Long the staple of Lisa Frank folders and bad fantasy, the unicorn is associated with all we hold close to our hearts: sandy shores, moody waterfalls, misty woodlands and awesome rainbows. But we can’t ignore the newest historic function of the unicorn: Barack Obama’s noble mount-of-choice. When Obama publicly announced his support for gay marriage, it took the internet all of 10 seconds to photoshop him shooting rainbow lasers of love upon his liberal citizens while proudly riding a unicorn through a field that looks like a Windows 7 background.
But Obama’s affiliation with unicorns has been going on since he “fantastically” nailed his nomination for President in 2008. It’s a phenomenon unique to the late aughts and early 21st-teens — Obama is the first President “of” the truly hatched internet generation. But why unicorns? Follow me on a three-part exploration touring Barack Obama’s greatest unicorn hits, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mythic creature Obama gets atop, and rein in (just a bit) the wily politics of the unicorn.
A Genealogy of Unicorns: Extra Fantastical and Way Gay (OBVSLY)
There might be nothing gayer than a unicorn. Think about it: it’s a pony with the world’s most dangerous dildo/butt-plug on its head. It loves to go cruising in the woods, and on underpopulated beaches. It’s impossible to catch a glimpse of, because its only temporality is “gay midnight”, which is actually 2 AM. And it’s way more beautiful than you will ever be. Thus, the politics of the unicorn are sexual, as unicorns remind us of the profound and magical beauty of that which cannot, by its very being, “be like the rest” (ever wonder if unicorns make up 10% of the horse population?).
This now infamous image has a circuitous little history. The original image is the work of the Photoshop monkeys at Creative Loafing Atlanta magazine, circa October 2008:
Now that’s a pretty deft clipping path.
Almost a week later in 2008, the magazine LA CityBeat featured a similarly mythic cover story on Obama’s unlikely nomination:
Here, Obama functions as the New Adam, or a secular St. Francis, his nakedness rendering him biblical. In what is almost a racially-problematic scene deploying old tropes of primitivism, the unicorn serves to mark this not as a “deep in the jungle” post-colonial image, but rather the world of fantasy. However real unicorns were believed to be (even up until the 19th century), the unicorn is, quite literally, out of this world — paradise tripping on E.
Both of these images might find their equine antecedent in Lukas Ketner’s April 30, 2008 illustration for Portland’s Willamette Week, which he illustrated in an admittedly “Harlequin Romance novel” style. The heavens part over Portland as Obama wades out of the water, half John the Baptist, half Michael Jackson (and, as one sassy commenter noted, “ejaculating roses”). What’s that behind him? A white horse, standing in for our dewy-eyed adoration of the young nominee who promised an integrity and virtue that could match his great jaw line. Not a unicorn, but damn close.
Unicorns were believed to be tameable only by virgins, who alone could woo the creature to lay down its head. Perhaps we were the unicorn all along, the fickle American voting public, stuffed sick on the expanding military and encroached civil liberties of the Bush administration, desperate for a bit of purification, only laying down our head (and ballots) for an unsullied political virgin (or a ten-year Chicago politician the Republican party called “inexperienced”).
In defending gay rights, the peak in Obama fever, and the re-mixed unicorn-rainbow-laser rideout suggests that perhaps what excited us wasn’t so much his sentiment, as the renewal of the sacred status to which we’d erected him to begin with — a prodigal son worth our forgiveness.
How does the unicorn function in partisan politics? Stop by next week for Academic Coach Taylor’s next installment: “Unicorns as Heralds of Liberal Utopia, and the Conservatives Who Hate Them”.