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Dead Tree Alert: Meet the Obamas!

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Illustration by Francisco Caceres for TIME

Illustration by Francisco Caceres for TIME

My column in this week’s magazine looks at the media blitz surrounding America’s newest TV family:


After Obama won, there was talk of a “Huxtable effect”–the idea that pop-cultural portrayals of African Americans from The Cosby Show to 24’s David Palmer readied white America for a black President. But maybe there’s an opposite factor at work here too–the 50 Cent effect. The impact of the Obamas comes partly from the unspoken contrast to a decades-old media archive of images of black people as problems or threats, from news to cop shows to hip-hop. Broken families, perp walks, AKs and Cristal.

Suddenly the most photographed black man in America was giving speeches and calling world leaders. Suddenly the most discussed black women in America were two adorable kids and their lawyer mom. Suddenly you had a news story involving a black man and dogs, and it wasn’t Michael Vick. 

Whenever a young male politician emerges on the scene, people start breaking out the JFK comparisons. (I don’t know how many times after Clinton’s election in 1992 I saw that old photo of Young Bill and Kennedy shaking hands, and the New York Post christened the new administration “Bamalot.”) But for a President-Elect whose challenge has been getting people comfortable with his “exotic” background, Rob Petrie may be a more useful analogy to strive for.