authors: Matteo Bittanti (concept, text, website); Claudio Tradardi (concept, execution)
authors: Matteo Bittanti (concept, text, website); Claudio Tradardi (concept, execution)
format: digital images, various resolutions
related news: click here
C reated by Matteo Bittanti and Claudio Tradardi, ObamAds are manipulated screenshots from popular videogames, including 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand (Swordfish Studios/THQ, 2009), Afro Samurai (Namco Bandai/Atari, 2009); Army of Two (Electronic Arts, 2007); Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward/Activision, 2008); Dead Rising 2 (Capcom, 2009); Fallout 3 (Bethesda); F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin (Monolith Production/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment, 2009); Killzone 2 (Guerrilla/Sony Computer Entertainment, 2008); Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar Games/Take Two Interactive, 2008); Hitman: Blood Money (Io Interactive/Eidos Interactive, 2006); Left 4 Dead 2 (Valve Corporation); Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots (Kojima Productions/Konami, 2008); Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar Games/Take Two Interactive, 2009); Resident Evil 5 (Capcom); Saw (Konami, 2009) and The Godfather II (Electronic Arts, 2009). In all cases, the screenshots have been digitally altered with Adobe Photoshop. The alteration consisted in blending logos, posters, and banners of the 2008 Barack Obama campaign into the depicted game environments and/or onto the game characters. Additional alterations include visual representation of artworks and images created by Obama’s supporters as well as critics.
The ObamAds project was originally inspired by the 2008 US Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s in-game campaign that ran during the fall of 2008 on the Microsoft Xbox 360 console. According to a Federal Election Commission filing (source: Brendan Sinclair, Gamespot ), Obama’s campaign sent $44,465.78 to Massive Incorporated, a subsidiary of Microsoft that provides in-game advertising to run in-game advertisements, from October 6 to November 3, in 18 separate titles, including Electronic Arts’ popular sport titles (John Madden, NBA Live, NHL), racing games (Nascar) and skateboard (skate ). The in-game ads mentioned that early voting has begun and referenced the site voteforchange.com, a site “Paid for by Obama for America” whose purpose was to help voters find early voting locations in states that permit the practice.
Image source: Cream
National Public Radio (NPR ), called Barack Obama “the first presidential candidate to embed a political ad in a video game”. The ads - which appeared in 10 different states, most of them contested battleground states such as Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin - were aimed at targeting males between the ages of 18-34.
As reported by Cream , gamers who were online in those states saw key messages in realistic settings while playing the video game titles running the campaign. ‘Early Voting has begun’ and ‘Vote Early’ were displayed on billboards, stadia, and outdoor locations. Additionally, the Xbox Live community was polled on their candidate of choice. “Nearly 100,000 participants cast their votes, with Obama trending 12 percentage points ahead, providing a unique insight into young voters’ minds and served as one of the largest unofficial polls in the nation.” (Cream, 2008)
The first virtual billboard of the Obama Campaign was spotted and reported by gamer Dragunov765 in the Xbox 360 version (note 1) of Burnout Paradise (Electronic Arts), whose screen grab – or, better, digital photograph of his television set displaying the aforementioned ad – quickly became an emblem of the 2008 presidential campaign, and, at least among gamers, reached the same popularity of Shepard Fairey’s controversial HOPE portrait of Barack Obama.
Image source: Dragunov765 - link
The campaign ignited an intense debate among gamers on websites and forums. Many users tend to object the collusion between video games, propaganda, and politics. Others, however, felt that the initiative was encomiable and cleverly executed.
Image source: Kevin Freitas
Aside from the somehow odd choice of selecting Burnout Paradise – a racing game that glorifies the practice of simulating ultra-realistic car crashes in a contemporary-looking Northern American urban landscape – the advertising campaign per se was clearly at odds with President Obama’s frequent criticism of the medium. In fact, in many speeches and statements made by the President, games are often used as a metaphor for underachievement (see below).
Fascinated by this perplexing incongruity, we decided to extend Obama’s in-game campaign beyond the initial sample. We deliberately chose “controversial” titles that have often accused by the media of “sending the wrong messages”. However, ObamAds is not meant as a criticism or parody of the Obama’s in-game campaign. Rather, this artwork playfully participates in the endless recirculation of images and icons produced by the ubiquitous Brand Obama, in all its emanations (let’s not forget that Obama was voted Best Marketer of the Year by Ad Age. Also, Obama was also voted best super hero of 2009).
