Monday, September 8, 2008

The Senator & The Life Aquatic


A chlorinated Obama? Do explain...
Readers of this blog will recognize the subject map above: a set of concerns that occupy territory outside the traditional realms of art history, but which are fundamentally engaged with visual-cultural material with a base in cartooning and illustration, including the professional cultures of same.

Only recently
have I opened up a teeny window into my decidedly non-professional engagement with swimming, primary sport of a now-distant youth.

Very rarely you get a happy convergence which integrates your professional activities with your personal ones.


Case in point: the annual Master's Swimming Open Water event in Chicago, the Big Shoulders 5K Swim. [I do not swim open water events--this is why God invented swimming pools.] At any rate, the event was held on September 6, last Saturday, and the organizers provided shirts to all registered swimmers as part of the $50 event fee [$70 if same day registration].

The whole shirt design is shown below, complete with typographic additions beneath the image.


United States Masters Swimming [USMS] sanctions all sorts of competitions all over the country, which are organized at the local and regional level. The Illinois Masters Swimming Association [ILMSA] is getting all sorts of grief about the shirts. ILMSA sanctioned the event but did not approve the shirt, which has been taken as a political statement of endorsement of Senator Obama's candidacy for President. The apolitical nature of sport is taken very seriously by some, and I agree, although I tend to think that this was more a cultural statement more than a political one.

I posted the following on the USMS discussion board:

I think this is a hilarious shirt. It trades on the famous print image of
Obama by Shephard Fairey, who might turn out to be the one with a case to be pissed off. He's a designer and illustrator with a fondness for propaganda, and specifically the visual signature of social realist stuff from the 1930s and later.


However I seem to be in the minority. The discussion thread can be reviewed here.

3 comments:

herd.kill.sheep said...

Great point about the shirt being more of a cultural statement rather than a political one. Obama's face has become an apolitical symbol of hope(to some). What do you think if they would have put swimming goggles on Che's overused face with "swim" underneath?

Understanding cultures(both your own and others) always helps improve communication. You've added a little drop of support to my decision of majoring in both Anthro and GD.

DB Dowd said...

Dear HKS: good to hear from you! I was glad to get your scoop a little while back, and meant to reply, then failed to do so. I would heartily agree that anthropology and graphic design nestle together quite well as fields of study. A few posts back I mentioned Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel (1999) which has a good chapter about language development and forms of written language, of which alphabetic modes are only one, albeit the most flexible. Interesting stuff. He quotes Claude Levi Strauss as pointing out the language in its early forms was used primarily to facilitate the enslavement of human beings.

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