August 27, 2008

The Centrality Of The Normal Family


DNC guest post by Wendy Kozol, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Oberlin College.

Attached is a family portrait of the Obamas that has been circulating around and is on the Obama fundraising site.  It seems to sum up a visual strategy of the campaign to make the Obamas familiar, friendly, safe, just like you and me.  I thought Michelle Obama’s speech was effective and strategic and she came across well.  But, the visual strategies seem to be relentless in their message of the ideal and happy family.   

In looking at this picture – the soft focus and outdoor nature scene clearly sentimentalizes them.  The informality of the poses, the intimacy of the family group, all with big smiles, and the two girls leaning on Barack so that he is the center focus of the image – all are  clearly designed to emphasis conventional gender roles and traditional family values, certainly over race. Nuclear family in an isolated setting – no vision here (or in other similar pictures) of community or extended family. 

I know this is a pragmatic and politically strategic move but at what cost?  The centrality of the normal family once again marginalizes efforts to bring in different experiences.   This does nothing to stop efforts to police personal choices.  It is a similar danger I see in the increasing emphasis on faith as the basis of moral claims, something the right has been so effective in doing and Obama and the Dems seem to be doing now as well.

(image: Barack Obama)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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