Thoughts on the Malia Photobomb GIF

The “Malia photobomb” GIF has made the rounds, and like a lot of people, I was pretty delighted by it. It’s a great example of why the Obamas are such a cool, relatable family. Their rapport always seems natural, never forced or camera-ready.

On one side, we see the President and First Lady sharing a quick kiss, which Sasha tries to capture on her iPhone. But Malia swoops into the frame and goofs it. The movements of leaning in for the kiss and leaning in for the photobomb happen in syncopation. I love the contrast between the the two — the affection between the loving couple and the playful, “pssh whatever” irreverence between the sisters.

But then the two elements cohere. Malia looks back at her parents like, “Did you see?” The President and First Lady just sort of raise their eyebrows, like “Yes, you’re very clever.” The fact that Malia, in a way, was “performing” for her parents throws the non-performance of the kiss into stark relief. I also couldn’t help but think about how Malia, by crowding the frame of that picture, was “performing” the fact that she herself is the end result of her parents’ affection for each other.

It’s a great family snapshot, all the more significant when you notice how it’s hedged on all sides by markers of this family’s very unique situation: stone-faced Secret Service agents sitting behind, the Vice President and his family sitting to their left, and news cameras to their right. It’s a funny, “normal” scene in the middle of a very Presidential reality.

Nathan Pensky is a writer and editor living in rural Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter.