Friday, March 02, 2007

Identity Politics Replaced?
Obama and "the storyline"

POTUS? I don't want to blog about Barack Obama- the subject is well covered in the Vermont Blog-o-sphere. Over at Vermont Daily Briefing, Philip Baruth has all but turned that blog into an "Obama for President" site; while at What's The Point, Neil Jensen has gone him one better and HAS actually turned the blog into an Obama for President site.

You, oh dear five readers, do not need to come here and get more of the same.

But I can't help it. I keep going back to the subject.

At VDB, Philip Baruth wrote about the media's need to shape a gripping storyline...and the story they want to tell is..."Every Democrat Loves Obama EXCEPT Black Americans....what do they know that we don't? More...after the break!"

Even NPR is playing the game. In a February 28, Morning Edition Story, Steve Inskeep aired an interview with Obama. The Senator is heading to speak at Selma this year.

Here's an except from the printed transcript:

At his Capitol Hill office this week, Obama spoke with Steve Inskeep about his
upcoming trip to Selma and his experiences as an African American presidential

Do you try to talk in the same way to a black audience as a white

I think that the themes are consistent. It think that there's a
certain black idiom that it's hard not to slip into when you're talking to a
black audience because of the audience response. It's the classic call and
response. Anybody who's spent time in a black church knows what I mean. And so
you get a little looser; it becomes a little more like jazz and a little less
like a set score.

That is the way the story is framed: Obama, The African American candidate. The leading question: Do you do different stuff with black people than you do with white people?

The implied question, of course, being: which Obama is the "real" one?

(--And of course, if any of these big media types actually CAME from anywhere besides "TV Land", they'd realize that a LOT of Americans change their accent depending on who they are talking with. I listen to my Vermont friends turn into Peperidge Farm advertisements when they call their Mama in the Northeast Kingdom. As for me, when I get on the phone to Southern Relatives, I slip into something between Jeff Foxworthy and Willie Nelson. It just happens...it's not sinister...unless you are one of the big media pod-people with no home outside of a Georgetown cocktail party to call your own.)

I have to admit, I don't get it...the story isn't Barack Obama: The African American Candidate; the REAL story is that Obama is the first CANDIDATE who just HAPPENS to be African American.

His appeal (and for that matter, Hillary Clinton's appeal) cut's across the lines of "identity politics"--- He is not just a candidate for Black Americans, but a strong candidate for ALL voters who self-identify as Democrats. Hillary Clinton is not universally popular among women...some like her, some don't...just as many Democrats at large like her...and many don't.

To me, the most exciting thing about this race is that it looks like maybe, just maybe, we can leave behind "Identity Politics" and show the fractured, factional world, the we practice "Community Politics".

Just a hope- but today, it looks pretty bright.


Kate said...

good post, good points. thank you for pointing out what is obvious to many of us - except perhaps the media cultured (whose accent is washed out of 'em before they let 'em loose to do their job). sometimes the way we talk depending on the to-whom factor is *human* rather than political.

i wish the interviewer asked obama how he changes his speech patterns when talking with interviewers.

as a female, i'm tired of the news telling me what an identifying group i belong to thinks about political candidates. while i realize that some group needs are unique, community politics would be a nice change from the divisive identity politics you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah. All well and good. But what about Anna Nicole Smith?

Anonymous said...

And for that matter... here is some real news!

Even Ignoring Paris Hilton Makes News

NEW YORK (AP) - So you may have heard: Paris Hilton was ticketed the other day for driving with a suspended license.

Not huge news, even by celebrity-gossip standards. Here at The Associated Press, we put out an initial item of some 300 words. But it actually meant more to us than that.

It meant the end of our experimental blackout on news about Paris Hilton.

It was only meant to be a weeklong ban - not the boldest of journalistic initiatives, and one, we realized, that might seem hypocritical once it ended. And it wasn't based on a view of what the public should be focusing on - the war in Iraq, for example, or the upcoming election of the next leader of the free world, as opposed to the doings of a partygoing celebrity heiress/reality TV star most famous for a grainy sex video.

No, editors just wanted to see what would happen if we didn't cover this media phenomenon, this creature of the Internet gossip age, for a full week. After that, we'd take it day by day. Would anyone care? Would anyone notice? And would that tell us something interesting?

It turned out that people noticed plenty - but not in the way that might have been expected. None of the thousands of media outlets that depend on AP called in asking for a Paris Hilton story. No one felt a newsworthy event had been ignored. (To be fair, nothing too out-of-the-ordinary happened in the Hilton universe.)

The reaction was to the idea of the ban, not the effects of it. There was some internal hand-wringing. Some felt we were tinkering dangerously with the news. Whom, they asked, would we ban next? Others loved the idea. "I vote we do the same for North Korea," one AP writer said facetiously.

The experiment began on Feb. 19. A few days before, the AP had written from Austria about Hilton's appearance at the Vienna Opera ball, just ahead of her 26th birthday. We didn't cover her weekend birthday bash in Las Vegas.

