Semiotic Analysis of Barack Obama in Time Magazine

SEMIOTICS ASSIGNMENT The front cover of TIME magazine, issued on December 10, 2007 was taken before the start of the presidential campaign in America, and the man on the front cover is Barack Obama – who was a favourite at the time. The bias of the picture, the cover’s anchorage and the article altogether show that the underlying purpose of this magazine’s issue was to influence readers to side with TIME and vote for this man. This cover resembles a famous picture taken of Martin Luther King Junior and serves to link Obama with the American Civil-Rights hero in order to influence the reader’s position towards Obama.
This cover can be seen as a metaphor of the rise of the African American in society, as well as politics. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation (Oxford dictionary) and will be used to unveil the hidden meaning behind this front cover. This is a picture of a black man in a suit, who is standing upright with has his arms crossed. This man is neither smiling, nor is he frowning and is not looking directly at the camera. The background is multiple shadings of grey. The word “TIME”, as well as the anchorage is in white, and words “the contender” are in red.
The outside rim of the magazine is also red, with a white border between the picture and the red rim. Obama’s suit gives off an impression that he is polished, prepared and serious. Obama’s suit also commands a sense of respect from the reader and a sense that he has etiquette as well as control. The man’s facial expression is neutral – which gives off the impression that he is stable, reliable and somewhat loyal. This is effective because one sees this control and presumes that this man is secure in who he is (he feels no need to make false pretences) and thus one can trust him with their vote in the coming presidential elections.

The man’s upright posture illustrates a sense of strength because he looks anchored and thus powerful. The man is not looking directly at the camera which enhances his seriousness and creates a sense of intrigue within the reader – one can’t help but wonder what this man is thinking of, and why he is thinking it. The man’s posture makes him appear courageous and determined to handle the responsibility of anything (i. e. the presidential campaign). Obama’s body language of firmly folded arms insinuates that he is being defensive, ready to take on a boxing fight.
The fight will be the upcoming presidential campaign which includes the “attacks” that he will get from the public and media being in the race (for example the media will be negative and pointedly highlight his inadequate characteristics). Therefore by looking just beyond the camera, Obama appears to be aware of what is coming and prepared to face the coming battle like a courageous boxing hero. The shaded grey background highlights the man’s power and illuminates him in a god-like manner.
The light surrounding the man results in the reader’s eyes being drawn directly to him, and gives the the impression that he is “the light” and is like an angel in the darkness. The magazine name, “TIME”, is in white in order to contrast the grey background and highlight the magazine’s name. The anchorage on the front cover enhances the overall message of a sense of polish and control. “TIME” is written in Times New Roman, an old-fashioned and serious style of writing – which corresponds to the pieces of writing within the magazine.
The name of the magazine is also not fully displayed (Barack’s head is blocking the “M” of TIME) and this demonstrates the popularity of the magazine because the magazine is so well known that people can immediately recognise it, without even displaying its full name. It also highlights Obama’s importance and prestige – the fact that the company are willing to be less recognised by their name is not an issue due to Obama’s great popularity and dominance, which will influence people to buy the magazine anyway because of him.
TIME is in the colour white which makes it an arbitrary sign which represents goodness, peace and innocence. “The Contender” is also highlighted on the cover, and characterizes someone who is fighting for first place in a competition. Red attracts the reader’s eye to the title of the magazine’s issue, draws attention to the man’s face and highlights that he is in the running for something big. “The Contender” is in bold (which draws the reader’s attention to the words) and is in a very rich red – which is an arbitrary signifier that can represent passion, power and strength.
This corresponds to the article’s position towards Obama which highlights his courage, ambition and dominance in the presidential campaign. It is also interesting to note the publisher’s use of “the” instead of “a” because Obama is a contender for the presidency of America, and is joined by many other contenders. However, by replacing “a” with “the” the reader is positioned to view Obama as the one and only competitor in the campaign.
This therefore influences the reader to believe that he is going to be the ultimate winner of the competition because all other opponents are forgotten and will pale in comparison to his lead in the competition. The article inside the magazine talks about Obama’s “pledge to practice a new kind of politics” and how he managed to get “more money from small donors than all the other Democratic candidates combined” (TIME). This extract shows the biased approach that the author of the magazine, as well as the director of the photography for the front cover took with regards to Obama’s portrayal as an American politician.
The article purposefully highlights the massive power that Obama and his organization has in the lives of many Americans, and this is linked to the light in which he’s portrayed in on the front cover – a portrayal of power and dominance. The article also speaks about the other political campaigners who are opponents of Obama’s (such as Hilary Clinton, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld) – however Obama portrayed to be in a more dominant position than them.
For example: “Obama has also begun to sharpen one of his strongest arguments – that experience is not the same thing as judgement – for which Clinton has not yet found a rejoinder”. When reading the article, it is very apparent that the writer is clearly in favour of Obama and his political campaign. This bias is also seen through the light that Obama is portrayed in the picture – a dominant, powerful and superior light, a sign that he is superior to all the other “contenders” in the presidential campaign.
One can’t help but question if this magazine company’s political reliability due to their bias when it comes to the governance of the country. It is also interesting to note that Obama, who used to practise Civil Rights Law, is positioned to resemble Martin Luther King junior. O’Shaughnessy and Stadler (2008) define intertextuality as the process of knowingly borrowing and referring to other texts or interpreting one text in the light of other related texts. As you can see from the very famous above image, TIME very skilfully resembles the Front cover to this picture of the American hero, Martin Luther King junior.
King was a peaceful Civil Rights leader who also refused to conform to the political practices of the time and created a peaceful yet powerful movement that America had never seen before. King is known as an innocent, equality-driven leader who made a big difference in a small amount of time. King’s portrait is a medium sized picture of him in a suit with his arms folded where he is also not looking directly into the camera – much like the portrait of Obama.
The likeness between these two pictures therefore makes the reader assume these same quality traits of King, to that of Obama – which then makes the reader regard Obama to be a hero who will lead the country into equality and greatness, much like King did. This picture highlights the growth of the African Americans in society as well as politics because Obama is portrayed in a dominant light, instead of the inferior light with which the African Americans were portrayed in the previous century.
TIME’s target market is success-driven, intelligent men (and on the rare occasion women) who are involved in business and take an interest in politics. This is therefore a successful front cover because it addresses all of those fields – politics, business, current affairs etc. Whilst most people would say this was a boring front cover – when correlated with their target market, it is clearly effective in convincing their desired consumer to choose their magazine from the rest. Even though this cover is severely biased, it is valuable because of its link with Martin Luther King Jr. nd its emphasis of the rise of the African American in not only society –but also politics. REFERENCES: BarackObama. Biography. 2010. [O] Available: http://www. biography. com/people/barack-obama-12782369? page=4. Accessed on 25/03/2012 Oxford Dictionaries. 2012. [O] Available: http://oxforddictionaries. com/definition/semiotics? q=semiotics. Accessed on 27/03/2012 Tumulty, K. 2007. [O] Available: http://www. time. com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1689203-2,00. html. Accessed on 28/03/2012

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