So I believe we can say it's official: the "Yes, We Can!" Will.I.am-produced celebrity Obama love fest is viral, and since the video link landed in my inbox five different times in one day I figure it requires a response.
With so many good vibes and celebrity endorsements in one impressive eyeful should we let the images and words bubble through us like the temporary emotional lift of a pill or cocktail? Makes one wonder if feeling good is all that is left of the Democratic platform.
The video itself is a quintessential artifact of the postmodern political system in which images are the map, and there is little left of the policy territory to explore. Politics have been reduced to toothpaste slogans, and this is certainly a clever one. The "Yes, We Can!" incantation riffs off of the Latin American protest chant, "Si, Se Puede!," and is not unlike Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" jingle– yes it sounds great and meaningful, yet when you scratch the surface there is no there there (I don't mean to harp on my fave act PE, but as a media literacy dude I have to call it like it is). After watching the video, I'm still starved for meaning. Yes, we can… but what? What is it that we can do? Propel another media creature into the White House? Have hope, change… I'm sorry but these are the most hollow and meaningless words to pervade politics since the invention of television. They are no more substantial than a product claiming it is "30% more free."
Obama strikes me as the perfect PoMo politician. As a chameleon he can be many things to many people. In "Yes, We Can!" he is clearly invoking the rhetorical style of MLK. Yet this is populism without the populace, i.e. a "movement." Yes, Obama is a big phenom among certain enthusiastic throngs, but every time I examine his views, it's like poking the Pillsbury Doughboy– your finger just moves the fat around and he giggles in response. Obama is still an organ of corporate lobbyists and fails to challenge in any fundamental way the entrenched militarism of our system. So yes, he is very good at cribbing style, and with Will.i.am at the helm, style is in abundance. Obama has found a perfect partner for the manufacture of slick imagery and corporate pseudo culture (for more on Black Eyed Peas and selling out hip hop to Snickers, read this post).
Believe me, it pains me to write these words. I don't enjoy slamming a popular icon, but when it comes to the Democrats, please don't check your well-cultivated critical faculties at the door. They sold us out after the last election by failing to stop the war (among many things), as was their mandate. With this monstrous political machine, you've got to keep your BS radar on full power.
In Latin American protest there is generally a clear aim, but with this dude I have no idea what it is, beyond getting elected President. I would hope that a true opposition does emerge, and it has clear aims to do something substantial about climate change and to end militarism. Until I hear stronger challenges on these fronts, yet again I will be forced to hold my nose when I pull that voting lever in the Fall.