January 19, 2009

Inauguration or Coronation?

Marc Comtois

The inauguration festivities seem to be particularly "big" this time around. Wonder why? It seems much more like a coronation than an inauguration (I know, this will probably be taken as me being just another cranky-con. Oh well). Anyway, Michael Drout, Professor of English and Chair of the English Department at Wheaton College (I don't know his politics), offers an illustrative recounting of a conversation he had in his faculty lounge:

Background: Wheaton has arranged for a sophomore January experience. Sophomores come two days early and do some stuff. This happens to be on the day of the inauguration, so the planners decided that all the sophomores could be brought to the field house where they would watch the ceremony on a giant screen.

Drout: (as tactful and politically savvy as I always am): I'm just glad I never had to participate in such a creepy experience when I was in college.

X: (confused): Why would you call it creepy?

Drout: You are rounding up a large group of people and forcing them to watch political theater. On a giant screen. In a gymnasium.

[Long pause while people look uncomfortable.]

Drout: It never occurred to any of you who planned this that it was the slightest bit creepy, did it?

X: The way you describe it makes it sound creepy. It is a major event that most people will want to watch.

Drout: Couldn't they watch it without being herded together into a gymnasium? Maybe hang out with their friends, watch it on the various lounge TVs? Make comments?

X: But then there wouldn't be the bonding experience.

Drout: Bonding over a political spectacle is, in your view, a good thing?

[another uncomfortable pause]

X: Maybe you should be one of the faculty members afterwards who can give talks to contextualize the event. You could analyze the rhetoric.

Drout: I'm pretty sure I don't want the students to see me as part of the creepy event.

X: But you'd have a chance to express your point of view.

Drout: But you've got my entire point of view. I think it's creepy.

X: (Gives up in exasperation).

Look, I do GET it. I really do believe that this is a significant moment in our nation's history. Yet, the 24/7 coverage of the week long celebration...I don't remember this happening before. Is it just because we, as entertainment/news consumers, are getting more demanding (or the suppliers of the aforementioned more aggressive?) when it comes to our politics-meet-entertainment appetite? I know there is a need to fill programming time--and what better way than covering inauguration festivities (plus, it's relatively cheap). To say nothing of the MSMs love for Obama.

I'm sure there are several factors that go into this. The coincidence of the inauguration of the nation's first black President with our annual commemoration of our country's greatest civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has certainly, and correctly, heightened the emotions this time around. But the idea that we as a nation need to "bond" over the inauguration of a new political leader? It all seems just a little overboard. And creepy.

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Drout's account is laugh out loud funny. Too bad he didn't have video.
It is creepy. Be creepy no matter who was being sworn in.
As Joe B. noted, expectations are so high that they can never be met.

Posted by: chuckR at January 19, 2009 12:02 PM

Oh, good. I thought it was just me.

I feel better now.

Posted by: John at January 19, 2009 12:12 PM

I can see where it’s difficult to criticize the inauguration without coming across as purely partisan, resentful and like a sore loser. But even some Obama fans I know feel that the ‘grandness’ of the inauguration festivities and even more so the coverage are extreme. I know the money is not taxpayer but given the circumstances, I think it’d be a good symbolic gesture on the part of Obama to tone down the ‘grandness’ of the celebration. But, at this point he is in a great political situation. Bad events under his watch will be blamed on the Bush administration and he will get credit for positive events. Nice work if you can get it.

Posted by: msteven at January 19, 2009 12:52 PM

I have been trying to figure out why things are so over the top myself. I personally hope Obama does succeed because if he doesn't we'll all be affected regardless of whether you voted for him or not. But I really don't understand why the pedestal is so high this time around. He's our first African American president and that is an accomplishment and historic, but Hillary would have been our first female president and arguably that would have been a boon for woman and womans rights and equally historic. Would she have received half the coverage Obama is receiving? So I'm still trying to figure it out.

Posted by: Steve A. at January 19, 2009 1:24 PM

I've been saying the same thing to my friends for weeks, about whether this is an inauguration or a coronation, but they all just look at me like a bitter partisan.

