Yesterday I made some comments on Google’s doodle that commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Sometimes I react before I finish reflecting. Some of the comments (along with some conversation with personal friends) caused me to rethink what I’d written. I’d like to retract some of what I said.
I still think that the doodle creates an intentional ambiguity in which the viewer is reminded of both MLK and Barack Obama at the same time. The doodle is definitely of MLK. He’s even got his hand raised just as he does in the most iconic photo from the event. But those ears. Those ears do not look anything like MLK’s, though they strongly resemble Obama’s. The key for me is that we don’t see his face. Why would Google take the iconic photo of King and spin it around to the back so as to obscure his features?
In my original post I suggest that Google uses the doodle to communicate that we’re still more or less in the same place we were in 1963. I now think that was a wrong interpretation. My own cynicism about America’s political discourse, coupled with the recent tensions over the Zimmerman case, led me astray.
I think Google was attempting something much more positive with its doodle. When we see it, we are reminded of King in 1963, but when we blink, we’re reminded that Obama will be addressing America from the same spot in 2013. A black leader argues for equality, and fifty years later a black president honors his memory. Part of the dream has been fulfilled. There is a beautiful symmetry to the moment, and I think Google’s ambiguity about the face highlighted this.
I was even encouraged by the first half of Obama’s speech. In it he addressed the concern that I voiced in my previous post. I was concerned about people dishonoring King by belittling how far we’ve come. Obama agrees.
To dismiss the magnitude of this process, to suggest, as some sometimes do that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King, Jr. — they did not die in vain. Their victory was great.
I’m going to set aside my cynicism for a day or two. I think Google, Obama, and I are all on the same page regarding this one point: America has come a long way. The doodle is a kind of a cool prophecy/fulfillment confluence. A leader of black Americans announces his dream, and exactly fifty years later a black leader of all Americans reminds us how much we’ve gained.
I ended my last post by saying, “Some people will feel that I’m reading too much into a doodle. Maybe I am.” I probably shouldn’t retract that statement.
You can see the doodle and read the original post here.