Portraits of Obama:
Contrasting Narratives &
Popular Perception

Portraits Of Obama: Media, Fidelity, and the 44th President

Using Obama as a prism, this essay examines the culture of American mass media, examining the fidelity of news content amongst the ever-growing, ever-fragmenting, modern media landscape. It investigates the audience’s active engagement in the construction of their relationship to reality, the flawed nature of newsmakers and their perceptions of the world, and offers an alternative narrative approach to the construction of the self.


This visual essay/art project investigates the formation of popular mythologies ascribed to President Obama through the melodramatic coded narratives they frame him in within broadcast news. It hopes to make visible the biased portraits of the President conjured by partisan news outlets as they attempt to sway public opinion by shifting news away from documenting and reporting events to focus instead on entertainment and spectacle.

The core framework for the essay is a theory of culture, as described by Raymond Williams— “[it is]…the study of the relationships between elements in a whole way of life. The analysis of culture is the attempt to discover the nature of the organization which is the complex of these relationships.” The whole way of life we are looking at here is the culture of political discourse during the early part of the Obama presidency.


Orientation: Design Researcher +
Visual Designer + Author
Project type: Visual Essay
Publisher: Self
Exhibition: Undefined by Design
Press: Print Magazine



Visualizing a theory of Media Culture:

I have deconstructed the culture of entertainment and spectacle into the three facets of cultural analysis described in Williams’ The Analysis of Culture: ‘Ideal’, ‘Documentary’ and ‘Social.’ Each has been translated into a visual exercise to make tangible the rhetorical and melodramatic framing of the President.


Documenting Spin:

2010 was a pivotal year in the Obama administration comprised of major policy implementation and debate. The news media followed closely, at times taking sides, pushing agendas and ideology.

By analyzing transcripts from Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly, the leading news commentators in 2010, I collected tonal (or hyperbolic) words and phrases to reveal their biases and narrative bent.

The Group Mind:

Once collected I then input these tonal words and phrases into a series of Google search parameters, collecting the image search results into a library.

Taking into account the limitations within the Google’s search engine analytics, this library references the potential interpretations of their rhetoric by the populace.

Paint By Numbers:

Lastly, referencing specific statements, from our two news commentators, I created a series of visualizations (portraits) using the library of images compiled from the Google search. These images present the potential ways in which language affects how we understand and visualize Pres. Obama as he is presented in popular media.