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Passions in Poetry

Obama in Context

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Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea

0 posted 11-24-2008 07:26 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

The following is, of course, only opinion.

Trying to put the Obama victory in perspective, I was smoking a cigarette at work yesterday and kept seeing a picture of Obama waking up in the middle of the night thinking, “I won, I won!” I have no idea if he ever gets that giddy, but a lot of other people seem to feel that way. Why is this election important and why is this election important to the rest of the world, not from a realist or realpolitik perspective, but from a symbolic one?

First, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the majority of non-Americans, living in their own countries, having their own lives, spend about as much time thinking about America as Americans spend thinking about the rest of the world. That still means they probably spend more time thinking about America than Americans do thinking about any other individual country, but it doesn’t amount to a whole lot of time.

They also separate America, the country, with America, the people. I can remember an article somewhere discussing an American living in Iran. The woman witnessed what I suppose was a fairly typical anti-American rally where people chant and raise their fists into the camera (the camera is always there, remember that) and a few of these protesters glanced over and saw her watching. They immediately walked over, slightly ashamed, and explained that they weren’t talking about her.

This, at least from my experience, is fairly common. Complaints, insults, and accusations of unfairness are common as well. And sometimes the very silence, the staring at the floor, or the little mumble are polite disguises for the same thing. I know this is the case because often enough, the actors in these cases tell me later what they were thinking--albeit when they react that way to another American. At first, I thought I was special, the exceptional from the exceptionalist country. In reality, I was needed to vindicate those feelings. By confessing to an American about muttering, “Go home!” the players in this game were simultaneously making those feelings real, certifying them as genuine (even another American agrees), and showing that they shouldn’t be the object of derision. It was that American, it was that man or woman, not me. I’m not anti-American, I like Americans. See, I’m talking to you, aren’t I?

It’s a wonderful little game if you think about it. I feel special because they confide in me, and they feel special because they confide in me.  

But what does this have to do with Obama’s victory?

Well, the problem is that there is still an added layer to all of this. The above, I think, is fairly typical of most people. We react in a Pavlovian way and then justify it in some other--we don’t want to be seen as a dog after all. But the added layer is that America, with all of its faults, is still seen as the Land of Opportunity.

Yeah, Dan Quayle was right.

Now, part of me wants to go into theory at this point and explain how all this fits into a more literary perspective but I’m trying to resist that for the moment. Suffice to say that Americans and America are portrayed in Korean and Japanese literature and television in a very specific way. That way, amazingly enough, is pretty much the same as America and Americans want to be portrayed: the Land of Freedom, the Land of Opportunity.

Foreigners believe our propaganda.

How this translates, not always positively, in literature and television is interesting in its own right, but I don’t want to talk about that here.

This image, symbol, idea, I want to argue, creates an escape valve for Korea and Japan and I think many other countries (this is Said in reverse). By escape valve I mean that America can always be pointed to as a way out of cultural pressures (families, school records, business prospects). You shouldn’t fight the culture (monolithic and ambiguous) but you can run away from it. Running away will create its own problems but the possibility is always there--even if you end up in Canada or Australia instead.

It is also, I think, one of the reasons that the Bush administration has failed so miserably with respect to its PR campaign (And to be fair, Clinton wasn’t always good at this game either). If I’m right, the idea of bringing freedom to other countries misses the whole point of America as Land of Opportunity. You lose the escape valve trick and you get the big boys, not your big boys--the ones you’re used to--but the other big boys, telling you what to do. You combine this attitude with a view, not only that Americans are morally superior (How could anybody honestly believe such a view?), but that your opinion is irrelevant unless you are a lackey of the United States.

Where did the Land of Freedom go?

Now, if we go back to my friend the confessor, you can see how it gets harder and harder to justify, not just the actions of Americans, but her own view of herself by her own lights.

And then Obama walks onto the stage.

Suddenly, we have a new equilibrium. With his victory, the image of America returns to its normal place in the minds of non-Americans. It is again the Land of Opportunity, the Land of Freedom. It is again an escape valve. It is again a force that the powers (the leaders, the wealthy, the military) of other countries must contend with.

