The Shrines Erected to Barack Obama - The Intrepid

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Shrines Erected to Barack Obama


The election might be over, but millions of people in America and around the world are still infatuated with Barack Obama. During the campaign, Obama’s image was everywhere. Over the course of the campaign, Time Magazine featured Obama on its cover 11 times. By contrast, in 1992, Bill Clinton was on 7 covers, in 1980, Ronald Reagan was on 3 covers, and in 1960, and John F. Kennedy was only on 2 covers.

To say that the media has been obsessed with Barack Obama would be the understatement of the year, but it pales in comparison to the obsession of die-hard Obama fans. During the campaign, it sometimes felt as if he was the leader of some sort of crazy cult. I mean, how else could he get students to volunteer for hundreds of hours, unless he had some sort of cult-like psychological control?

Like the outrageous cults, the cult of Obama has many bizarre shrines. The first and most obvious shrine to Obama is his website, barackobama.com. For the most part, the site is pretty similar to other campaign sites. What make the site different are its social networking tools and my.barack.obama.com. My.barackobama.com is just like Facebook, if Facebook were solely about discussing the enlightened ideas and actions of one person.

This isn’t to suggest that Obama’s supporters are mindless automatons, far from it. One of the largest social groups on my.barackobama.com was designed to protest Obama’s decision to vote in favour of legal immunity for the telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s wiretaps. The campaign let this group continue to grow and Obama eventually issued a statement to the group in which he justified his vote. Dissenting ideas within the social-online wing of Obama campaign were tolerated and even encouraged.

By now everyone has seen the Obama Girl music video at least a dozen times, so the video doesn’t warrant discussion. But, a Youtube search reveals that over 433,000 videos about Barack Obama have been posted to date. While not all of these are user creations, it’s still a heck of a lot of videos. In comparison, John McCain has 225,000 videos and Britney Spears only has 386,000 videos.

The web itself is full of Barack Obama fan pages. There’s even a geocitites website called “The Barack Obama Shrine,” which mixes weird religious undertones with an obsession for Barack Obama. There are even a bunch of foreign fan sites. Canadians for Obama? Check. Swedes for Obama? Check. British fan site? Check. Hundreds of international blogs rooting for Obama? Double check.

Although many of the shrines to Obama are digital, there are a lot of real shrines too. But, for some reason or other people seem to really like to construct images of Barack Obama out of sand.

In Barcelona, Spain, American artist Jorge Rodriguez Gerada finished constructing a massive sand portrait of Barack Obama on November 3rd. According to Gerada, “The outsize scale allows the artist to allude to the global impact on the eve of his election. It both embodies the immense sense of hope felt by Barack Obanma's [sic] supporters and raises a mirror to reflect the source of that hope.”

In India, World champion sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik commemorated Obama’s victory by building a sand sculpture of his face. “It's a great moment[.] I congratulate Mr. Obama and hope that he will change the global economy,” Pattnaik said

This was the second sculpture Pattnaik has built of Obama. The first one also included a sculpture of John McCain and Capitol Building. There are even a few ice sculptures, though they aren’t quite as impressive.

Even places with only a faint tie to Obama have been swept up in Obamamania. Obama, Japan, a former sleepy fishing town, has fully embraced Barack Obama, if only because of its name and to boost its tourist trade. On election night, hundreds of residents turned out at local bars in Obama t-shirts and headbands to cheer on their town’s namesake.

“We started this as a joke,” said Yasunori Maeno of the “Obama for Obama” campaign. “But as we came to know more about him … and his emphasis on community, the more we liked him. It is important to love the place you are from and to work to promote it.”

“Our town has a small population, and it's nice to see so many people visiting this town,” said Kimio Fujiwara, who heads the city's tourism board. “So we're grateful for Mr Obama and I wish him all the best.”

According to Reuters, Obama has known about the town for sometime. Once, on a visit to Japan, an immigration looking at his passport remarked, “I’m from Obama.”

In Kenya, the birthplace of Barack Obama’s father, Obama has become a figure of national pride. Framed pictures of Obama are sold at local stores, often on the same shelves as pictures of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

Obama paraphernalia is everywhere. Cars and buses have Obama bumper stickers, and Obama t-shirts are a common sight.

In Kogelo, Kenya, the home of Obama’s Kenyan family, the adoration of Obama is even more intense. Sacrifices are sometimes made in Obama’s honour at the local Kit Mikayi shrine.

It’s only matter of time before the honeymoon ends and Obama is subjected to the same criticisms that all American Presidents eventually have to endure. But, for the moment Obamamania is a fun ride that most of world seems content to enjoy.

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