The optimization of the population as vital has been remolded with recent expressions of multispecies living, a rejuvenation of Environmentalism, the inception of ecology into politics and conceptualizations of post-human society. In this paper we address this re-establishment of government by analyzing the portraits of, and everyday discussions on and with, the First dog Bo Obama. The question we pose is how the First dog is constituted as a true family accessory, well behaved and in extension, an authority who can call upon the presidential subject and the ideal caring citizen? This also requires that the presidential family and staff occasionally walk in the other end of a leash, cuddle with and are companions to, the dog. Equally is the dog shaped to behave in a certain manner coupled with a specific mode of speech, representative of our time. By analyzing the imagery around, and peripheral statements on Bo and his relation to Barack Obama, the First family, the White House and in particular, interactive people, such as animal rights activists, we scrutinize the capillary workings of power. By intertwining Animal Studies with Governmentality theory we illustrate that the discourse around Bo produces him as a neo-liberal social being, offered to speak his own opinion in front of journalists’ microphones and TV cameras, obliged to express taste and distaste, seduced to exercise and keep his body fit, all furthered at internet forums by human animals pretending to be dogs. The imagery around Bo produces a specific reality of not only a legitimate presidential family life filled with standardized leisure time, but also of new possibilities for how to govern the population. As people voluntarily engage in seeing through the eyes of the dog, evaluating their president in relation to the dog, and speaking on behalf of the dog, new power relations arise that utilize this engagement. This exemplifies how a governmental rationality evolves, by how it increasingly takes the life of the non-human animal as its objective whilst people are rendered governable, rationalized to be calculated upon, to be optimized at an aggregate level.
The Radical Foucault Conference, University of East London, Cultural Studies and Organization. London. 8-9 sep. 2011