America bashing won’t stop. Part of the appeal is precisely that you can bash and get away with it. Reality, of course, will still intrude rudely into the world that non-Americans have made for themselves, but at least for now, there’s a different feeling in the air.

Hope is a dangerous thing, but it is also invigorating.

[This message has been edited by Brad (11-24-2008 08:39 PM).]

Member Elite
since 12-31-2005
Posts 2710

1 posted 11-25-2008 06:22 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch

Or maybe what you’re seeing is the social equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

Senior Member
since 02-24-2007
Posts 1007
Santa Monica, California, USA

2 posted 11-25-2008 07:06 PM       View Profile for oceanvu2   Email oceanvu2   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for oceanvu2

Heisenberg was uncertain, the protons weren't. Schrodinger's Cat was merely ticked off.

Hope to offer something of substance this weekend.

Best, Jimbeaux
Member Elite
since 02-29-2000
Posts 3797

3 posted 12-01-2008 11:19 AM       View Profile for rwood   Email rwood   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for rwood

I’m not able to put Obama into context, yet.

My perspective seems outdated to the rest of the world, or behind the times in a quantum leapish way.

When I was 12 years old, I had a brilliant civics teacher who asked the class to make some political predictions. The cold war was very much a facet of our every day life, being that we internalized the notion of fingers being on the big red nuclear annihilation buttons. I overshot the current chilly climate of my time and predicted that there would be a black man elected as president of the U.S before a woman. Which was way off the teacher’s target, and it brought me ridicule from all my peers. I remember them saying “What an idiot.”  Especially because I lived in California at the time, and the Crips and Bloods were in the headlines, daily. I guess I looked past current border, turf, color, and power wars and had hopes that someday someone dynamically different would break the mold, so fostered by certain people for certain people, when all stood at attention each day for the pledge of allegiance, and the national anthem. Twice, if I remember correctly, we saluted our flag at the beginning of first period and again during midday break we sang “The Star-Spangled Banner”-- after which we were allowed to do “The Hustle” in the courtyard, as a mass fad form of exercise. Anyway, I already had embraced the idea of being led by someone not quite cookie-cut in the world of politics, but with the reactions I received from others, my thoughts seemed idiosyncratic to me.

Which is why America is and will always be the “Land of Opportunity,” for me. No matter what anyone thinks, near or far. I spoke my mind in a way that wasn’t prophetic, but exercising of change—which is as essential to hope as facing/overcoming obstacles. It seems we are stricken, still, worldwide, with two factors that are ancient walls for progression: Hate and fear. To me Hate is as revealing of identity as fear, and both are mongered within the same fold.  Maybe when the world stops spinning hate and fear we’ll all fall into a happy pile. LOL

Obama appeals to me even more than I could predict. He’s facing more in his life than I could imagine from every perspective.

So again, it’s hard for me to contextualize anything about him, other than hope for a better governing body and betterment for Americans, but I appreciate your perspective, from here to there and feel honored that someone out there cares. Thank you, Brad.
Member Rara Avis
since 11-07-2005
Posts 8424
Durban, South Africa

4 posted 01-22-2009 02:37 PM       View Profile for OwlSA   Email OwlSA   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for OwlSA

I am continually thinking that I must be very stupid and simple-minded in the extreme, and, it seems, to me yet again, very different from the rest of the word.

My thoughts on Obama being president of the USA are:

1) He seems to me to be the best man for the job.
2) He seems to me to be ethical, committed, honest, hands-on, effective, and to have excellent strategies and the ability to collect around him the best people for specific jobs, and to be extremely likeable, and likely to bring about realistic feasible change in time.

Oh, yes and he is black/half-black/of mixed race which is very nice for Martin Luther's dream (I am not being sarcastic, but I see it as important, but the least important issue) and for the non-white people in America and it shows that America is not quite as racist as it (generalising here) usually seems to be, at least in patches and in the case of certain individuals.  What I really mean by this, is that paradoxically, it is unimportantly important and high time that the USA has colour in the white house, so that colour can eventually become invisible.  What is the big deal about colour - or height - or birthplace - or which cereal one prefers?

Member Elite
since 08-10-2002
Posts 4689
Regina, Saskatchewan; Canada

5 posted 01-23-2009 06:23 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

I found this article interesting: The New Cicero
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