Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 30, 2008

BagNewsSalon: Campaign 04 vs 08: Are We Seeing The End Of Identity Politics?

On October 30th, the BagNews Salon hosted “Campaign 04 vs 08: Are We Seeing The End Of Identity Politics?”: An analysis of the media imagery of the two most recent presidential campaigns.


Images and Selected Quotes:

Produced for BagNews by Ida Benedetto

(photo: Alan Chin. caption: Signs, distributing literature, and other campaigning is prohibited within 50 feet of Early Voting Stations.)

“ The arc of my political coverage has been “demographic” — in, who are the activists, the people who go to rallies? Most people, of course, are happy to watch it on TV. So who shows up?” — Alan Chin

Considering the images below, we came to this discussion with the question:

While recent American elections have been governed by identity politics and moral concerns, Barack Obama’s campaign has marked a notable shift toward an inclusive national project of change. As a result, do we read these photographs — taken by BAGnewsNotes contributer Alan Chin in the final weeks of the ’04 campaign — in a different light than we did before?


Conversation about Alan Chin’s photographs from the 2004 election revealed shifting expectations about identity politics as well as continued concerns about enfranchisement and participation in the 2008 election. Discussants in this BAGnewsSalon often saw the visual landscape of the 2004 elections as awkwardly theatrical in comparison to the 2008 election. They commended the recent campaign for more nuanced treatment of issues like religion and socialism, even if others issues, such as gender, were disappointingly caricatured.

Alan Chin: what I liked about this image were the eyeglasses case and the ladies’ handbag, obviously belonging to one of the older African-American congregates. …It evoked for me, the older, civil-rights era, sense of religion being a politically progressive as opposed to right-wing dominated issue.

Cara Finnegan: Yes, especially in the context of 2004 you would think church=republican, but no.

Aric Mayer: I remember the 2004 election as giving a cartoon quality to religion in general. This time around there seems to be a much more diverse and nuanced conversation around faith.

Michael Shaw: Yes, in this election, we liberals wouldn’t even think to make fun of the bible as a symbol.

Young Girl

(photo: Alan Chin. caption: Kerry supporters in Copley Square watch election returns on large TV screens.)

Cara Finnegan: I keep thinking “failed youth vote?” even though my recollection of the numbers is that the youth vote was very high in 04.
Nathan: Her face has an energy to it. We will try again.

Cuban with Sign

(photo: Alan Chin. caption: Supporters of President George W. Bush at the Coconut Grove Convention Center, where he spoke to a crowd of several thousand.)

Alan Chin: The guy holding the Communist sign is a Cuban-American, clearly part of a conservative community, but he’s gone over the top.

Cara Finnegan: It/him/the sign is so coarse it seems silly, especially from 2008 perspective and obama/socialism stuff

Alan Chin: kind of like McCain calling Obama a socialist

Paul Lester: Socialism is the new communism!

Nathan Stormer: Even for 2004 this kind of stuff was just looney.

Cara Finnegan: gets at the question of identity, though: for whom is this an issue?
Alan Chin: in 04 it was looney. in 08 it’s gone mainstream!

Early Voting In Car

(photo: Alan Chin. caption: Elderly and infirm voters cast their ballots through “curbside voting,” a touch screen voting machine is taken up to the car window by an election worker, at an Early Voting Station.)

Nathan Stormer: As a “demographic,” the value of her vote is surely against Republicans. I see her voting as the front line in the struggle over effective suffrage right now.

Ida Benedetto: It’s also possibly a literacy issue. The ability to read was a huge issue with who could vote in the 20’s and 30’s. Now it’s technological literacy that’s an issue.

Michael Moore

(photo: Alan Chin. caption: Filmmaker MICHAEL MOORE at the Government Center of Ft. Lauderdale, Broward County, protesting the 58,000 ballots that were supposed to be mailed out but are missing.)

Michael Shaw: I’m really proud of the Dems that I can’t think of an ‘08 corollary for the MM image — at least, not immediately.

Republican with Bush Signs

(photo: Alan Chin. caption: President GEORGE W. BUSH speaks to a crowd of thousands at the Coconut Grove Convention Center.)

Cara Finnegan: Many folks are arguing the conservative coalition is cracking up, so maybe what we’re seeing in this guy is the beginning of the end.

  • Panelists
  • Michael Shaw Host, Publisher, BagNewsNotes
  • Cara Finnegan Moderator, Professor of Communication – U. of Illinois, Co-editor: Visual Rhetoric: a reader in communication and American culture
  • Paul Lester professor
  • Nathan Stormer Moderator – Professor of Communications and Journalism/U. of Maine
  • John Lucaites professor
  • Alan Chin Editor & Contributing Photographer, BagNews Originals.
  • Aric Mayer photojournalist
  • Nina Berman photojournalist

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