Also, Brown and Princeton are holding all day events on Tuesday, for the first time ever on inauguration day. I can't wait to see if they do the same in 4 or 8 years.

Any takers on who will be the first to be knighted?

>>He's our first African American president >>

I can't wait to see when the first mainstream media member accurately points out that he's not only our first AA president, but he's also our 44th white president. Remember, he's only half black, but he's half white too.

Posted by: pitcher at January 19, 2009 3:34 PM

Would she have received half the coverage Obama is receiving? So I'm still trying to figure it out.

Probably not. Obama has more koolaid.

I laugh thinking about it now- Hillary would probably have less former Clinton staffers in in her administration than the "Change" President has.

Posted by: EMT at January 19, 2009 3:36 PM

Haven't we been travelling down this path for a while now? More and more effective advertising and branding on larger and larger stages? Superbowls that are typically bad football but sold and marketed as significant national events. The last episode of the Sopranos had mass appeal and don't even talk to me about American Idol. Political branding either follows or leads entertainment. Ronald Reagan was derided by his critics as a B actor but he could emote on a dime- righteous anger could flash across his face and a sunny smile could appear a moment later. He was a mass communicator that critics cried danger while supportors said " Let Reagan be Reagan". ( Kind of like 'Manny being Manny', Marc)
I voted for Obama and think there are going to be some very good and important changes to our national policies. But I plan on remaining a healthy skeptic of power and advertising.

Posted by: David at January 19, 2009 5:06 PM

I'd be willing to bet Christian universities did the same thing for Bush's inauguration.
But hey, there are private institutions we're dealing with on both sides here. If my school administration pulled that, I'd have taken the bus back home to visit that day.

Posted by: rhody at January 19, 2009 6:19 PM

This inauguration will no doubt be historic. The first swearing in of the first African-American president is something that all schools should encourage their students to watch.

My concern is not that so much attention is being given to Obama's inauguraton. My bigger concern is that the MSM, members of academia, entertainers, etc. seem to view it as their responsibilty to that the Obama presidency is successful at all costs. It used to be that the MSM viewed its' responsibility as reporting the news objectively. Academia used to pride itself on the free and open exchange of ideas. At one point the goal of entertainers, was well, to entertain people.

Instead, the MSM actively tries to influence Americans to support an agenda (see Chris Matthews). Academia tries to tell youth how to "think correctly" (see RIC's social work program). And entertainers, well where to start there? Producers, directors and writers create movies and shows around heroic liberal characters and evil conservatives. Actors and actresses contribute millions to liberal causes and attempt to sway their audience to support their political agendas.

The professionalism of certain "professions" had faded away. They're all really working in sales jobs and political communication.

Posted by: Anthony at January 19, 2009 8:02 PM

This is indeed the land of bread and circuses.
Presidents' Day becomes a day to hold sales, Christmas is the season to buy goods and the season is measured, not in terms of its spirituality but in terms of retail sales.

Lincoln and Grant are shamelessly used in advertising and reduced to pimps selling goods.

The complaints about inauguration/coronation would have much more moment if some of the carping people who wrote to this blog would have spent some time decrying the commercialism of other national and "sacred" holidays.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at January 19, 2009 9:00 PM

Good find, Marc.

Posted by: Monique at January 20, 2009 7:59 AM

I am not a supporter of Mr. Obama. However, I must say that all this hoopla and mass adoration reminds me of the inauguration of JFK. I was about 12 years old at the time, and I remember that at school we were all brought to a room to watch the event on TV. During the JFK presidency there was all sort of memorabilia for sale. In our home we had a picture of JFK prominently displayed next to the Pope and a few other "Saints".

Must be a Democrat thing. The more things Change the more the stay the same.


Posted by: Excel48 at January 20, 2009 11:24 AM

Anthony, don't let Matthews' cheerleading of the moment fool you. Tweety is the worst kind of front-runner - he was more rah-rah about the impeachment of Clinton, the Iraq War and the recall of Gray Davis than anybody on Fox.
The moment Obama stumbles and/or the GOP gets its act together, Matthews drops the blue pompoms and starts pushing up the red ones.

Posted by: rhody at January 20, 2009 10:22 PM
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