoric, aka “smooth talking”, and in Cairo, he fooled the Western countries totally, but not the Arabs and Muslims. Straight off the bat, he was justifying slaughtering Muslims and warning Palestinians that they had to “stop killing”. And that was enough for the Israeli hasbara machine to pretend that he was a friend of Palestine, and therefore, people had to be more vigilant than before and really back Israel in this trying time. Quite a tough one to pull off, looking at everything Obama has promised, said and done, but this is how hasbara works, tell a lie and repeat it. No one ever said they weren’t clever.
But, it is easy to be successful at rhetoric when standards for it are quite low, and when listeners are not really hearing what is said, but what they want to hear, that this man is really different and good. What Obama uses are code words that avoid specifics. Concepts of goodness such as “hope”, “change” “belief” “courage” can really stir the spirit, but what if my idea of good is different from his? What if the idea of change that an Afghani or Iraqi has is different than the idea coming from the White House? In Obama’s acceptance speech for the Nobel, he put his hands out in front of him, his modesty could not be false, he really does not deserve that award, and he knows it. His critics can see the three little letters in the word “award”: right in the middle we have WAR. But Obama decided to talk about his wars, and to justify them. So, now, we have the ultimate in hypocrisy. Defending a peace prize by saying that war brings peace. That the Americans were good “then” and they are good “now”. That they defend themselves and will always do so, because this is what America does for the good of the Americans and the entire world.
He mentioned the foundation of the UN. But he didn’t mention the Veto power of the USA, going against the absolute majority of the nations in order to defend occupation and support the oppression of an entire people who happen to not have “a big enough budget”.
If Looks Could Kill
And thus, we are all witnessing the continuation of the collective lovefest, pushed to a higher level, as no longer is Obama “capable” of imposing imperialist agendas in areas targeted for “liberation” on behalf of the grand caravan of “The Coalition of the Willing”, he is actually doing precisely that. It goes beyond simply leading the world’s most powerful nation and defending the US from harm, because here we have the entire narrative of the “good war”, the “just war”, the fight against terrorism, which Obama expresses in his acceptance speech as a few angry men who harm hundreds of innocent people. He cannot fathom that under his command, the United States does the same thing, but with total impunity.
In Afghanistan at least one hundred innocent civilians were killed by a few men flying US Air Force planes, and this was not an isolated attack, it is simply one that had been reported. This act, when done by the Republicans, was immediately condemned by those who consider themselves to be “anti-war”. The complaints never seemed to last longer than a few days and they had no practical efficacy whatsoever, but the feeling was that it was wrong, it was putting America in a worse position and that one should protest, not really for the Afghanis or Iraqis, but for the sake of the image of the USA. All of this has simply faded out because their man, the charming and attractive Obama is doing it, and his narrative of the Good War, they believe, is going to be enough to do the trick.
Certainly, there is nothing new about the utilisation of rhetoric and image to make effective propaganda. What would really be sad is if those who identify with Obama because of his attractive image identified with all the hypocrisy he represents, and the lack of awareness that he is as imperialistic and as warmongering as any president before him, none excluded. If looks could kill, they probably will.
-Mary Rizzo is an art restorer, translator and writer living in Italy. Editor and co-founder of Palestine Think Tank (http://palestinethinktank.com), co-founder of Tlaxcala translations collective. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit her personal blog at: Peacepalestine.