Terrorism, Superman, the feminist, the messiah: Barack Obama, life as a cover star

In October 2004, Barack Obama, then Illinois state legislator, appeared on the cover of Black Enterprise, a popular African-American business monthly. It was his first cover, and hit the magazine editors announcing his intention to run for the U.s. Senate. We have wondered if the young statesman was the hope too high. However, they ran the cover story with the prophetic title: The next big thing in politics.

Cut to 2008, and Obama, after the Senate, he now had his eyes on the presidency. Experts have said that America is not ready for an African-American leader; that whites will not vote for a non-white candidate, or a man with a funny name, whose second name is Hussein, and that in reality he has Muslim relatives; and that even if they did, it would have been assassinated before he has seen out his first term.

Barack! A 2004 issue of Black Enterprise magazine

After they have been proven wrong and Obama was elected in November 2008, people flocked to buy newspapers and magazines with him on the cover, as commemorative keepsakes. His face was everywhere, providing print and publishers with a bump to flagging sales. In a few years, Obama had raised from obscurity to become the most famous person in the world.

I was in New York on election night 2008, and I too was swept up in the fray over the first african-american president. I bought several newspapers and magazines with the face of the new commander-in-chief, and before long find myself fanatically collecting examples from around the world, trawling, newsstands, eBay, and so I wrap my finds in plastic jackets and put them carefully in a storage, such as ancient artefacts. Soon, I had hundreds.

There has never been a president that has involved such a variety of securities, including political and literary magazines of the hip-hop monthly, and comic books. His charm as a cover star has gone well beyond his vocation. Obama is the Sidney Poitier of politics – not just because he was the first man of color to break through the racial restrictions of his profession, but also because he possessed the same dignified aura and princely posture.

During his tenure of eight years, the press has presented it to Obama, a feminist, a communist, a fashion model, the Jew, the messiah, Superman, George Washington, President Franklin Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, the terrorist islamic and also the Hindu deity Shiva. This bizarre kaleidoscope of characterization reflects a sense of confusion about what Obama was, and is, the impossible scope of expectations heaped upon him.

Obama mad magazine (New York, 28 September 2009

The two Obama covers that aroused more contention, when he was in office have been published in the New York magazine (28 September 2009) and ” the New Yorker (21 July 2008). The former allocated to artist Shepard Fairey’s famous Obama HOPE poster, turning it on its head to reflect the point of view of those that the cover line referred to as “Obama crazy”. The president’s face was graffitied with words like socialist, impostor, and Muslims, and the word HOPE has been replaced by HATRED. The coverage voted the most controversial of the year by the American Society of Magazine Editors – was criticized for his evil representation of the new president, but the magazine argued that the words used does not reflect their point of view, but those of a section of Obama dissenters.

A year before, the New Yorker has made the news all over the world, a few hours after its release on newsstands. It is characterized by a cartoon, entitled The politics of fear, depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as terrorists in the foot in the Oval Office. Obama, who is a Christian, is dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, while Michelle is in the Black Panther in military-style fatigues, an AK-47 slung over her shoulder. The couple exchange a fist bump while an American flag burns in the fireplace beneath a portrait of Osama bin Laden.

‘Holds up a mirror to prejudice’ … the “New Yorker”, July 21, 2008

The day after his release, the cover was among the first 20 Google searches. But while the controversy pushed the newsstand sales to record levels, editor David Remnick was forced to come in defence of works of art. “I think that [the cover] is not to hold up a mirror to the prejudice and dark fantasies about Barack Obama – is Obama’ – past, and their politics,” he said, after adding drily: “A cartoon satire would not be any good if it came with a set of instructions.”

It was during the training for the 2008 election of Obama was the first cast by US print media such as Superman and the messiah, or Obamessiah, as it was often called). The 20 March edition of Rolling Stone featured a figure of a statesman immersed in an angelic glow of white light, while the cover of the New Republic of January 30 issue depicted him as a Christ like figure in a stained-glass window, complete with halo. In the meantime, the winter 2009 cover of Ms present the president-elect a black feminist Superman. Obama, not as president but as a savior.

It was racist to describe Obama in this way, in the knowledge that, by doing so, was he failing? Some might say no, because this is simply how it is presented to the 2008 electorate: as a transformative figure that should fix everything, that would have led to the radical change. Of course, every white president before Obama promised the same thing, while the propaganda for the elections – but the press has chosen not to depict them as a flying demigod in crimson underwear. Because Obama is the first black president, expectations were high, and when he discovered that he does not have magical powers, many felt betrayed.

False news! The magazine covers Donald Trump could not make it up

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October 20, 2012 edition of the Spectator cleverly caught the end of Obama’s honeymoon period: an illustration of the president, again, as an avenger Superman figure, only this time caught in the middle of a fatal kryptonite time, fall helplessly out of the sky, his powers sapped, his body suddenly deadly.

Donald Trump and the Joker in the New York Daily News

Overall, however, Obama covers were much more flattering to Trump. Where Obama was depicted as a charismatic man of the state, Trump was satire as a buffoon; where Obama was portrayed as a family man, Trump was derided as a sexual predator. In what seems like an outtake from the Marvel Comics storyline, two separate 2016 covers of the New York Daily News depict Obama as Superman, Trump as Batman and the Joker.

The fake cover of Time at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Shop. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

In this month of June, it was revealed that on the walls of the four Trump golf properties hung framed copies of a fake Time magazine cover with his own image, together with the cover line: “The Apprentice is a television smash!” It was the jealousy, the main motivation of its own production, favourable cover-story? Obama has pardoned 12 Time covers during the 2008 election year, compared to eight for Trump in 2016.

The cover of Time magazine 2 February 2009, captures the moment many thought would never come: the inauguration of Obama as the 44th president of the United States. When the country’s first president, George Washington, was inaugurated April 30, 1789, black, people, there were the slaves. Now, 220 years later, there was an african-american president. It was a fairy tale come true, and this image, probably the most powerful in American history – signs of the dramatic, surprising moment.

• Obama: the 101 Best Covers by Ben Arogundade is published by White Label Books.