Visitors to Denver will probably by now have seen copies of city magazine 5280, this month featuring a striking illustration of Barack Obama against a backdrop of the Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains. It's obviously by Shepard Fairey, the street artist who has created what is probably the iconic image of the campaign: "Hope," featuring a stylized, two-tone Obama shaded with both red and blue, with the Obama campaign logo and the word "HOPE" emblazoned across the bottom.
Fairey has created the iconic image not just of the Obama campaign, but of the campaign itself — how many John McCain posters are out there (or Hillary Clinton posters were there, for that matter?) — Fairey's image works because it's art, not branding, genuinely inspired and genuinely memorable and arresting, whatever your politics.
Fairey's rapid rise to mainstream success (yes, he did the "Andre the Giant Has A Posse" series, but that's not quite the same) has been typical of this campaign: Super-fast, with broad penetration enhanced by mainstream pickup, and fueled by grassroots passion. Sound familiar? This magazine is out in Denver, the place where the Democrats are converging to confirm as their nominee for president a man who has been in national politics for just four years.
This whole campaign has, on one level, been about the Rise of the New (to riff on Fareed Zakaria a bit) — not just Obama, but all the pieces of the machine that helped make Obama possible: The bloggers (cue today's NYT story about 'The Year of the Political Blogger'), multi-platform messaging (texting and tweeting and Tumbling, oh my!), social media (Facebook and MySpace etc.), and a campaign filled with nimble, adaptable minds that got it, and knew how to use the new to tap into the consciousness (and the wallets!) of the people in ways that changed the game forever.
The snake sheds its skin every four years, of course, but man have things changed since 2004: Yes, Ana Marie Cox was on the cover of the NYT mag in 2004 riffing on the Boys on the Bus, but 2008 is where 'the new' has taken hold. My employer, the Huffington Post, didn't exist in 2004, and was viewed with skepticism when it launched in mid-2005. But nowadays, establishing a brand can be done lickety-split (YouTube anyone? TMZ?) and ideas that take hold can take off — which is why HuffPo is now a major media player in this campaign, not too far off from MSM itself (two indicators: (1) Sam Stein's namecheck in Maureen Dowd's column today; and (2) We are hosting a panel and a full-out yoga/massage/spa center at the convention. Not exactly the stuff of ragtag outsiders).
(Meanwhile, for any longtime MSMers reading this today: Four years ago, you probably hadn't heard of this Canuck — and, to be honest, she probably hadn't heard of you.)
But a lot can change in four years, especially these four years, especially if you change with them. This morning, my pal Glynnis MacNicol exclaimed, "John McCain doesn't even have a Twitter feed!"; Obama is following — and followed by — 60 thousand people. That's leaving aside the glaring anachronism that is John McCain not knowing how to use a computer. (Or a blackberry — and can anyone in Denver imagine getting by here without a blackberry?)
Four years ago, Change You Can Believe In was something you had to believe in, because it had only just started. Now, it's change that is happening every day before our eyes. Shepard Fairey is just one symbol of that, but, splashed boldly on magazine covers across Denver, where the American politic right now descends to watch the confirmation of the new Democratic nominee for President — it's a powerful one.
p.s. And if you want to proof of Fairey going mainstream, check out the Obama-inspired art exhibition he's spearheading here called "Manifest Hope" — featuring 80+ celebrated artists from across the country, hosted by Moby, the curators of the Guggenheim and the MCA Denver, Ross Bleckner, Thurston Moore and more. They're also hosting a massive concert Wednesday night. No biggie.