Friday, January 23, 2009

Melted Cheese on Chinese Food...

To understand the title, you've got to watch this.

It's funny... as Jon Stewart normally is. It's also the first time I have seen Jon Stewart apologetic about his biting satire (and I expect his cringing apologies were genuine). But that's not the main reason why I'm posting it here.

I want to be clear that I'm not posting it here because I think it is any reflection on Obama. I don't think it tells us anything one way or the other about our new president.

I post it here because it so fittingly encapsulates my opinion about political speechifying. It's why I hate the campaigns so much. It's why I didn't watch the inauguration. It's why I generally skip State of the Union addresses. It's all canned, processed, filtered, and generalized. No troublesome specifics or details of implementation ever get in the way. Where any specific action is mentioned, you can be sure that within a week it will have been modified, lessened, softened, or scrapped altogether. It's all a show, and a tediously predictable one.

In my office, one of my bosses canceled a meeting on the morning of the inauguration so he could focus on watching the event. Some people set up a TV in one of the conference rooms, and stood around watching. My other boss had the speech playing on his radio as he worked (he at least was getting something done). This was a major event to a great many people... and frankly, I still can't figure out why.

Was it because Obama is the first African-American President? I can see that that's historically significant, but it doesn't make the inauguration ceremony itself more gripping for me. (I can see how people who grew up in the midst of the fight for civil rights, whichever side they were on, would find much more symbolic significance in the event, but none of my coworkers fit that description.)

Was it because people expected to hear something new and different? If so, then they haven't been paying attention to the campaigns for the last year. Obama speaks a great deal about change (and in reading the transcript of his speech, he must have used that word 100 times!), but his actual policies aren't particularly novel. He'll spend money to help the economy, the same approach we've been taking now for over a year. He'll surge our troops into Afghanistan instead of Iraq, which may be a wise move, but isn't quite cataclysmic policy change. He supports civil unions for homosexuals, which is pretty much the middle-of-the-road position that everyone is taking these days. He will aggressively support abortion rights, which has been pretty much the position of every prominent Democratic politician as long as I can remember. Were people expecting to hear something new or different in his speech?

Or is it just that people enjoy hearing him give speeches? Is he that popular? That inspiring? Are his speeches that moving? I don't find them so, but that doesn't mean that others can't.

I'm not sure what it was, but I skipped the speech... and even as I skipped it, I could have told you almost exactly what was in it. And I could have told you that it would sound shockingly similar to every big political speech we've heard recently, from either side of the political aisle. And, it appears, I would have been right.

At least Jon Stewart provided me some nice humor out of the occasion. :)



MamasBoy said...

That was a seriously funny JS segment. Thanks for sharing it.


Kevin said...

Such a profound gastronomic analogy. :) That cracked me up.

Jon Stewart is a very smart and funny guy, but ever since I discovered that a lot of high schoolers I knew learned their perspective on events from The Daily Show (TDS), I've sadly tended to overanalyze it which has sucked much of the funny out of it for me.

Perhaps TDS acts as a cultural counterweight. I wonder if its viewer demographics will shift over the next 4 years given the new fodder. Heck, I wonder what Colbert will do since (IIRC) he parodies a Republican.

Regarding Obama's speech, I think his campaign has established a widespread hope that we are witnessing greatness; history in the making. Even if the words sound the same, maybe Obama really means what you imagine he could mean. Even if the ideas seem the same, maybe he can make them work. Maybe the old rules don't apply. Maybe it's a different game entirely. Suspension of disbelief.

Like you, I'm not so caught up with his speeches, which is not to say that I'm not hopeful about some aspects. e.g. I am hopeful for a more open government under Obama.


Anonymous said...

I think he meant change from republican type politics. Literally all he was saying was 'vote democrat because we previously had a republican'