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Yes, we can, but not all of us did

Y’all have had the opportunity to watch the will.i.am Obama video that has been turning up all over the place. I think it’s a terrific video, but I thought I’d just set down for Gentle Readers my experience of it.

I came to it through the link from Eschaton, to a site called dipdive, which at the time had essentially no text, simply the video with no explanation. And, here’s the thing: I’m old. I stopped acquiring new music (as opposed to old music) at least ten years ago. I stopped watching broadcast television around that time, too. I still watch the occasional movie, but of the umpty-’leven movies that come out in a year, I generally see fewer than a dozen, including watching at home the next year or the year after. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been on a bit of a movie-watching binge, what with being sick and all; I watched Topper, King Solomon’s Mines (the 1937 one), Torn Curtain, Shall We Dance, Pride and Prejudice (the 1940 one) and My Fair Lady.

So. I do know know what will.i.am looks like. I more or less know who he is, and I can’t swear that I haven’t ever listened to his music, although, again, the last ten artists on the shuffle I’m currently listening to are Carmen McRae, the Hi-Fives, Duke Ellington, Kate Bush, the Kingston Trio, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Mabel Mercer, Paul Simon, The Who, Eurythmics and Lena Horne. Or is that eleven? Anyway, I’m (a) old, and (2) not interested in keeping up with music. And white, which plays a part in it, too. But what I’m saying is that my first thought the beginning was not That’s will.i.am but That’s some black dude with a great look. And then as the thing progressed, I was in the frame of thinking that whoever had put this together had got a bunch of people with great looks together to do this thing, making a sort of Mosaic of America kind of thing. That framework prevented me from, for instance, recognizing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar other than as a guy that looked kinda like Kareem. Nor did I recognize Scarlett Johansson, other than as a conventionally pretty young thing. I did notice that many of the people were unusually good-looking, but that seemed like a normal sort of thing. Here’s the point: Your Humble Blogger totally failed to recognize any of the celebrities in the video. Zero. On the first time through. None. At all.

And I loved it. I thought is was wonderful on half-a-dozen levels, a magnificent thing, really moving, and I hoped that with people like Atrios pushing it, the video would get a lot of play and go (as they somewhat disgustingly say) viral. Then I found out who the dude at the front was, and that it had debuted on Good Morning America (or whatever), and that they had essentially infinite resources to make the thing, and I watched it again and recognized half-a-dozen of the people (although I must admit that most of the celebrities I did not recognize, and still don’t know what they look like, nor particularly care), and I was disappointed. Really profoundly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a lovely piece. It’s not only moving rhetorically, but it’s interesting artistically, using sampling and riffing in a way I find inspired. It’s certainly not a bad thing for celebrities (whether YHB celebrates them or not) to use their various talents or even just their celebrity to improve the country and its politics. And I love the way that the video lauds rhetoric itself, makes the act of speechmaking not only respectable but essential, transformative in itself. All great. No complaints about the video. But my experience of it was a trifle depressing.

Also, there’s this: I have been meaning to write about the way that YouTube (and to a lesser extent, other video sharing on the web) may be very interesting in this political cycle. I had seen a parody ad “for” Mitt Romney which I thought was absolutely hilarious, and it occurred to me that this is something new. In the last few cycles, say two generations or so, almost everything we saw came from the campaigns, filtered somewhat through the news media, with some added stuff from the late-night television comics (which I wanted to write about as well). I think this year, though, it’s likely (not certain, but likely) that some campaign-related video put together by some goofy kids will go all bacteriological or whatever, and that the Al Gore invented the internet catchphrase of this time around will come from nowhere. And the campaigns have this total loose cannon stuff out there, exploitable but not controllable, and they are in a fascinating bind because of course any particular hilarious video has very likely been put together by some loser with a criminal record who also has been editing together anime porn to the Buzzcocks, so the they can’t link directly to the video, but once it catches on, can the candidate refer to it in a stump speech? In response to a reporter’s question, can she admit to having seen it? Can he admit to not having seen it? Lots of fun to be had. But it turns out that this video has nothing to do with that; it’s a good old-fashioned (if brilliant) campaign song.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


You should check out Ben Harper's album, Both Sides of the Gun, specifically disc 2.

How very odd that you mention this.

I also saw this video, linked from a Move On email. I knew Scarlett Johansen and Obama himself and I recognized Kareem without remembering his name, but that was it. Like you, my access to modern media is virtually non-existent, by choice. My standard fair is classical and Appalachian fiddle, with occasional dips into the early twentieth century jazz scene. But will.i.am? Never heard of him. Why can't these youngsters speel w/o tipos and abbrevs?

But the thing I noticed most of all is that afterwards, I did not recall seeing any persons in it recognizably over the age of 40, save Obama himself. I'm sure there were a few, and I loved seeing all these young people caring about politics (where were they in 2000?), but does that mean that my generation is no longer invited to the party?

Well, and Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, Lew Alcindor that was. Those of us old enough to remember that name change (even if only just) are to some extent not invited to will.i.am's party, and maybe that's OK. I mean, if in November it is between Sens. McCain and Obama, then it will be a generational election, like 1992 and 1960, and the thing about those is that the candidate that represents (vaddevah dat means) the young generation wins.


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