Saturday, December 05, 2009

Fit to Govern

The first year of the historic Obama presidency has been marked by public preoccupation with both of the Obamas' physiques.

The much discussed December 2008 paparazzo photo of President Barack Obama's "six pack" and the spring 2009 media preoccupation with First Lady Michelle Obama's "right to bare arms" are indications of just how much we've come to equate fitness with fitness to govern. The well-toned body is seen as a sign of the virtue necessary for governance. Self-control, that is, self-governance, is seen as prerequisite to govern the populace.*

Earlier this year I sat down to write about these public fascinations. Some of my thinking about this recently appeared in the journal Social Text, on the occasion of the journal's 30th anniversary and 100th issue. You can read more about this here.

*For a terrific book that also explores these ideas around fitness and governance, check out Jeffrey Louis Decker's Made in America: Self-Styled Success from Horatio Alger to Oprah Winfrey.


Blogger Diana said...

I'm particularly interested in the scrutiny over the Obamas' bodies because of the race issue. Americans still suffer from deeply internalized beliefs that appropriate behavior is segregated by race. The repugnant myth of the "savage negro" is still very active in American racial narratives, and I can't help but think that if the Obamas were a white family, people would not be so obsessed with the fact that Michelle Obama wore shorts when it was 90 degrees out or that Barack Obama didn't wear a shirt to go swimming. It's as though seeing that much exposed skin on black Americans who happen to wield actual power calls to mind all these awful, ignorant, fear-based stereotypes of the sinister Nubian temptress who will turn your sons bad, or the savage black stud who will rob your daughters' honor. It's so, so troubling.

5:46 PM  

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