Nov 4, 2012

Obama 2: The Sequel

From my Guardian column this week:—
'...The first act of what followed was terrific, even if the genre was slightly unexpected, given the historical circumstances: comedy. Whether riffing on the White House as the perfect “home office”, or goofily wide-eyed with his first flight on Air Force One, or sparring with McCain over the budget for a new fleet of presidential helicopters (“The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me”), Obama seemed to be channeling every ordinary Joe thrust into a fictional Oval office, from Jimmy Stewart in Mr Smith Goes to Washington to Kevin Kline in Dave. As Jon Stewart quipped, upon hearing the news that Obama had gotten Earth Wind and Fire to play at a White House party, “Obama is actually doing the thing everyone says they would if they became president. ‘If I become president I’m going have my favorite band play, and they’re gonna play in the living room, like every day?” Then came the mid-terms. Traditionally the Second Act Complication brings the villain into play but in truth the Republican Freshmen who took up their position in congress were not your typical not Vaudevillian villains, twirling their moustaches. Rather, with an obstructionist agenda that came close at times to outright nihilism, they were less, they more closely resembled Brechtian saboteurs, intent on breaking the fourth wall, bringing the entire performance to a shattering silence in which the audience looks at one another, nervily: what now?  
If the Clinton movie was baby-boomer nostalgia trip which descended into gluey sexual farce (The Big Chill meets Nine to Five) and the Bush presidency, like the second installment of all long-running franchises, a terrifying lurch over to the dark side (Superman 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), then Obama’s presidency soon resembled something out of the Theatre of the absurd: an Beckettian anti-drama in which no is yes and up is down, designed to send the audience staggering out into the night, having been forcibly divested of their petit-beorgois assumption that this or any drama should ever make sense. Anyone for a sequel?The biggest obstacle to a second Obama term, as with all sequels, is the removal of the asymmetry which made the hero’s struggle so diverting in the first place. David has become his own Goliath. The kid who took on the Death Star is now a Jedi knight spouting Chinese-cracker bromides, and to be frank Princess Leia always preferred Han Solo anyway. “You know, I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention,”   said Obama when he accepted the Democratic nomination earlier this year. “Times have changed, and so have I. I'm no longer just a candidate. I'm the president.” Some commentators took this for an Aaron Sorkin moment, akin to Michael Douglas’s alpha-dog assertion of rank in The American President (“My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President”), but he put the emphasis on a different syllable, sounding a more rueful note. Obama sounded like a man who knows his magic has partly evaporated, not as a consequence of anything he has said or done, but simply because he has ceased to be a projection of our desires. He has ceased to be fictional, and become real in front of our eyes.'

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