During "blackout week," the AP didn't mention Hilton's second birthday party at a Beverly Hills restaurant, at which a drunken friend reportedly was ejected by security after insulting Paula Abdul and Courtney Love. And editors asked our Puerto Rico bureau not to write about her visit there to hawk her fragrance. However, her name did slip into copy unintentionally three times, as background: in stories about Britney Spears, Nicole Richie, and even in the lead of a story about Democrats in Las Vegas.

Then Hilton was arrested on Feb. 27 for driving with a suspended license - an offense that could conceivably lead to jail time because she may have violated conditions of a previous sentence. By that time, our blackout was over anyway, so reporting the development was an easy call. (On the flip side, we never got to see what repercussions there would have been if we hadn't.)

Also by then, an internal AP memo about the ban had found its way to the outside world. The New York Observer quoted it on Wednesday, and the Gawker.com gossip site linked to it. Howard Stern was heard mentioning the ban on his radio show, and calls came in from various news outlets asking us about it. On Editor and Publisher magazine's Web site, a reader wrote: "This is INCREDIBLE, finally a news organization that can see through this evil woman." And another: "You guys are my heroes!"

We felt a little sheepish that the ban was over, and braced ourselves for the comments that would come when people realized it wasn't permanent.

We also learned that Lloyd Grove, former columnist for the New York Daily News, had attempted a much longer Paris Hilton blackout. He began it a year into his "Lowdown" column and stuck to it, he says, for two years until the column was discontinued last October - except for a blind item (no names) about Hilton crashing a pre-Oscar party.

So was Grove attempting to raise the level of discourse in our society by focusing on truly newsworthy subjects?

Well, not really. "The blackout was a really heartfelt attempt on my part," he says, "to get publicity for myself."

A trait that Hilton, it must be said, has turned into an art. Grove thinks the so-called "celebutante" achieved her unique brand of fame because she boasts an irresistible set of traits: wealth, a big name, beauty with a "downmarket" appeal, and a tendency to seem ... oversexed. "This is what mainstream society celebrates," he says. "She is, in the worst sense, the best expression of the maxim that no bad deed goes unrewarded in our pop culture."

One measure of Hilton's fame: She was No. 5 last year on the Yahoo Buzz Index, a list of overall top searches on the Web site (her ever-so-brief buddy Spears is a perennial No. 1).

Another is that US Weekly has at least a mention or a photo in just about every issue. "People now come to expect to see pictures of her," says Caroline Schaefer, deputy editor of the celebrity magazine. "They're intrigued by her unshakable self-esteem. People are fascinated by that."

Jeff Jarvis, who teaches journalism at the City University of New York, decries the "one-size-fits-all disease" afflicting media outlets, who feel that "everybody's covering it, so we must, too." Even The New York Times, he noted, had substantial coverage of a hearing concerning where Anna Nicole Smith - perhaps the one person who rivaled Hilton in terms of fame for fame's sake - would be buried.

"That disease leads to the Paris Hilton virus spreading through the news industry," says Jarvis, who puts out the BuzzMachine blog.

So what have we learned from the ban? "It's hard to tell what this really changes, since we didn't have to make any hard decisions," says Jesse Washington, AP's entertainment editor. "So we'll continue to use our news judgment on each item, individually."

Which means that for the immediate future, if not always, we'll still have Paris.

Heather said...

Thanks for the Paris Hilton update. You know how cranky we can get without a fix of stupidity, and you have more than exceeded our expectations.

Alex, I would really like to believe that what you said is true, about maybe, just maybe, we can leave behind "Identity Politics" and show the fractured, factional world, the we practice "Community Politics". I'm not sure if we can just yet, though. A friend and I were talking yesterday, voicing our concerns about having Obama and Clinton seemingly duking it out for the nomination. While I can say that personally I have reasons to be interested in each of them as candidates, they aren't going to appeal to as broad a range of voters, and I'm worried that this may be a problem. Should we be concerned that there isn't a more broadly popular Democrat here? If someone doesn't show up that can rally and unite people, are we running the risk of having Jeb Bush as our next president?

Anonymous said...

I think that what the Dems need to do is stop "duking it out" right now. Instead, party leaders should quietly pick the best candidate to support, get the other candidates to rally behind him or her, and start the love fest. By the time the battle really begins, the GOP is going to spend enough time and money on smearing the Dems candidate. Why give them ammunition now? Let the GOP sling mud at themselves for a while instead of doing it for them.

Kate said...

the points made here further convince me what i've come to suspect is true in regards to prezrace 2008.

the dems need someone everyone knows about, that has SOME kind of mass appeal to this great country of generica.

paris hilton will be elected as the next president. how can obama and hillary compete with someone who makes news by not making news? movie star/ cowboy qualities got reagan and bush elected. why not paris? she dresses better, AND had a popular TV show. and i bet she could bankrupt our country without going to war!

i'm almost kidding - but i have nightmares about this kind of thing. i fear that it is possible to have an elected official worse than george. hard to imagine until you think of paris and popular culture's fascination with her.

ew. i don't feel good.