Wriggling, Writhing, and ‘Rithmatic
“All the visible universe is nothing but a storehouse of images and signs,” wrote Charles Baudelaire at the dawn of photography in 1859. Photographic images—signs in their own right—frequently contain other signs, and those signs within signs, carriers of text and meaning, are a common target for alteration.
According to the sign held aloft, the letters in “Barack Hussein Obama” add up to “19,” as in “Covid-19.” Surely, this math proves something cunning and treacherous. Or such seems to be the fervent belief of Sarah Mason, the patriotically dressed Southern California sign-waver. The image of Sarah Mason and her sign circulated widely on social media.
The original photo was taken April 17, 2020 by Jeff Gritchen, staff photographer for the Southern California News Group/Orange County Register. Sarah Mason did wave a sign at the corner of Main Street and Walnut Avenue a block from the Huntington Beach pier, but it carried rough-edged hand-lettering stating “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” A later digital manipulation added the new text arithmetically linking Barack Hussein Obama to Covid-19.
Additionally, the Covid claim is not the only thing that doesn’t add up. The number of letters in “Barack Hussein Obama”—6 + 7 + 5—equal 18, not 19. Conclusion: Doublecheck the photograph and the math.