Barack Obama is Your New Dad

November is MFP's birth month. Up until election day on November 4th, whenever I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, MFP would respond, "A new president." After election day, his response became, "That Incredible Hulk TV series DVD set we saw in that second-hand music store." Happily, he received both gifts this year with the addition of an audio version of "Dreams from My Father" to commemorate his first gift. As I explained to a friend yesterday, I figure that hearing Obama's melifluous voice emanate from MFP's car speakers while he's stuck in traffic on his way to and from work would, "have a calming effect. Like listening to your dad read you a story...only not your real dad...but a cool dad who--for starters--would have actually read you a story." She responded that Barack Obama does seem like a good dad and that she wouldn't have minded trading up for him. I agreed even though I know that the coolest parents are those that never had kids because they were way too busy to bother.

I had re-established my commitment to that very conclusion on the previous day when, surrounded by families of all kinds, MFP and I were waiting at the Department of Licensing to renew his driver's license. While he was busy trying to photograph one of the DMV workers--who was "clearly a Cylon"--with his iPhone, I was analyzing the mother and two daughters sitting in front of us. All three of them had dark brown hair and looked like members of one of those mawkish families you'd see framed up on the wall of a portrait studio. The older daughter was around 16 and appeared to be getting her license for the first time. When her number was called for her to go up to the counter, her younger sister jumped up to go with her. But then her mother gently held the younger one back saying, "She doesn't need you to go with her. She's all grown up now." At which point I gagged, "Seriously? Do these people really live in an AT&T commercial?". I'm skeptical.

But then again, who isn't skeptical of these images? Is there anyone left in America who doesn't appreciate the reality that there may be some disparity between how people present themselves publicly and how they behave in private (gasp!)? According to Howie Kurtz, yes there is:

"The Obamas' New Life!" blares People's cover, with a shot of the family. "New home, new friends, new puppy!" Us Weekly goes with a Barack quote: "I Think I'm a Pretty Cool Dad." The Chicago Tribune trumpets that Michelle "is poised to be the new Oprah and the next Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis -- combined!" for the fashion world.

Whew! Are journalists fostering the notion that Obama is invincible, the leader of what the New York Times dubbed "Generation O"?

Let's all pause for a moment to appreciate what a burden it must be for Howie as the only adult in the room. But honestly...People and Us Weekly to help prove the point that "journalists" are "fostering the notion that Obama is invincible"? Apparently, Howie is still bitter after being passed over for People's "Sexiest Man Alive" award again this year. We'll ignore the post-9/11 George W Bush boosterism that didn't seem to bother the very grown-up Howie Kurtz and rest easily on the knowledge that here, in America, we've grown accustomed to seeing people as products. And as products invariably disappoint, so do people. This isn't exactly news to anyone (except maybe to Mr. Kurtz).

It would be hypocritical of me, at this point, to launch into an anti-consumerist diatribe detailing the many defects of our pre-packaged culture. Like it does for Howie, consumerism helps pay my bills. But as much as I revel in my skepticism of how families are portrayed in America and how they portray themselves, I can't help but wonder if all the syrupy idealism isn't, in some ways, good for us. I, for one, am kind of glad that Obama prides himself on being "a pretty cool dad" simply because it's a good thing to take pride in. And as for the lady and her daughters with matching brown hair at the DMV, they may be trying a little too hard, but at least they're trying. Maybe we need these artificially enhanced images around to help us remind ourselves of who we want to be. Even if it's not yet who we are. I know I do.

Nothing New byslag at 8:51 AM

2 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here):

Gye Greene said...

Possibly need to turn your cynicism down a notch. Maybe the DMV scene was for real -- not a put-on. :)


slag said...

GG: Either I didn't explain it right or you're more cynical than I am. Maybe those Stepford family portraits are real too, but if so, kinda creepy...

Also, I wouldn't assume that people intentionally put on a show in public. It's more of a "best foot forward" kind of a deal. But sometimes, it goes overboard.

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