The Obama haircut that adorns a virtual killer’s head in the Hitman screenshot, for instance, belongs to a supporter who posted the picture online. Other examples of un-official Obama icons include a graffiti wall in Liberty City, Fairey’s pervasive poster, and the Obama-Joker image that appears on a television screen (Saw) (note 2). Obama’s iconography permeates all the media, all the time. In short, these collages, manipulations, and patchworks are symptomatic of a new form of user-generated propaganda in the digital age. Thus, ObamAds is a (manipulated) snapshot of Brand Obama. It is both a “reflection on” and “an outcome of” the endless stream of Obama’s iconographies that flow freely in our mediasphere(s).
In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Vast (2009) elucidates this phenomenon:
"Nearly 18 months after Obamania swept the nation following the Iowa caucuses, our president is everywhere -- from Us Weekly to the nightly news. He's been rendered into an action figure and his likeness gazes out upon the world from T-shirts everywhere. He's the subject of guerrilla art campaigns and formal art installations. Washington's P&D Souvenir Factory, which specializes in snowglobes and collectible spoons commemorating our nation's capital, recently changed its name to "Obama Biden Collectible Merchandises. And then there are the comic books." (2009)
Jen Graves (2008) adds:“Barack Obama is visual culture's number-one subject right now. Combining fine art, street art, and folk art— YouTube seems as good a folk medium as any—the output is unprecedented: There has never been this much art made about a presidential candidate.” Her comment is echoed by TIME’s magazine contributor James Poniewozik (2008): “Whereas Clinton literally blew his own horn, Obama's iconography is largely an outside job: people make videos and posters of him, write rap songs about him, dedicate fashion lines to him, even peddle bootleg T shirts at his events. Like an illegal dvd of The Dark Knight, he has been pirated.”
With ObamAds, the act of piracy continues.
Matteo Bittanti & Claudio Tradardi
San Francisco & Milan, August 15 2009
Obama on videogames: a sampler
”You know, I will invest in education. We’ll make sure government gets behind the schools. But it won’t make much of a difference if parents aren’t turning off the television set and putting away the video games and making sure that our children are doing their homework.” (Barack Obama, in a speech delivered in Columbus, Ohio, October 12 2008) [Chicago Sun-Times]
“I know how hard it will be to alleviate poverty that has built up over centuries, how hard it will be to fix schools, because changing our schools will require not just money, but a change in attitude. We’re going to have to parent better, and turn off the television set, and put the video games away, and instill a sense of excellence in our children, and that’s going to take some time.” (Barack Obama, in a speech celebrating his victory in the Wisconsin Primary, February 18 2008) [WashingtonPost]
“Even with the good schools, we’ve got to pick up the pace, because the world has gotten competitive. The Chinese, the Indians, they’re coming at us and they’re coming at us hard, and they’re hungry, and they’re really buckling down. And they watch - their kids watch a lot less TV than our kids do, play a lot fewer video games, they’re in the classroom a lot longer.” (Barack Obama in a public speech in Wisconsin, June 10, 2009) [Yahoo News]
“The second step that we can all agree on is to invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children. It means quitting smoking, going in for that mammogram or colon cancer screening. It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.” (Barack Obama in a speech to the American Medical Association in Chicago, June 14, 2009) [Washington Post]
“We need to set limits and expectations. We need to replace that video game with a book and make sure that homework gets done... We need to tell our sons, Those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in our house, we find glory in achievement, self-respect, and hard work.” (Barack Obama in a letter to all the children of America published by PARADE, June 21 2009) [Parade]
“On Monday, we launched “United We Serve,” our summer service initiative. It’s going to run all the way through our National Day of Service on September 11th. We want to ask every American to take some time out this summer to do something for others. Parents, take your kids -- they’re going to have fun, they’re going to be in sports camps, they’re going to be watching TV and playing video games. Once a week, take them down -- whether it’s to a soup kitchen or to volunteer on a community project -- teach them what it means to be a real citizen. You’ll find that actually the kids love it, and it’s going to make a lasting impression on them.” (Barack Obama in a speech celebrating the ’United We Serve’ Service Event in Washington D.C., June 25 2009) [Full text]
“To parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and fail to support them when they get home. For our kids to excel, we must accept our own responsibilities. That means putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. It means attending those parent-teacher conferences, reading to our kids, and helping them with their homework...” (Barack Obama, in a speech marking the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, July 16 2009) [Black Politics on the Web]
1. Unlike the Xbox 360 version, in-game ads for the PlayStation 3 version of Burnout Paradise are operated by IGA Worldwide.
