Michelle Obama at the Oscars: Deconstructing America
"Entertainment is the best propaganda." -- Joseph Goebbels
February 27, 2013 - 2:00 pm
In his often-bizarre but oh-so-brilliant analysis of the disastrous Star Wars prequels, Mike Stoklasa of Red Letter Media (video embedded below) commented on the opening sequence of A New Hope:
Compare this fecal matter [the Phantom Menace plot] to the opening of the original Star Wars. You see, a guy named William Shakesman once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” This just means “don’t waste my time.” You keep it nice and simple. Without saying one word of awkward, boring political dialogue that goes on for ten minutes we know everything we need to know just by the visuals. Rebels. Empire. We get a sense of how small and ill-equipped the rebels are and how large and powerful the Empire is. The low angle implies dominance and the length of the Star Destroyer implies the long reach of the Empire. This shot says everything we need to without saying one word. In fact, this is so genius I have a feeling that George Lucas had nothing to do with it and probably fought against putting it in the movie.
Having Michelle Obama, first lady of the United States, present an Academy Award was such a brilliant strategy for advancing the post-structuralist deconstruction of America, even the Obamas themselves probably didn’t realize how genius it was.
When the first lady’s name appeared in Oscar tweets I checked to see if they were posted by The Onion; it sounded like the perfect goofball story. My heart sank when I realized she was really participating, and though I am sometimes petty or partisan in spite of my best efforts, I know if Laura Bush or Nancy Reagan had been teleported to Hollywood, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach would have been the same.
It’s tempting to consider the superficial aspects of this story: Mrs. Obama’s constant reaching for celebrity status or the irony of the Golfing Marxist’s wife legitimizing the worst conspicuous consumers in the country. But there is a much deeper phenomenon on display in this incident than the surface impropriety of her behavior — one likely to do more damage to America’s soul. The harm was done by changing the way we think about America.
First, a quick review of two intellectual processes. The essence of human communication is the transferring of an idea from one human mind to another through words, symbols, or signs infused with meaning. This sharing of mental concepts reaches its highest quality when the thought received perfectly mirrors that in the intellect of origin. Communication is honest when it respects the recipient by sharing ideas without circumventing logic and reason.
Human beings understand the world about them by distinguishing people, events, and objects and arranging them in categories based on a process of differentiation and correlation. It is within frameworks of clearly defined essence and accident that we live in a context of reality, our native intellectual environment.
Theater is primarily communication through symbols. While it often claims to convey truth, its medium is illusion and make-believe, implanting conviction through emotion and sensation. Though it is a round-about way of sharing ideas, we’re not victims when we freely expose ourselves to what we know is a construct of imagination. We have no reasonable expectation of honest communication because we recognize that manipulation and creative license are often the heart of cinema. The American film industry also has a long history of promoting ideas and interpretations of history that are close to pure fantasy.
The founding of our country established a unique government close to and answerable to the people, and while individual leaders often fail to live up to the original ideal as a nation we still instinctively cherish the concept of authority being removed from open fabrication and propaganda. We expect the distinctions, the differentiation between the domain of truth and the space of imagination. Truth, we believe, is the rightful locus of government. The cosmetic universe of subjectivity and myth is the natural habitat of celebrity and theater.
Mrs. Obama, as first lady, is a symbol of the government’s duty to serve its citizens with transparency and truth. By becoming one with the props and characters of make-believe, she destroys an internalized distinction between aspects of American identity. This fundamental blurring of one human social function with another is insidious because, in this case, it equates truth and fact with fantasy and myth.
By one tacky stunt, the unsuspecting mind is ripped from its logical system of classification and criteria of meaning. America’s ideas and ideals, along with the dignity of those who lead and govern, are embodied in our first families. At the Oscars, these values are confounded with showmanship and deception. The woman whose position should remind people of what is most serious and noble in our country is indistinguishable in the gaggle of this year’s blathering, sparkly dresses. The wife of the leader of the free world oozed identical insipidity about the cosmic importance of dress-up as Botox-blinded drunks. The resulting conceptual fluidity is adolescent, iconoclastic, and tragic.
Lady “Never-Been-Proud-of My-Country” communicated ultimately that America herself is nothing but a deception, another tripping, stumbling pretender. Viewers also conclude that those who lead the nation perform the same function as those who mass produce make-believe for consumption. By mixing the symbol of our government with those of Hollywood, the greatest nation in history becomes internally associated with what is most flimsy and ephemeral in our culture; America too should bask but a moment in glory before making way for the next big thing.
My husband noted that the last time a political dignitary officiated so invasively in a country’s film awards, Goebbels was minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany. There are certainly some parallels, but I hesitate to draw them. Our minds barely muster a yawn, let alone fear of the Nazi producer and director par excellence, though he was, in his way, a greater danger than the fuhrer. Ideas are always more destructive than weapons, the mind being the true human battlefield. We have become immune to the comparison; when everyone’s a Nazi, nobody is (to borrow a line from The Incredibles).
Seeing Mrs. Obama’s face on the giant screen, a journalist couldn’t refrain on Sunday from asking whether we now live in North Korea, so perhaps the association of Michelle with the fascist Goebbels is not wholly irrelevant. The greatest difference is the final goal; the Nazi used cinematography and propaganda to inspire utter devotion on the part of individual Germans. He gave them a fabricated, romantic vision of their homeland. Obama’s Oscar message, intentionally communicated or not, was that America is herself nothing but a glamorous hoax, worth neither our loyalty nor our lives.
A response to this confounding of truth and myth comes from a Person who claimed, Himself, to be the measure of Truth:
Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. The children of this generation are wiser than the children of light.
We need to recognize that the war for our souls and the identity of our country is being waged thorough sophisticated manipulation of our intellectual grasp of truth; primarily by an ever-more frequent violation of the boundaries between our individual lives and the state. We see everyday the increased mixing of social institutions that should remain distinct. The Obamas, and in their person, the state, are becoming ubiquitous; we cannot escape them.
The proponents and practitioners of the Marxian-postmodern transformation of America have abandoned outdated structures and trappings of politics. We must bring the fight for objective truth and the primacy of the human person over the state to the screen and the classroom because these venues drive the culture; here our fate is being decided. We must engage minds through every technology and medium available and do so boldly, but honestly. This was Roger L. Simon’s response to the election:
Politics is downstream from Culture.
Reaching Americans where they live is the crucial duty of those who do not wish to undergo the otherwise inevitable consequences of the shimmering, smiling fascism. The challenge is to resist the temptation to simply subvert the organic pathways of thought in the way fully on display at the Obama Oscars. Nobody understood this principle better or sacrificed more to implement it than the late, very great, and profoundly missed Andrew Breitbart. His genius lay not in imitating the leftist propaganda machine, but in his determination to wield the medium without manipulating people, communicating honestly by respecting the mind.