Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Daniel Greenfield - Oprahism and the Church of Obama

Many people have noted that Obama's rhetoric often feels off, but fewer have looked into why that is so. A great part of Obama's success has been his ability to invoke values detached from belief systems. To break away symbols and ideals from religious and national value systems, and mix and match them into his own soundbites. Like the famous Hope poster, that mixed patriotic color schemes with socialist realism, or Obama's own logo, which mixed corporate branding with national politics-- Obama's "brand" was built out of a barely coherent mishmash of clashing elements. The only thing they all have in common is that they are bricks in the wall of Obama's image. They all combine together to promote him.

None of this could have succeeded if context mattered, but Obama's people were piggybacking on a culture where context had ceased to matter. Where growing numbers of people could not be bothered to understand and would not care about the different elements being combined together, only whether the final product appealed to them or not. Obama's image had more in common with the way hip hop artists sample songs, than with a symphony. His campaign was the perfect trailer to a movie that would never be released. It was the marriage of corporate advertising campaigns, pop culture, radical politics and Americana-- thrown together in a pot and boiled into one indecipherable mix that was appealing, and yet completely void of meaning.

Obama's speeches were robotic, not just because they were delivered via teleprompter, but because they had been assembled together artificially out of bits and pieces of old presidential speeches into generic templates that were meant to awe audiences through their presentation. And if afterward no one could quite remember what he said, or what he promised or why they were even impressed-- in an ADD culture that only added to his charm. And so Obama kept on saying very little of substance, yet entertaining his audiences. His speeches called up spirituality devoid of religion, Americana devoid of patriotism and ideals devoid of ideas. He appropriated them all and used them as props in his show.

His obvious inspiration for this was not Jeremiah Wright, who did however provide plenty of textual inspiration, but Oprah herself. Oprah's success lay in marketing that same diffuse spirituality, not grounded in any actual belief system. Instead what she offered was an endless self-centered buffet, spirituality as self-empowerment, with herself and her chosen gurus as the center of a new commercial belief system.

Obama echoed that same self-centeredness, telling audiences, "We are the ones we have been waiting for", a quote from one of Oprah's favorite authors, and appealing to their own search for meaning. A favorite Oprah theme. The search for meaning is a common enough crutch for the narcissist, who wants fulfillment on his or her own terms, rather than commitment. Oprah has been catering to her audiences' endless search for meaning, as expressed through products and courses they can buy. Obama was just the latest of those gurus offering a meaning, consisting entirely of inspiring quotes cribbed from more talented people, with no actual application to anything.

The implicit subtext of the commercial search for meaning is that the meaning itself can never be found, but searching for it is what makes you a better person. That search for meaning as identity defines Oprah, it also defined Obama, who turned that into his own brand with two separate books chronicling his search for meaning, as his identity. His own mentor, Jeremiah Wright, had discovered that packaging his Black Muslim background and Leftist politics into Trinity Church would make him more salable, than if he had marginalized himself as some radical crank. (It took videos of his own shameless speeches and stepping on Obama's media friendly toes to do that.) Obama similarly discovered that selling Islam and Alinsky in a vaguely Christian tone would make it go down smoother. And with enough tri-color bunting and American flags and hymn books scattered around the Trojan Horse, fewer people would notice what was really hiding on the inside.        More