Obama’s O on his Jet Plane

Obama 2008.jpg
This came across the tubes and cables of the Internet, “I don’t get this one—-it is offensive… WHAT A DISGRACE!!! AND HE IS ALL AMERICAN????” — Denise Emch. Emch is presumably offended by the fact that previous campaigns have used the logo of the American flag. Obama, though, is using his own sunrise/flag “O” logo. The transgressions here is somehow an affront to the fixed iconography of American principles.

Snopes noted “given the length and breadth of modern presidential campaigns, it has become de rigueur for most major-party candidates to have their own airplanes for ferrying themselves and staffers, press, security, and other personnel from stop to stop along the campaign trail.” Typically the candidate will have the plane marked to identify themselves a presidential candidate. In Obama’s case, his campaign replaced the color scheme of the plane he had been leading with the Obama campaign slogan (“Change We Can Believe In”), the BARACKOBAMA.COM domain name, and Obama campaign logo.

I received the note about from someone who asked the oddly leading question, “[Is] removing the flag and creating his own representation of patriotism. Ok, not ok?”


Put aside the first problem that the flag isn’t even a real flag, but an icon of a flag plastered to the wing of a jet plane. Such an icon has it’s own problems of representation. Should it be a rectangular flag (like the one worn by astronauts) or should it be the icon of a flag “in motion?” I’m not aware of federal branding guidelines for the appropriate display of national iconography.

The idea here is that is some kind of agreed on value system behind patriotism. It isn’t even whether Obama is patriotic, but rather how he expresses his patriotism. There are it seems guidelines, somewhere. This harkens back, it seems, to an odd nostalgia for a time that never was, the same kind of conservatism romanticisms that has fueled national movements throughout the 20th century — and these movements have a very ugly history.

One of the intriguing and to me interesting things about Obama is that he signifies to me America’s investment and involvement in a global and digital culture … he belongs to the 21 century. I do not doubt there are Republican or Conservatives who are also part of the 21st century, but McCain isn’t one of them. Instead this entire argument harkens to the kind of out of touch, and vaguely dangerous nationalism that has done the United States no favors.

I never was into the American Flag thing. I’ve personally always been irked that the United States is the only country on the entire planet that doesn’t lower its flag at the Olympics. It seems kind of uncivil in a global sense – arrogant even.

I also find the mandatory pledge of allegiance I find odious — and it’s only function to remind student bodies daily they live in a country that is willing to build prisons, advanced weapon systems, but hasn’t updated the fundamental structure of the school system since it was lifted from the Prussians in the 1860s where the system prepare illiterate serfs for factory work or conquering people oversees.

Flag burning laws and the required pledge are all kind of fascists statues designed to enforce the authority of the federal government. Flag burning laws came after the Civil War. The pledge of allegiance came around the turn of last century — a time of nationalism internationality that fueled the US conquest of Cuba and the Philippines, imperial conquests and jockeying in the Middle East and Asia, and finally the Great War.

In the beginning of the Cold War, The Knights of Columbus successfully campaigned to have “under God” added to a pledge that was compulsory in all federally funded schools. Factories and Armies. This seems a striking violation of the separation of church and state, but then we’ve never had an atheist president or even a non-Christian church going president.

The current president and particularly VP Cheney said when they were elected that they sought to reestablish the authority of the executive branch. This went hand in hand with clearly defining the iconography of the executive branch and the Federal Government. Among other things they were concerned with the things such as the presentation of the flag, the presidential colors, and executive seal. When it comes to flags and “branding” this all seems pretty innocuous. If the presidential seal has to be shown before the president appears on TV, fine. He should be in control of his presentation. It’s his (or her) show. However these same icons have also signified the executive branch performing acts few previous presidents have done. They they haven’t been done before, particularly by the liberal version of our current president, Roosevelt whose presidency was also marked by imperial trappings, stark violations of civil rights, and immense destruction of enemy civil populations. When the executive branch suspends habeas corpus, opens international secret prisons, begins to actively eavesdrop, and works at policies that violate the Geneva Convention — issues of branding become intermingled with authoritarian rule.

Check the beginning of 1984 where the branding of Big Brother is nearly comically pervasive.

A recent review of ‘Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State’ opens:
How did a practice as vile as branding become so valued, indeed, the very mark of value? Officials in the past have branded slaves and criminals — remember Milady’s fleur-de-lis in “The Three Musketeers”? Samuel Maverick didn’t brand his cattle, but dictionaries are vague about whether he was the first maverick or his cows were. Today, cities and colleges have joined toothpastes and soft drinks in the battle for “brand loyalty.”

So Obama brand-jamming the US Flag seems radical and happy to me. His campaign is kind of making the US flag their own in the way Abbie Hoffman made a shirt out of it. It is how we should deal with the silliness and nostalgia of the flag. It does signify our communal values, sure, but we should we be able to do with our stuff whatever we like.

I’m not sure if I want to live in a country where people can hide behind icons and flags. I’d much rather live in a place where people can make diapers out of the American Flag. I guess that is how I feel about Obama’s O on his jet plane.


Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: