Missing the Obama-Jesus story

obama as jesusDid you hear that Barack Obama looks a lot like Jesus in a sculpture at the The Art Institute of Chicago? Oh wait, he is supposed to be Jesus in the sculpture. Quick, someone inform Slate's Timothy Noah, who has been dutifully chronicling the "Obama Messiah Watch." In all seriousness, the first news report I saw on this item was frightfully poor. A.J. Sterling of Fox News Chicago states glibly that "some may be offended by the suggestion that Christ is black, or that the United States could have a black president, but they don't seem to be at the exhibit this night." I guess the Grand Kleagle of the closest Klan had a previous engagement.

Where does Sterling come from? Sure, some don't realize that Jesus probably looked a lot like your average Palestinian and are surprised when they see their blond-haired and blue-eyed image of Jesus shattered. But why is it necessary to suggest that this might offend some people? And why is the absence of the imagined offended people part of the news story?

Nathaniel Hernandez, an Associated Press writer, had a much more balanced and thorough report Tuesday that has a response from the Obama camp:

"While we respect First Amendment rights and don't think the artist was trying to be offensive, Senator Obama, as a rule, isn't a fan of art that offends religious sensibilities," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Cordero said the school had fielded plenty of calls about his work, "some of them from angry people." He also said he had heard from a few potential buyers.

Bruce Jenkins, dean of the art school's undergraduate program, said response to the piece -- part of a student exhibition -- has been mostly positive. He said people should take a close look at the sculpture and the context it was created in before judging it.

"When you see it, when you spend time with it, you understand that it's not a provocative work at all," Jenkins said. "It opens a set of questions."

I'd like to see someone try to gather exactly what "religious sensibilities" are being offended in this piece of art. What are the "angry people" saying? Who are the potential buyers?

I'm no expert art critic, but looking at the questions that this piece of art raises -- is Obama perceived as a savior (by the media)? -- seems to be a great way of covering the story rather than focusing on the fact that a handful of people may be upset over a depiction of a black Jesus.

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