Sunday, March 02, 2008
The View from the Tank: We Are the Ones (2008)
Hat tip to the middle brother Octopus for tipping me off to the new video.
When I was a kid, I used to play this game where I would take a word and repeat it, over and over, hundreds of times, until the word no longer had any connection to the original object it signified. I remember doing this with the word "spoon"; I would sit and repeat the word "spoon" for five or six minutes, sometimes while holding a spoon. After a little while of doing this, the word became detached from the object of the spoon; it became a free-floating thing that meant either nothing or something totally different. The game was fun because it was so disorienting and made commonplace things seem strange. (Kids enjoy games that involve disorientation. Other favorite games of mine included spinning one way to make myself dizzy, and then another to counter the dizziness, and lying on my back upside down and pretending to walk across the ceiling.)
When I first saw this new Will.i.am video, I was a little turned off. It appeared to contain some of the worst aspects of us Obama supporters: self-congratulatory hipsters looking stylish while chanting "Obama" in apparent thrall to some personality cult. I thought Jessica Alba sounded a little vacuous. There was all that looking down with eyes closed as the beat went on, the dancing idly in between shots, the hats, the endless stream of celebrities, etc. And I thought some of the people looked hypnotized.
Then I watched the video a couple more times.
I think it's significant that Obama does not appear in this video. The point of the video, it seems to me, is that the movement of the Obama campaign is not about one man: it is about a fantastic new participatory chapter in American politics -- perfectly encapsulated in this YouTube video created by participants in this movement. When the people in this video chant the name "Obama", when the massive stadium rally crowd chants "Obama", they are not chanting the name of just one man. In the course of this movement, as in my childhood game, the word "Obama" has become unmoored and detached from its original meaning: it no longer simply refers to the junior senator and presidential candidate from Illinois. Instead, it now refers to a movement, a movement that seeks to end the politics we have all suffered under for the last thirty years, to end the mentality that chooses war first, to move beyond the institutions that rely on the politics of fear. When the stadium crowd chants "Obama" in the electrifying loop that runs throughout this video, the crowd is declaring that it will no longer be afraid, that it chooses hope over fear, that it is now time for a new generation to take its place, and that our next President will represent the spirit, will, and boundless promise of our country.
When the crowd chants "Obama", it is chanting its own name.
So, yes, I do worry that this video, viewed superficially, can easily be dismissed as zombie hipster Obama supporters spouting platitudes and looking cool. But I do think the message is much deeper than that. It's about believing that we are the ones who will make our country the place we want it to be. Obama is the face of that movement, and "Obama" is the name of that movement.
O - BA - MA!