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PRINT November 2008

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the politics of images

I CAN THINK OF NO BETTER definition of celebrity than a widely circulating image derived from but not identical to a person—in short, an avatar. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama was criticized as just such an image. A notorious television ad likened him to celebrity-without-a-cause Paris Hilton and everyone, it seems, called him a rock star. In spite of the Republicans’ own strategy of wrapping their candidates in the guise of sainted POW and avenging hockey mom, the 2008 election pitted illusory, image-based “celebrity” against the “real” policies attributed to John McCain (and let’s not forget that since 9/11 the ur-action of Republican policy has been military action). Such posturing among politicians, who pretend that their stock-in-trade is not the production of avatars, is an outrageous denial of the real power of images.

It seems to me that this faux-naïf denial in the realm

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