Last week, Academic Coach Taylor explored some of the early manifestations of the Obama+Unicorn meme. The unicorn marks Obama’s pre-presidential relationship to hope, paradise, and collective political fantasies, but there’s an inverse to these gleeful images now that Obama hasn’t been able to shower us all with free health care and 0% unemployment rates: so what’s it mean when Obama’s political opponents take jabs at the unicorn?
Because of the unicorn’s fantasy-based set of cultural associations, the beast accompanies a specifically utopian politics — what is a unicorn if not the representative of a politics of Hope? In the past years and recent present, Republicans seem particularly testy about Obama’s unicorn-charming magic. In a 2010 April Fool’s vid, the National Republican Senatorial Committee [NRSC] precisely honed in on the failed promises of the Obama Dream Machine, the unicorn standing in for the audacity of liberal hope and broken faith of low-emission unicorns.
What’s that gliding across the sky and shitting rainbows? Granted, this unicorn is being ridden by some white guy (Joe Biden perhaps? The videographer who couldn’t make a convincing Obama photoshop mockup?). But a year later, the NRSC returned for a second round of the Obama April Fool’s vid:
This vid caps with a screenshot of a maniacally grinning Obama riding a unicorn across the heavens; the image has been receiving some renewed circulation as the presidential battle against Mittens warms up. Last month, Peter Bella, social journalist, “Middle Class Guy” commentator for the Washington Times and self-described “freelance photographer, freelance writer, budding videographer, and passionate cook” (a unicorn rider if ever I heard one!), flailed in an online op-ed: “The politically palatable president rides again. Our super-hero president donned his neon tights, mounted his snow-white unicorn, and rode off into the rainbow to seek truth, justice, fairness, and the American way.”
The conservative snark-fest is curious — there seems to be a certain critical delight in associating Obama with a fancy magical pony for little girls, marking it as gendered (and doggedly sexist) symbolism, but it’s a strangely racialized move as well. Obama’s blackness, so much a point of subtle and unconscious contention (manifest in everything from the unhinged claims of Birthers to the racist and insane 2008 “Obama Bucks” to LaRouchian representations of Obama as Hitler…huh?) is particularly apparent against a white hot unicorn body. Obama is never more absurd — nor out of place racially, given the way Tolkien-esque fantasy and Euro-based whiteness typically collide — than when barebacking a unicorn. In such a representation, however, the unicorn holds on to none of its beautiful, hybrid, wacky utopian charm—the unicorn, instead, represents a complete disconnection with reality, the stuff of fantasy and foolish dreams and little gay lads named Charlie, rendering the pairing all the more racially and sexually uncomfortable.
Rather than liberal delight in promise, then, these representations of Obama offer only hard-edged, jaded disdain of that which, like Pegasus, can’t keep its feet on the ground. To belittle Obama through juxtaposition with unicorns is to mock the political alchemy his “HOPE” promised. This is a conservative politics that favors restoration rather than transformation, one which would rather demand “simpler times” and “traditional values” — political visions particularly apt for a party that yearns for the halcyon days of Reagan the Great, and whose only dreams seem to be those of American exceptionalism. If anything, the unicorn is as unfathomable to a conservative imagination as the young, seemingly sincere, biracial Obama himself must have looked only 4 short years ago.
What other promise could the unicorn hold? Could it possibly be a revolutionary for postmodern times? Check in next week when Academic Coach Taylor takes on his final installment of this three-part series (and finally does justice to the Painter of Pancakes!).