August 30, 2008

Our Man On The Floor: Obama's Night … And Some Notes On Reality

I can’t say exactly how yet, but I’m sure covering the Dem Convention is going to have a powerful effect going forward on how I read and understand political visuals.

Alan Chin has been leaning on me for years to cover something like this “on the ground.”  (Short of another major disaster in the Gulf, he’s planning on covering the Republican Convention as well, and wanted me to see that first hand, too.  … Even putting aside my day job, however, I don’t think the RNC would have been that forthcoming with a credential.)

It’s true, though, that an instinctual appreciation of visual staging and photo ops is nothing compared to seeing it executed, first hand, on this kind of grand scale.  I can’t tell you how disorienting it as, however, going from reading the pictures to being part of the audience.  Divorced from the media’s frame, you suddenly have no way to predict what “they” are going for in terms of the angles, depth, scale, lighting — not to mention tone and mood.  In a complete reality flip, your orientation is thrown off by the problem — being engulfed by a movie set — of being confined to experiencing it live.  (As a funny commentary on how surreal this reality is, check out this link Hanan Levin of the remarkable website, grow-a-brain, sent me this morning, with only the sentence: “Notice the Disney-like shadows in this picture….”)

An instructive lesson had to do with our assumptions regarding the design of the set at Invesco.  I thought Al wrote a very good preview post concerned about how the columns (amplified by a mini-wave of right wing blogospheric hysteria about them) seemed to evoke a Roman ampitheater.  With the relentless framing over the past few weeks of Obama as (merely) a celebrity, what we visualized (given the last minute photos of the set design) was how the wingnuts might use this background to frame Obama as some kind of Caesar.  (Surely we thought, nobody would appreciate the subtly of the reference for the structure — which, we first believed was inspired by the Lincoln Memorial and the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and then discovered, in an interview with the designer himself, was more tied to JFK, and his 1960 acceptance speech in the Los Angeles Coliseum.)

And that concern was all well and good, except that it was completely unfounded.

In the end (from a critical perspective, anyway), it was probably better I failed to secure a third media credential for the stadium.  As a result, I was able to get continuous impressions of the show from Al in the press box, while back in the blogger’s Big Tent, I able to witness it “the real way,” which was on television.

(Of course, I wasn’t exactly watching with my feet up, given the triage surrounding the meltdown of our slideshow platform and the imperative to get the previous night’s Biden slideshow done and posted before it was eclipsed by the events of that night.  But for the last hour, anyway, I put the computer away.)

And in watching the TV show, just like the other 38 million or so, it was suddenly easy to realize the two visual qualities the Obama people wanted to impart, which was 1.) a peace loving, good feeling, no watching-your-watch or channel flipping rock concert, the look and feel shifting soothingly from day into night.  And 2.) with the warm orange glow coming from those windows inset in the column structure (and mindful how the Obama campaign takes every opportunity to association their man with the Oval Office) the background — far from Rome or Los Angeles, with some reasonable pull for the Lincoln Monument — was far and away reminiscent of The West Wing.

Just like: 123.

I hope you enjoyed our coverage of the convention (and recall it fondly when we get our fundraising act together in the coming few months).  Of course, I’m sure you’ve already appreciated Alan’s wonderful images in our final show of the show.

(linked images:, Al Shaw, Getty,

(Images © Alan Chin.  Denver. 2008)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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