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American Osiris Rising: Obama's Symbols of Transformation

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All successful presidential candidates have tried to infuse American democracy with mythology and folklore, going back to the founding of the nation.  Whether it’s the fable of George Washington and the cutting of the cherry tree, the stories about honest Abe Lincoln, or the making of Kennedy Camelot myth, the right mixture of mythological imagery is almost necessary for a campaign to excite the general public. 

“In a society that has mythologized itself from its earliest days the president is the high priest of the national identity,” note Ted Anthony and Ron Fournier.  During significant turning points in history a charismatic leader driven by his archetypes can mobilize a generation of people into a transformational grassroots movement.

While Sen. McCain has been mythologized as the maverick, the naval war hero with a lineage of Scott Irish warriors that could put “Braveheart” to shame, it is still not clear how Obama’s overall mythic narrative resonates with the American people.  According to Maureen Dowd, Obama does not think in terms of Greek mythology.  What, no edifice complex?  And, no Icarus complex either hidden in the young man’s psyche?  Although, he did tell a reporter that he knows the danger of “flying close to the sun”.   

Perhaps, Obama’s symbols of transformation, his campaign signs, posters and Web site suggest another mythic undercurrent, more archaic or Near-Eastern in origin. His marketing materials designed by the Chicago-based Sol Sender present Obama as the modern day sun-god.  “We were looking at the “O” of his name and had the idea of a rising sun and a new day,” Mr. Sender said. “The sun rising over the horizon evoked a new sense of hope.”

While the color scheme of the Obama logo evokes the American flag, the shape, design and imagery is not typical of other campaign signs.  “It begins to break with tradition while also rooting itself in tradition,” said Peter Krivkovich, CEO of Cramer-Krasselt advertising agency in Chicago. “Patriotism is the foundation, but above that is hope, opportunity, newness.

The letter ‘O’ symbolically represents Obama as the white hot sun, rising above the blue sky with the waves of red and white stripes representing the American flag over the plains.  It is not that Obama does not know the dangers of flying too close to the sun rather he has become the sun. 

The ‘O’ then symbolizes Obama as well as the mythological figure of Osiris, the sun-god personified in the Near Eastern religions of life, death and fertility; Apollo may be the Greek equivalent of Osiris.  The Obamas represent or most closely resemble the Osiris-Isis pair, the power couple of Egyptian mythology; if you think these ancient figures have lost cultural meaning, see the latest spoof on African American identity in "Tropic Thunder" represented by the character of Sgt. Osiris.  The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago houses one of the significant collections of Egyptian artifacts in this country, not too far from the Obama residence. 

Obama’s soaring rhetoric while designed to be consistent with the progressive message of “hope and change” represents a break with the hegemonic discourse of “politics as usual”.  Like the sun-god, he plans to bring peace and prosperity to the land, move marginal voices to the center, and usher in a new American morning.  

The underbelly of Obama’s message is that he identifies with the “victims of history” and those who have been left out of the great march of human progress.   As the son of a progressive White anthropologist mother and an African goat-herder turned economist father, Obama has been schooled in different cultures and on “other people’s myths.”  His campaign has been building an anti-war movement and a coalition of diverse voices, such as, African Americans, native Indians, Hispanic Americans and the rest.    

The deep hunger in Obama’s soul related to his father’s absence has been filled up by the larger than life reformers, such as, Lincoln, MLK, and Gandhi.  Obama has incorporated and internalized the lessons offered by these men and resolved his identity crisis by hitching his wagon to a humanitarian calling larger than himself.

Comparisons to Lincoln have been aptly drawn as Obama believes he is walking in the great man’s footsteps.  Obama’s acceptance speech for the democratic nomination on Thursday is to be delivered from a minaturized Greek temple, designed to evoke the Lincoln memorial in the capitol.

During the civil war, Lincoln carried the burden of a whole nation upon his shoulders.  Like Lincoln whom Walt Whitman eulogized as the “American Osiris” and Carl Sandburg later mythologized as "The Savior" of the American union, Obama wishes to take on the challenge of Islamo-fascism abroad and politically uplift the disenfranchised groups at home.  In taking on this cause, he may be destined to reclaim the mantle of the mythic figures left in the sands of time, represented in ancient folklore and myths. 

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Dinesh Sharma is a marketing science consultant with a Doctorate in Psychology from Harvard. He is a senior fellow at Institute for International and Cross-Cultural Research, St Francis College, NYC, and a regular columnist for Asia Times Online. (more...)
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