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The Obamas rock and rule

Fans swooning over the First Family's every move, wall-to-wall media coverage and one pampered pooch: the Obamas are the planet's hottest rock stars busy revamping the image of the US presidency.

In the 100 days since President Barack Obama and his family arrived in the White House there has been no sign of any let-up in the Obamania which swept the globe during the 2008 campaign.

Rather it has moved to the next level.

Tweenie girls now pin posters of the Obama's daughters, Malia, 10 and Sasha, seven, to their bedroom walls and fantasize about joining White House sleepovers and becoming BFFL -- best friends for life -- with the First Kids.

Magazine editors fight for the coolest image of the new president and his wife, Michelle, whether digging in the new organic garden, showing off their honed muscles, or romping with the First dog, Bo.

A new swing set adorns the White House lawn for the girls, rock stars have given intimate invitation-only concerts, and the White House has been dragged into the Internet age after Obama was allowed to keep his beloved Blackberry.

And even though the United States is in the grip of its worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, it seems the Obamas can do no wrong.

"Unless the economy takes a huge turn for the worse, or there is some mishandling, I don't think the sheen will wear off for some time yet," said Robert Watson, director of American studies at Lynn University, Florida.

"This is Camelot the Sequel," he told AFP, referring to the name given to the brief White House reign of John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie, seen as a golden era for the US presidency.

"We didn't tire of Camelot for well over two years and we still haven't really yet."

The family images, while all carefully controlled, "help humanize the new president, help him govern, after all how many families are there out there struggling to bring up kids in this economy?" Watson added.

And unlike the Kennedys, the Obamas come from ordinary, middle-class families, born without the advantages of privilege and wealth.

It is exactly this image of the family next door, which so many Americans as well as people around the world, find both endearing and inspirational, analysts argue.

"They represent more than just the president and first lady, more than just partisan Democrats, more than just African-Americans," said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, historian to the Ohio-based National First Ladies' Library.

"It's almost like they represent a new way of how we should be thinking about ourselves, and that is the way people respond to them."

He highlighted the highly personal and emotional speech given by Michelle Obama to schoolgirls in London, in which she urged them to be true to themselves and draw from her example of what you can achieve in life.

"You see them giving people a sense of hope about themselves, and this is a radically different kind of inspiration," Anthony said.

He highlighted Michelle Obama's authenticity and her down-to-earth nature, seen in the way she mixes chain store clothes with designer outfits.

The First Lady, who only last year was criticized as an "angry black woman," has reinvented her image as mom-in-chief, focusing on family issues and often seen hugging and laughing with children.

Last week she joked with visiting kids that she didn't miss having to cook the dinner, and revealed she and her staff sometimes "sneak out, without telling anybody, and we go and test out all the fun places to eat in DC."

Washingtonians have been lapping it up. Restaurants graced by the Obamas, see seats booked up for weeks ahead afterwards.

Kids are clamoring to get onto basketball teams in the hope that they will bump into one of the girls, and by extension their parents. And suddenly frumpy, staid old Washington is cool again.

"Washington is in a real golden age. The Obamas have brought a level energy and enthusiasm into the city in the last couple of months," said Garrett Graff, political correspondent at The Washingtonian.

His magazine ran into some flak for its front cover picture last week of a bare-chested Obama in his swimming trunks, with the label "Our new neighbor is hot."

While such slavering over the Obama's good looks might seem slightly distasteful, their image of being both hip and cerebral protects them from ridicule.

"We meant it on the cover in a tongue in cheeky way," Graff said, "but it's a very cool time to be here and one major reason is that the Obamas are here."

Copyright 2009 AFP American Edition
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Publication:AFP American Edition
Date:Apr 27, 2009
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