Thursday, August 28, 2008

e.g.: The Media Narrative

Our major mass media functions as a propaganda organ as surely as Pravda and Tass once did in the Former Soviet Union. Their main propaganda tool is the Narratives, into which all political and social issues, and all candidates are first divided and then fit.

Jodi Kantor writes such a Narrative piece for the New York Times. In my local paper it was headlined: "Self-Discipline fuels Obama's image as aloof"

You know it is a Narrative piece because of the phrase "Obama's image as aloof." This "issue" does not arise from the People, not from Obama supporters, and not from Obama's critics. The "issue" of Obama's "aloofness" is entirely the media's Narrative about Obama, some of which is derived from Republican talking points, but most of which is adopted throughout the mass media coverage of Obama from a synthesis of pundit observations and reporters' reactions and gossip.

Thus: McCain is the Mavericky Man of the People, a Garrulous and Funny Old Man, Always Available to the Media Covering His Campaign on the Straight Talk Express. They like him.

Obama, on the other hand, is Distant, Aloof, and Presumptuous, Obsessed With Stagecraft and Message Discipline, Ascetic, Messianic, Arrogant and Uppity. Not only does he not know his Place, he's gotten so far Above Himself, ordinary people have no idea Who He Is.

To quote from Kantor:

In the way Mr. Obama has trained himself for competition, he can sometimes seem as much athlete as politician. Even before he entered public life, he began honing not only his political skills, but also his mental and emotional ones. He developed a self-discipline so complete, friends and aides say, that he has established dominion over not only what he does but also how he feels. He does not easily exult, despair or anger: to do so would be an indulgence, a distraction from his goals. Instead, they say, he separates himself from the moment and assesses.

“He doesn’t inhale,” said David Axelrod, his chief strategist.

Indeed. Here we have the Narrative that includes a possible allusion to Celebrity -- by referring to his training as much as an athlete as a politician. Refering to his self-discipline as so "complete ... that he has established dominion over not only what he does but also how he feels" feeds the Narrative of Obama's Messianism. He's an Ascetic because he shows no emotion, for that would be an indulgence and a distraction. He separates himself from the moment. And assesses, as if from On High.

He doesn't inhale? ?? Wuhhh??? (And this from Axelrod, who should know better...)

Or this:

There is little about him that feels spontaneous or unpolished, and even after two books, thousands of campaign events and countless hours on television, many Americans say they do not feel they know him. The accusations of elusiveness puzzle those closest to the candidate. Far more than most politicians, they say, he is the same in public as he is in private.

And somehow this is meant as a Bad Thing. Who are these many Americans who say they don't feel they "know" him? Well, if they exist at all, they are being fed their ignorance by a media that insists nobody really knows this uppity, alien, exotic. Nobody. Nobody can. He is too foreign.

Or here:

Last month, while visiting Jerusalem, Mr. Obama crammed a note in the Western Wall that was promptly fished out and posted on the Internet. The message was elegantly phrased, as if Mr. Obama, a Christian, had anticipated that his private words to the Almighty would soon be on public display.

Crammed, did he? As if in Disrespect for Where He Was? Ah. Of course. He is a, [spit], Christian, [spit], and his words, while "elegantly phrased", obviously were meant for public display. There is no sponteneity here, no private worship of the Lord as Scripture commands. But no. Obama is incapable. Too Full of Himself.

Kantor goes on:

Because he betrays little hint of struggle, Mr. Obama can seem far removed from the troubles of some voters. Older working-class whites may be uncomfortable with his race — he is the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya — and his age. But they may also find it hard to identify with him, even though he tries to assure them that they have much in common, mentioning that his mother relied on food stamps at times and that he worked as a community organizer in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. His command of crowds of 75,000, his unfailing eloquence and his comparing himself to Joshua and Lincoln can belie his point.

The point being? That his humble beginnings and his present Celebrity are too diametrically opposite one another. Joe Sixpack cannot relate? A black man who is unfailingly eloquent simply cannot have much in common with the white working class, whereas a bumbletongue like Bush (though born to the Purple) obviously is in his element on the factory floor? What is this crap?

She goes on:

Nearly a decade ago, Mr. Obama joined luminaries like George Stephanopoulos and Ralph Reed for regular seminars, organized by Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard and the author of “Bowling Alone,” about the deterioration of American community ties. As a young state senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama was one of the less prominent members of the group. But soon everyone was referring to him as “the governor” — a friendly smack, said Mr. Putnam, at Mr. Obama’s precocity and drive.

From an early age, Mr. Obama was taught by his mother to think grandly about his potential to help others. Once he reached adulthood, admiring teachers and mentors reinforced the message, steadily directing his sights higher and higher. As a law student, he mused about wanting to be mayor of Chicago; as a law professor, he talked about running for governor of Illinois; not long after that, he was running for president.

Ah! So he gets it from his mother! I knew it! "Think grandly!" His sights always higher and higher. Wanting this, wanting that, wanting something else. Is there no end to this man's desires?

