Thursday, August 7, 2008

#44 Obama vs, McCain: the Pop Culture Debate

In a close contest...dead heat. Surprisingly. But that's the way it's looking in the presidential race at the moment as well. Anyway, came to my attention just this morning that there was a sort of "dueling interview" on their respective pop-culture preferences in Entertainment Weekly last week. One might have thought McCain would be a sure loser and decidedly UN-hip on mainstream media culture (he can't work a computer, after all). But no, he keeps up quite well with the younger and blacker and celebrity-draped Obama when asked about movies , music, TV etc., past and present.

I was about to award Obama the prize out of hand when I read their musical druthers--OBAMA: Cheryl Crow, Coltrane (yes!), Sinatra, Dylan (waaay too hip for good mental health); McCAIN: Orbison, ABBA, Ronstadt. Well, at least he's not into Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS. But Obama lost some points in a more subtle way when asked about "the best Brando." He chose the Godfather series, when a true movie buff would have known that Brando was an OK but sadly overblown prosthetic approximation of the actor we saw in the earlier Streetcar, Waterfront, and Zapata. McCain chose these, and actually had a few in-the-know things to say about Elia Kazan's directorship.

On the other hand, they both made pretty even grades on their other preferences, however, for different and interesting reasons. "First movie remembered?" was a wash between McCain's Bambi and Obama's Born Free, though we might award a point or two to the latter for recalling a movie with a little more adult and realistic sentimentality. "Last movie seen?" was a toss-up between Indiana Jones ("the old guy wins," said McCain), and Shrek III (Obama has small kids)...fairly predictible, no real insights. Not so with choices involving Superheroes and TV shows. Here it gets interesting. Obama loves M*a*s*h, and that's quite all right indeed. It indicates not only a mentality receptive to sophisticated wit and historical allusiveness, but a heart receptive to the tragic absurdity of war. In fact, I don't think he needs much more to be my President. But you know what?... McCain almost out-bids him: he likes watching Seinfeld reruns! A man after my own heart. Because, as you know from previous posts, all of the planet's problems can be solved by paying close attention to the lessons offered in every episode of that "sitcom about nothing"...and everything. This betrays a great deal of HUMANITY under the tough skin of the old war hero--and no wonder he is also capable of a fair amount of WIT on the Jon Stewart show or SatNiteLive.

However, it's in their answers to the "favorite superhero?" question, that things get really interesting, psycho-analytically at least. (Please, I'm qualified; I was a psych-major for one Mickey-Mouse year at Kalamazoo before settling on English/Philosophy.) McCain picks Batman; Obama, Spiderman. Perfect. McCain was a real-life hero, no supernatural powers to aid him in his ultimate victory over the predations of war and imprisonment. OK, the Caped Crusader had the help of a hyper-tech batsuit and motorcar, but no powers out of reach of the ordinary man. And isn't the story of John McCain that of fairly flawed (check out his marital and parental credentials) and not at all exceptional (academic and early Navy career) individual who rose to truly epic heights, as I've pointed out earlier. He did it all on his own. As did Obama, really, but I believe that in his fantasy world, something a little extraordinary might be needed to overcome the forces of evil against him. Like a radioactive spider-bite. Even with his estimable abilities, Obama doubtless realized from the beginning that he was inherently on UNequal footing with the white man, and that his efforts had to be well-nigh superhuman. And by golly, they pretty much have been. Isn't it curious, too, that his superhero is of literally mixed blood--Peter Parker's very chromosomes have been altered. He's a half-breed like Obama in this respect, and the two halves increase the puissance of the whole. But I do go on.

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