2. For additional information about the Obama-Joker image, see "A Joker revealed! The Chicago college student behind the Obama image" by Mark Millian, LA Times and“’Why So Socialist?’ Unmasking the Joker” by Henry Jenkins.
Creamer, Matthew (2008) “Obama Wins! Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year”, October 17, Advertising Age [link]
Graves, Jen (2008) “Yes We Can Art”, The Stranger [link]
Jenkins, Henry (2009) “’Why So Socialist?’ Unmasking the Joker”, Confessions of an AcaFan. The official weblog of Henry Jenkins, August 14 [link]
Not Listed (2008) “Obama Ads Embedded in Videogames”, National Public Radio, morning edition [link]
Not Listed, (2008) “Early Voting - Rock the Vote. best use of Gaming and Gaming Platforms”, Cream. [link]
Poniewozik, James (2008) “What’s Wrong With Celebrity?”, TIME, August 14 [link]
Sinclair, Brand (2008) “Obama’s in game-ad bill: 44.5$”, Gamespot, October 29 [link]
Vast, Jonathan, (2009) "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's . . . Obama", The Wall Street Journal, July 10 [link]
Naomi Klein, "Naomi Klein on How Corporate Branding Has Taken Over America", The Guardian, January 16 2010 [link]
Who’s To Blame
Believes that games are the most interesting artform of the digital age. But then again, he would make the most outrageous statements just to keep on playing without feeling guilty. His thirtysomething year old meatware is located in San Francisco. His avatars are disseminated in the hyper-uranium of bits. They will be still around after his physical demise.
Born in the mid-Seventies, CT grew up overdosing on television, cinema, and video games. In the early Nineties, he discovered Deluxe Paint III for the Amiga and, shortly after, Photoshop 2.5 for Mac. However, he soon switched to Color It! 1.0 because it featured “99 undo levels”! He is remembered for saying: “Dude, Photoshop just sucks, it’s going nowhere!” His career as a game journalist began in 1993 with Game Power, published by Studio Vit in Milan. He kept writing about games for fourteen years straight, many of which spent as Editor-in-Chief of Nintendo Official Magazine. Then, during the summer of 2007, Luca Sprea and Stefano Spagnolo finally explained to him how to do his job. Claudio was so enlightened by the sudden, unexpected revelation that he decided to quit on the spot. Thanks to Andrea Minini, today he spends his days working on something that he really likes (and getting some dough as well!). So many things have changed in CT’s life, but his love for video games has remained the same. Bragging time: C has achieved more than 100k+ Gamerscore points and 200+ trophies. Moreover, he is a Master Mii Artisan. Last but not least, he scored 731.390 points at the first level of PiCOPiCT (DSiWare). His favorite app is Photoshop.
Sept 8 2009
"I've talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn [...] I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox." (President Barack Obama, Sept 8 2009, source: WhiteHouse.gov).
ObamAds. Quando la pirateria re-inventa la propaganda politica
“Barack Obama domina da mesi la classifica della nostra cultura visuale. Arte contemporanea, street art, folk art, senza dimenticare YouTube... La produzione iconografica legata al presidente è senza precedenti:una simile proliferazione di ‘arte’ legata a un candidato presidenziale non si era mai vista prima ”
(Jon Graves, The Stranger, 2008)
“Se nel caso di Clinton, la propaganda era prodotta direttamente dalla Casa Bianca, l’iconografia di Obama è, in larga parte, spontanea e auto-generata: la gente crea e diffonde poster, video, canzoni rap, capi di abbigliamento, t-shirt non autorizzate... Come una copia illegale del “Cavaliere Oscuro”, Obama è stato piratato”
(James Poniewozik, TIME)
La pirateria, oggi, è, prima di tutto, un gesto artistico, un gioco sovversivo, una pratica espressiva. Prendi due giocatori appassionati, una quindicina di videogame “controversi” e la pervasiva immagine di Barack Obama e il risultato è ObamAds. Abbiamo passato un mese a smanettare con Photoshop per ‘piratare’ titoli di recente e recentissima pubblicazione, inserendo logo, poster, immagini ufficiali della campagna elettorale di Barack Obama – nonchè materiale propagandistico pro/contro creato da fans e haters – all’interno degli scenari digitali e sui corpi degli avatar. Ironicamente, il progetto ObamAds è stato ispirato dalla campagnia di propaganda elettorale dello stesso Obama.