She's not done:

Both allies and critics sometimes concluded that Mr. Obama was too gifted, or in too much of a hurry, for the tasks that consumed others.

Too gifted, too good, too much of a hurry. Whereas the Former POW and plane crasher McCain is Old and Seasoned, eh? Awaiting his Turn like he should. Like Obama should, but he can't wait. Not him.

Kantor again:

The McCain campaign has seized on this pattern, mocking its opponent as a self-consumed star, even suggesting that he has a messianic complex.

Mr. Obama has heard the accusations before. Long before the presidential race, some around him seemed to resent his ability to galvanize a following. “Bluebooking is not important for celebrities,” fellow students joked about him in the law review parody, referring to the tedious process of checking citations.

As for the messiah accusation, Michael Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and a Democrat, once publicly called Mr. Obama the same thing.

You see! You see! They all say it!

Kantor continues:

If there is one quality that those closest to Mr. Obama marvel at, it is his emotional control. This is partly a matter of temperament, they say, partly an effort by Mr. Obama to step away from his own feelings so he can make dispassionate judgments. “He doesn’t allow himself the luxury of any distraction,” said Valerie Jarrett, a close adviser. “He is able to use his disciplined mind to not get caught up in the emotional swirl.”

As opposed to the towering temper of McCain (and some others we could name.) So we are supposed to infer than a disciplined character like that of Obama's is somehow inferior to the indifference and temper of someone like McCain? How things have been turned inside out.

But wait, there's more.


While he speeds along rope lines, Mr. Obama sometimes connects better one on one. In spare moments, he will surprise supporters — a doorman who scraped together a small contribution, an elderly woman he had heard enjoyed his memoir — with an out-of-the blue phone call. Waiting backstage to speak to 20,000 people in Seattle in February, Mr. Obama grew so absorbed in talking to a retired Michigan couple that he had to be reminded not to miss his entrance cue.

Once in a very long while, Mr. Obama will relax his guard completely. Two years ago at a party celebrating the publication of his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” the new senator rose to say a few words, recalled Ms. Jarrett. As he talked about what his new job in Washington had cost his wife and two daughters, tears began to course down his face, leaving him unable to continue.

Michelle Obama rescued him with a kiss, and after a moment, everyone started to applaud.

But. But. But. She's just spent endless inches of column space describing his lack of emotion, discipline, aloofness, uppityness, and here -- at the very end of her story -- she belies all of it with a simple anecdote that shows the Candidate is not only human, but very much connected with his family, his supporters and the public, fully able to show emotion, deeply moved by his own good fortune.

In other words, practically everything she's written up to this point has flowed from the Narrative of Obama, not from the man, and when she gets to the point where she actually has to question the Narrative, she can't do it. Instead, she presents anecdotes that contradict the Narrative... without comment.

Kantor in summation:

Mr. Obama is often called a perpetual outsider — racially, geographically, politically. But his story is more complicated than that. “He’s been an outsider at Columbia and Harvard,” said Matthew McGuire, a friend. “He was an outsider but within the ultimate insider clubs.”

Within those and other powerful institutions, Mr. Obama has always appointed himself critic. After being elected the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, Mr. Obama gave a speech to black students and alumni that was rousing, some recall it nearly two decades later. “Don’t let Harvard change you,” went the refrain. As a community organizer, he led Chicago residents to challenge the local authorities. In the Illinois Senate, Mr. Obama was not only a reformer who pushed for tighter campaign finance rules, but also an everyday skeptic who often pointed out hilarities and hypocrisies to colleagues.

Despite the speed of his rise, Mr. Obama often talks of politics as a closed system, one stacked against outsiders who lack powerful patrons or fat donor bases.

These sorts of criticisms have become the cornerstone of his political identity. Changing government, making it more responsive to citizens’ needs, has been the promise of every campaign he has ever run. Today, despite the millions of people and dollars devoted to his election, Mr. Obama insists, improbably enough, that he is still the same advocate for the poor he was 20 years ago on the streets of Chicago.

“All the time, he says, let’s keep in mind that this is not about Barack Obama,” said Ms. Jarrett, an adviser. “He still sees himself as the community organizer.”

But after he accepts his party’s nomination on Thursday night, it will be hard to call Mr. Obama anything but the establishment. As head of his party, he will preside over everything he says he objects to about politics: the artifice, the influence of special interests, the partisanship. If he wins the presidency, there will be no more rungs on the ladder for Mr. Obama to climb, only re-election. The system he says is broken will become his.

Even those closest to him are not quite sure how he would make the transformation.

“That’s uncomfortable,” said Mr. Axelrod, about the prospect of Mr. Obama’s becoming the ultimate insider. “You need to accept that role to a degree if you’re the nominee or the president.”

And yet, Mr. Axelrod said, “I don’t think that’s a role he wants to play. His idea is that you should always be challenging the institution.”

And there you have it: the ultimate Outsider, becoming the head of the very institution he believes he should be challenging.

How drôle.

Perhaps it's the start of a New Narrative....

[Note: My August Hiatus is slowly ending, but posting may still be light for several weeks.]

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