This Seat’s Taken: Obama’s Celebrity Status

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Obama has taken social media where no president has gone before. His Twitter and Facebook pages have exploded with followers and fans wanting to know more about the President’s ideas, values, and plans for America’s future. Obama’s campaign has recently targeted young adults ages 18-29 in a campaign called “For All”, in which people in this age group are encouraged to snap pictures that “highlight why we are greater together regardless of race, background, sexual orientation, or zip code”, and upload these photos using social media. 

What exactly is going on here? Simply, Obama is “getting on our level”. I would argue that with laptops, iPads, and smartphones, social media is used more frequently than both the television and the radio (in Generation Y, at least). Obama knows this and is reaching out in a way that we understand and will respond to. In Digital Rhetoric and Public Discourse, Gurak and Antonijevic discuss that Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) removes nonverbal communication from interactions. I believe that this nonverbal aspect eliminates the previously unreachable boundary between the President and a citizen of the US. In person, one might be in awe of the chief executive; online, he is simply just another Facebook user. There is no feeling of awkwardness – supporters are hidden behind their monitors and usernames, and this creates a much more relaxed atmosphere. 

The extent to which Obama uses social media and the receptiveness of his followers are turning him into a kind of celebrity. An average citizen communicating with the president was simply unheard of before. Now, it is becoming the norm. As a result, the awe and feeling of awkwardness discussed above dissipate. Social media forces us to display almost every aspect of our personal lives for the Internet to see. Before, there was an aura of mystery about a president – now, it’s easy to see all of his skeletons when the closet is open for all to tour. Gossip sites go crazy, tabloids splash his image on their covers, and people have casual conversations about the President’s personal life and history. 

Despite his celebrity status, Obama still manages to use social media in a way that impresses and delights his followers. A prime example can be found on his Twitter feed the night that Romney accepted the Republican nomination – during his acceptance speech, as a matter of fact. Obama tweeted a picture of himself in the President’s chair at the White House (see above picture) with the caption, “This seat’s taken”. Within 24 hours, the image had millions of retweets; social media sites were buzzing with the audacity and thrillingly catty drama the Obama campaign stirred up. It’s obvious that Obama not only knows how to use social media; he also knows how to reach people. Digital Rhetoric and Public Discourse discuss kairos – opportune moments in digital space. Obama’s use of kairos in this situation could not have been more perfectly planned – so many people were online and discussing the RNC that to tweet it out at any other time would have been foolish. 

Could any other president have gotten away with this? Probably not. Obama’s savvy social media skills and people’s insatiable desire for news and gossip allowed him to make one of the most daring moves in social media history. Some people were angry, of course. But he will be forgiven – after all, don’t all celebrity fans forgive and forget in light of their favorite star’s next big hit? 

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