Nel novembre del 2008, il team presidenziale ha investito $44,465,78 (Brandan Sinclair, 2008) per inserire all’interno di 18 videogame per Xbox 360 banner, poster e messaggi promozionali. Visualizzati in dieci stati “incerti” – Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada e Wisconsin – i promo obamiani esortavano i giocatori a votare (“Early Voting Has Begun”, “Vote Early”). Il target di riferimento prevedeva adolescenti a adulti di età compresa tra i 18 e i 34 anni (l’età media dei videogiocatori negli Stati Uniti è di 35 anni, stando alle ultime ricerche di mercato). Inoltre, il team Obama ha organizzato sondaggi online coinvolgendo oltre centomila giocatori.
Il risultato? Barack Obama passerà alla storia come il primo candidato presidenziale della storia ad aver utilizzato i videogiochi come piattaforma pubblicitaria. L’iniziativa del neo-presidente ha innescato un intenso dibattito in rete tra i videogiocatori. Numerosi utenti hanno criticato la decisione di trasformare un’arena relativamente a-politica in uno spazio di propaganda (per chi scrive, tuttavia, il medium videoludico è, da sempre, fortemente politicizzato – non esistono tecnologie neutrali).
Altri, tuttavia, hanno apprezzato la tecnofilia del neo-eletto. In realtà, l’operazione presenta più di un paradosso: oltre all’ambiguità di uno dei titoli scelti – Burnout Paradise è un gioco di corsa ambientato in una fittizia metropoli statunitense che simula e premia, con estremo realismo e con un feticismo morboso di stampo ballardiano, i più brutali e devastanti incidenti automobilistici – la filosofia della campagna si scontra frontalmente con l’atteggiamento denigratorio del presidente americano nei confronti del medium. Nel contesto della retorica obamiana, infatti, il videogame viene spesso usato come ”underachievement metaphor” (metafora dell’insuccesso). Per Obama, vincere nei videogame equivale a perdere nella vita “reale”. Da qui il suo ricorrente invito alle giovane leve a “mollare il joypad”.
Esortazioni sorprendentemente luddite per una figura che è stata osannata come tecnologicamente smaliziata. Affascinati dall’atteggiamento apparentemente schizofrenico del team Obama e dalla summenzionata, discutibile, selezione del campione, abbiamo deciso di ampliare la campagna promoludica iniziale, scegliendo una serie di titoli “controversi”, spesso accusati dai media di “comunicare valori diseducativi”. Tuttavia, ObamAds non rappresenta una parodia o una critica dell’iniziatiava originale. Al contrario, questo atto di pirateria iconografica è insieme causa ed effetto della straordinaria produzione di immagini che formano l’ubiquo Brand Obama.
Barack Obama, “Best Marketer of the Year” secondo Advertising Age (Cramer, 2008) è un presidente iper-mediato. Ergo, i nostri collage, manipolazioni e remix sono sintomatici di una nuova forma di propaganda user-generated resa possibile dalla diffusione dai network e dalle tecnologie digitali. Sono l’immagine speculare – riflettente e insieme deformante – dei nostri tempi. In questo nuovo mediascape, è del tutto “normale” che l’opera d’arte più discussa del 2008 sia una fotografia dell’Associated Press di Barack Obama che Shepard Faired aka Obey ha “piratato” per creare il poster HOPE.
Per lo stesso motivo, è assolutamente normale che l’immagine di Obama-Joker, “piratata” da un ventenne di Chicago, sia stata a sua volta “piratata” con l’aggiunta della scritta “Socialist” diventando l’icona della destra americana.
Dopo tutto, la pirateria, oggi, è, prima di tutto, un gesto sovversivo, un gioco artistico, una forma di critica.
San Francisco & Milano
Matteo Bittanti & Claudio Tradardi
Creamer, Matthew (2008) “Obama Wins! Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year”, October
17, Advertising Age
Graves, Jen (2008) “Yes We Can Art”, The Stranger
Poniewozik, James (2008) “What’s Wrong With Celebrity?”, TIME, August 14
Sinclair, Brand (2008) “Obama’s in game-ad bill: 44.5$”, Gamespot, October 29