Watching the Obama speech
, I was struck by a couple of things. First, as much as I love hearing this man speak, I think this particular speech benefits from being read as text rather than watching him deliver it. It's too long -- he spends too much time at the beginning setting up what he has to say through the prism of the Jeremiah Wright brouhaha. But when he hits 15 minutes, it starts getting good, and around 23 minutes, it starts getting great. Unfortunately, I would say that that's objectively too long for people to wait to get to the meat of what he's saying. My second point, however, is tied directly to that. American attention spans are, probably and unfortunately, too short to ask them to wait 15 minutes before a speech starts having a real point. But part of what Obama is talking about is the need for nuance, the need for thoughtfulness in our political discourse -- and I would really like to hope that this country IS ready for that, HAS been waiting for someone to demand intellectual rigor out of them. But what does CNN do to completely contradict that whole facet of the speech? Well, CNN feels the need to run constantly changing slogans under the video, supposedly summing up what the speech is about. The whole POINT of this speech, however, is that you shouldn't be able to sum up political discourse in little soundbytes, that the issues we're dealing with are subtle and complex and we need to deal with them forthrightly and honestly before we as a country can really change and start to deal with the fundamental structural problems of our government. But CNN goes about its merry way, putting lines up that totally ruin everything he's saying, framing it first through the Wright filter, then as the speech starts to venture away from that pulling quotes about race out of context in an infuriating contrast to what is actually being said. My favorite moment was when Obama specifically talked about the role of the media in playing up race as spectacle to drive the news cycle forward and CNN thought it was the perfect time to summarize the message of the speech as:
Obama: Problems facing blacks don't "just exist in the minds of black people"
That was when my jaw hit the floor and I had to stop watching the speech and come write this. We have a serious problem in the country, and it's due in large part to the fact that our media thinks that people can't take the time to think things through in depth, in their entirety, and instead need to be fed drivel in tiny chunks. Maybe they're right. Maybe our culture, and our populace, really is that idiotic. But Barack Obama, in this speech, is imploring us as a nation to stop falling into that trap, to stop being as stupid as the media wants us to be, to realize that the people in charge play the rest of us against each other with stupid shit to keep us distracted while they run the economy into the ground and bomb other countries into oblivion. I watch this speech and I say, "You know what? Maybe he can't make a difference, really, in the long run. Maybe this is all just a pipe dream, and we've all got stars in our eyes. But these aren't just slogans and platitudes -- he's challenging us to be a better, smarter nation. He might fail, and he might leave us brokenhearted. But are we all so deeply cynical that we won't even TRY to see if there's a better way?"
But if America doesn't actually listen to this speech, if everybody really does just read the ticker instead of bothering to turn the volume up and listen to the words, then we will continue to get what we deserve. We will get Bush again and again and again, just with changing names. And we will continue to define ourselves by our differences instead of our commonalities, and we will point fingers at one another over stupid "gotcha" non-issues that distract us from what is really going on:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
But do we know for sure? I'm a realist, I'm a pragmatist, but I haven't quite given up hope yet. If there's a possibility for change, I'm going to shout about it. CNN and it's chyrons and its tickers and its talking heads haven't shut me up yet. Don't let them tell you what this speech was about. Listen. Read. And if you disagree with me about what Obama says, or whether he's the right person to vote for, or even whether he's actually sincere, that's fine. But decide for yourself. We, as a country, can't let them forcefeed us their pablum anymore, because it's breaking us.