Okay, this is amazing. Newsweek has released an inside the beltway spoof of the (scripted) reality shows “The Hills” and “The City” which takes us inside the world of Barack Obama, or as his screen caption identifies him, “Barack, President”. Entitled “The District,” this parody mimics the montage-heavy, sound-byte laden editing style of the shows after which it is modeled, and also features a similar soundtrack of clubby pop, interspersed with narration by an Obama impersonator (on a side note, who is that guy and why couldn’t SNL get someone that good to play Obama? Fred Armisen, take note) who sets the stage and introduces a cast of characters, including Obama’s BFFs, Joe and Hillary, who, we are told, used to be Obama’s “frenemies” until they joined his team. In one great part, footage of an Obama press conference is spliced together with footage of the Tim Geithner confirmation hearings to look like they’re having a really awkward conversation. Here’s a bit of the opening narration, spoken by pseudo-Barack over a pulsating electronic dance beat:
“Previously on The District: I’m Barack. I was a senator from Illinois, living the Chicago dream with my wife, Michelle and my girls, Sasha and Malia. Then I heard about the opportunity of a lifetime. So I decided to risk it all, give up everything I know, and run for President. And then…I actually won. I moved into this amazing house in the one city where you can make a difference. In this city, you have to learn pretty quickly where you fit in. There are the Democrats, like my best friends, Joe and Hillary…we used to be frenemies when we were all running for the Democratic nomination. Now, they’re totally on Team Barack. Then there’s the Republican crowd–we don’t really see eye to eye on most issues. I think they’re just nervous because their old friend in the White House just moved back to Texas. Now, I’m going to have to figure out what I can change and who I can trust. And it all begins here…in the District.
Not only is this clip extremely entertaining, but it’s a great lead-in to a lot of issues I’m starting to think about in relation to a class I’m taking this semester, entitled “Cultural Industries, Mass Media & Celebrity”. In the class, we’re going to look at a lot of aspects of the history and social construction of celebrity and fame, a topic I find incredibly fascinating, and one I think ties in nicely with the kind of work I am potentially interested in doing in the future, with media reform and/or media literacy and education. It also ties in nicely with my interest in issues of women in the media–sexism, negative body image, etc. Each person in the class is in charge of presenting one week’s material and leading the class discussion for that week, and my week will deal with celebrity and politics, and the interesting overlaps and intersections thereof. I’m really excited about this topic and I think it’s a very timely one–to take the most obvious example, there’s no doubt that President Obama (nope, still no less thrilling to type) has become a huge celebrity, a “rock star” of epic proportions, and I look forward to looking at the phenomenon of politicians-as-celebrities (not to mention celebrities-as-politicians like Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenneger, and, if Blagojovich had had his way, Oprah) as well as other related phenomena, such as the success of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Of course, at this point, my presentation is weeks away and we’re only a week or so into class so I haven’t delved much into the theoretical work, but even before the class, I’d been fascinated by the way that the modern media machine entertainment-izes everything, even, or perhaps especially, politics. Not that I think the politician-as-hero or politician-as-celebrity is by any means a new phenomenon. But with each election cycle, the level of media saturation and, thus, media consumption increases and media thus plays an ever greater role in guiding and dictating the discourse. Many even go so far as to argue that the media decides the race, and I’m not sure that is such a stretch. Indeed, as I touched on previously, I do believe that Obama’s understanding of the intersections between politics and media and, therefore, the importance of a multi-media platform and he and his campaign staff’s skillful use of a variety of forms of media, from web video to text message updates, to Facebook outreach to his prime-time TV special days before the election, was a huge contributing factor in his success. And he and his family truly have become celebrities, they have appeared on the cover of US Weekly, been interviewed by Ellen Degeneres and the ladies of The View, and Beanie Baby recently released Sasha and Malia dolls, much to the consternation of Michelle Obama.
Being an avid reader and watcher of both political coverage from a variety of sources, from MSNBC to Media Matters, Wonkette to the Washington Post and, I must admit, entertainment and celebrity coverage from a similarly wide range of print publications, online sources and television, it’s extremely interesting how similar the conventions, stylistic choices, and even the content of the two kinds of coverage can sometimes be. The truth is, it seems pretty clearly that it’s not just the media–politicians and their ties with the rich and famous make it all too easy to see them as celebrities of sorts, themselves. After all, part of the reason “The District” works so well as parody is that it hits just close enough to the truth that it is really funny.
I’m sure I’ll have lots more to add as I get deeper into this class and start reading more things that relate directly to this topic, particularly as I prepare for my in-class presentation. Until then, watch “The District“. Will Barack’s stimulus package be his one-way ticket to Loserville? Will Joe’s big mouth cause tensions to run high? Who will Hillary catch Michelle with in the Lincoln bedroom? Tune in next Monday for an all new episode of “The District”!