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For the first time in the history of the address, the 2011 State of the Union was accompanied online by an enhanced version, which gave viewers the option of experiencing the speech alongside a display providing images, charts, graphs, outlines, and data visualizations. This paper examines the visual rhetoric of President Barack Obama’s 2011 enhanced State of the Union, locating this rhetoric in an aesthetic regime of neoliberal temporality. I argue that the visual rhetoric of the Enhanced Address articulates between conservative and progressive temporalities in order to promise a future economic victory prefigured by the economic logics of the past. Working between Svetlana Boym’s understanding of a restorative nostalgia that seeks to return to a lost, mythic origin, and a reflective nostalgia which looks to the past to open up new possibilities for the future, I argue that the temporal rhetoric of neoliberalism stylizes the return to the past as modality of progression in the future. I draw on the work of Lauren Berlant and Sarah Sharma to argue that the aesthetics of the enhanced State of the Union invite viewers into a recalibrative nostalgic temporality which works reciprocally between restoration and reflection, allowing viewers to adjust their relationship to a deflated political scene without fundamentally altering the political coordinates that produce the conditions of economic exchange.


Temporality, Economics, Neoliberalism, Visual Rhetoric, Presidential Rhetoric

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Copyright © 2015 James Alexander McVey

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.




Thank you to Eric King Watts, Leslie Hahner, Sam Perry, and Stephen Heidt for their comments on previous versions of this essay.