Friday, November 07, 2008

Art and Critical Thought Are Not Mutually Exclusive

I've been on a forced blogging break, due to an unrelenting headache that seems now to be abating. Let me just say, to those of you who suffer chronic migraines: man, am I sorry. I don't know how you accomplish anything.

It was good though, to have a break, because when I read the comment to my posting of The Tide is Turning video, my first thought was, "Boy, do I disagree with you!"

I do disagree with the commenter, but time gave me the opportunity to reflect on something else I admire about Obama -- he knows how to speak to a variety of folks.

When I first saw this was his speech at the Democratic convention. "What'd you think?" my mom asked, calling me up after the speech.

"Well ... what did you think?" I hedged.

"Well ... I don't know, both your dad and I thought it was missing something. It just wasn't as dynamic as some he's given."

Which was exactly how I felt.

Shortly after, my sister, an undecided, called. "That speech ... oh my God, now I get it! He has my vote. That was amazing!"

And I heard that sentiment echoed by several other not-Obama supporters. Like Pat Buchanan:

"It was a genuinely outstanding speech, it was magnificent. I saw Cuomo's speech, I saw Kennedy in '80, I even saw Douglas MacArthur, I saw MLK; this is the greatest convention speech and probably the most important because unlike Cuomo and the others, this was an acceptance speech, this came out of the heart of America, and he went right at the heart of America. This wasn't a liberal speech at all. This is a deeply, deeply centrist speech. It had wit, it had humor, and when he used the needle on McCain, he stuck it into McCain and it was funny. It was Kennedy's speech in '80. I laughed with Kennedy when he was needling Ronald Reagan."

Most of us, if something is working, we keep doing it. But Obama understood that he already had my vote, he already my mother's vote. He knew how to talk to those who weren't already sold.

Wow, thought I ... someone whose judgment is better than mine. Whoo-hoo!

Now, as to the issue in the comment: "Critical thought doesn't respond to gushy little songs."

I believe that "Anonymous" is looking at the equation backward. It is not about response, it is about creativity. The issue is not that a gushy little song could affect someone's vote (I don't believe it could), it's that the candidate inspires such strength of feeling, he motivates others to put their feelings of hope into song, art, or video.

Or cupcakes.

He inspires people. And that's good, because I suspect that the President Obama is going to ask citizens to make some hard choices, some sacrifices.

Poetry, art, are not mutually exclusive to critical thought. Have you read Audacity of Hope? I have. It's specifics. It's details.

A man with a plan can be inspiring. And as for posting videos and such, as the BFF-DRE says, (whom I will tell you, is a critical thinker with a jaundiced eye to corny rhetoric), "Sometimes, I want to surrender to a little bit of joy."

Right now is the time for that. Because come January, there is much work to be done. By all of us.

8 comments:

ogre said...

Sacrifices? You mean... more shopping?

/snark

I agree. It's something I've been thinking about as well. Inspirational leadership can get people to do more, sacrifice... for their own long term good and the good of others (including their kids, grandkids...).

Anyone who doesn't think that the nation is going to need to make serious sacrifices in the coming years--decade or so, I'd guess--is probably delusional. But need-to isn't enough. It takes someone to make the call who can make the call--and make us believe that not only must it be done, it can be done.

I expect to hear that on Jan 20 in his inaugural address.

Kerry Fontaine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
goodwolve said...

Inspiration is a gift in leadership that we have not had in a long time - really not in my lifetime. I am grateful for the gift and the power it will bring with it.

ms. kitty said...

I echo Jacqueline's comment and also Ogre's. I have needed this kind of leadership in America and except for a few of the local politicians I know best, there's been little of it. I feel hope for America for the first time in several years.

Masasa said...

In response to anonymous: Yes, he is only one person, even if our President Elect. He alone can't change things. And that is exactly the point, as you have just written.

LE, I really believe in the power of art and even in the power of human emotion and collective emotional response. Heck, few things we do as a nation don't have that dynamic in play (if any). Maybe it is coming from a family of artists (http://ragtagsf.blogspot.com/ my mother-- the multimedia artist and http://colin-quodlibet.blogspot.com/2008/05/what-to-learn-in-college.html my father-- the engineer who is also a musician), but I simply mourn the idea that we assume critical thought can't be expressed through and with art.

Nancy said...

I don't usually feel much of anything emotionally when I vote (although I am deeply grateful for having the opportunity). This year was different. I went over the issues. I listened to what was said. I made my choice, just like I do every time. This time, though, I was really moved by it all. So much so that I surprised myself. It's wonderful to feel that way (patriotic, even) when normally I am a bit on the numb side. Hell, I loved the cupcake sculpture. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I don't think anyone's ever written a blog post about a response I wrote before! This is kind of exciting.

But anyway, let me try to clarify what I wrote. First of all, I don't think (and didn't say) that art and critical thought are mutually exclusive (though personally, I think that the video in question only counts as "art" in the broadest possible sense. Ick). What I do think is that that particular video, as well as much of the discourse surrounding Obama's candidacy, *has* been antithetical to critical thought, and I think that that's, you know, bad.

I understand very well that when "the candidate inspires such strength of feeling, he motivates others to put their feelings of hope into song, art, or video." But here's the thing - the fact that someone feels hopeful isn't in itself a sign that the person doing the inspiring is doing anything other than manipulating emotions (and votes). Second of all, it's absolutely true that inspirational leaders or speakers can inspire people to do things they might not do otherwise - but that's certainly not necessarily good! We have to actually think about, and weigh, what we're being asked to do. It's easy to get all choked-up over the visuals and the calls for "change" - but those are no more justifications for Obama than a picture of a child holding an American flag at a McCain rally is.

I definitely understand how good it feels for people to have hope again after eight years of Pres. Bush. But maybe that's kind of the problem - why are we depending so heavily on politicians, of all people, for hope? I'm not hugely impressed with Pres-elect Obama's actual record (though, as I said, I did vote for him in my swing state), but even if I were, I'm not sure why I would pin my hopes on a political figure to fulfill them.

I do get, however, the desire to revel in a little joy. I just think, again, that presidents need their supporters much more than their detractors to be critical of and toward them. So far, I don't see much of that here.

Masasa said...

Anonymous, do you do your best work under harsh criticism? I know I don't (and I know few who do). I need my "supporters" who see my potential and hold out the vision of my best self for me. I don't think that means my supporters aren't bringing other perspectives to the table. It's a big difference though in terms of how it is done.