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The bird of Zeus

By Michael J. Smith on Saturday June 14, 2008 01:05 PM

I've always admired Obama's ambiguous, strangely soothing signature cartouche -- are those furrows on a Kansas farm, or flag stripes so tranquillized they've ceased to wave? Its quietude and noncommittal subliminal suggestiveness make it the perfect emblem for a miraculous marketing campaign that simultaneously excited and reassured the target demographic without ever actually saying anything.

Here, however, the bland circlet appears oddly superimposed on a bad-tempered, reptilian eagle, clearly spoiling for a fight. As iconology goes, there's nothing anodyne about the Jovian bird, the Roman legionary bird, the bird so abundant in the visual rhetoric of American pugnacity that every street in this broad land ought to be knee-deep in mephitic raptor guano(*).

When birds appear, the augurs get to work. In this case, of course, neither the appearance of the bird nor its implications should come as any surprise.

* * *

The eagle's connection with the thunderbolt-hurling sky-father Zeus/Jupiter goes back a long way, but takes narrative form in our tradition with the story of Zeus and Ganymede. Zeus, being a Greek god, had a weakness for pretty boys -- in a totally manly, or godly, way, of course -- and Ganymede was the prettiest shepherd in Phrygia. So Zeus either sent an eagle, or turned himself into an eagle -- the sages are divided on this question -- and carried young Ganymede away for immoral purposes.

The Ganymede story has, I think, a certain melancholy relevance to the Obama story. Once again we see our blooming youths abducted by the thunderbolt-hurlers. In this case of course the eagle himself had to be kept hidden until after the trap was sprung, but now he can appear. All the young Ganymedes and Ganymedesses got carried away -- with nothing to hope for but hard usage and servitude.

* * *

On a completely irrelevant note: the eagle image appears on a part of the Obama website devoted to rebutting "smears" against the great man and his wife. The "smears" listed are not numerous, but one of them reads as follows:
SMEAR: Barack Obama is a Muslim

TRUTH: Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian.

So let me get this straight: The enlightened Obama campaign thinks it's a "smear" to say somebody is a Muslim? This position will be hard to digest in certain areas of Chicago's South Side.


(*) Though the eagle is in fact more often a scavenger than a bird of prey, as Ben Franklin, I believe, pointed out, when he suggested that the young United States would do better to adopt, as its winged mascot, the turkey.

Comments (6)


I think the logo's supposed to read "It's Morning in America."

OMG you're the first person I've run into who sees the "Obama is a Muslim" campaign as conceivably NOT a smeary one. Congrats on that. I thought it was rather creepy that he eventually denounced his pastor too. And that he is doing youth outreach with "The Joshua Generation". And that he gave a Father's Day sermon in a church. If any smear campaign might work, it's that he is a smarmy Chrisian who's trying to impose his values on people who aren't.


i'm sure there's some indian mass graves under that fruited plain on his logo - just too bad winona duke doesn't know that:


Three words for MJS and/or OP: Progressive Book Club.


"I've always admired Obama's ambiguous, strangely soothing signature cartouche -- are those furrows on a Kansas farm, or flag stripes so tranquillized they've ceased to wave?"

Perhaps my suggestion for an Orthrian campaign song would add a little spice....


This picture creeps the hell outta me!

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