Leslie Savan blogs for The Nation about media and politics. A three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for her Village Voice column about advertising, Savan is the author of Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Pop Language in Your Life, the Media, and, Like…Whatever and The Sponsored Life: Ads, TV, and American Culture. She has been widely published, including in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, New York, Mother Jones, and Huffington Post. She has appeared frequently on TV and radio, and is very happy to be a talking head in Helvetica, a film about the font.
When I first saw this spot on TV, I thought, uh-oh, (another) final nail in the coffin of healthcare reform. The bow tie, the Captain Ahab beard, the one eyebrow preaching from high on its mount--it's Koop!: a visage that many Americans, especially older ones, think of as the Surgeon General of the United States.
You know how you can tell the Age of Reagan has ended? Because at his State of the Union address, Barack Obama didn't do any of those ordinary-folks-who-make-a-difference shout-outs to the gallery, as every POTUS (that is, Populist of the United States) has since the Gipper's first SOTU in 1982. But if Obama had called on someone, given the frustrated and hectoring nature of his speech, I bet I know who he would have liked to ask to stand up and take a bow: James O'Keefe, the putative pimp and ACORN slayer.
As the Democrats hysterically reel away from heath care reform in the wake of Scott ("My daughters are available") Brown's win in Massachusetts, I'd like to suggest the sort of personnel change President Obama needs to make in order to recoup his populist mojo: fire Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and replace him with Conan O'Brien. Why? Because Conan clearly has a grasp of exactly what you should do when, after years of grueling effort, the Man jerks your chain just as you're on the brink of realizing a long-cherished goal.
Only after Fox News announced that it had hired Sarah Palin as an "news analyst" did I realize that I've been subconsciously calling her Sarah Fox, Fox Palin, or Sarah Palin-Fox for a while now. She seems to be both the face that Fox wants to project and the audience it wants to capture: Palin represents the natural next stage in Fox's evolution from talking heads who pretend to know things that aren't true to those who sincerely believe things that aren't true.
Did you notice what Barack Obama and Tiger Woods have in common lately? No, not that: It's that both were told by a Washington insider this week that he needed to say a magic word in order to gain true acceptance from the American people.
Congressman Peter King (R-NY) and pundit Brit Hume (R-Fox) told President Obama and Tiger Woods, respectively, to say "terrorism" and "Jesus" more. If only these successful, menthol-cool, mixed-race men would come to terms with these terms, they could then spin their way into passing: Obama would pass as president for a war-loving public that isn't satisfied by 50,000 more troops sent to a losing war, and Woods would pass as a member of the cult we call the Republican Party and, ipso facto, be reaccepted by the corporations who once found his touch so golden.
First, "terrorism." When asked by George Stephanopoulos to name one "specific recommendation the president could implement right now to fix" our Swiss-cheesey national security network, Peter King answered: "To use the word terrorism more." King, of course, was nostalgic for those days when a president poured "terror" over national policy like ketchup. But we all know that merely using the word--or following any GOP demand--would ever be enough, as Jon Stewart pointed out (starting around 6:50).
Sure, it's easy to laugh at the idea that Bill O'Reilly's troops will win the War on Christmas when "Merry Christmas" replaces "Happy holidays" on the lips of every salesperson and fast-food server in America. But one front in this longest-running U.S. war (longer, now, than Afghanistan) has already seen a major breakthrough, and that's among Christmas cards: These days, it's almost impossible to find any ironic cards on the subject, no matter where you look.
You may remember that kind of card. Since at least the mid-'80s, my husband, who is a total chortling Khristmas kringle, used to come home this time of year snickering over the discovery of a completely inappropriate holiday greeting, one that mocked the sentimental Sundblom Santas of his youth. One year it was a card showing the neon sign at a Howard Johnson's with nine letters shot out so it spelled "Ho Ho." Then it was a card printed with Vincent Van Gogh's famous grey self-portrait but wearing a Santa hat; when you opened it up you found a plastic baggie holding a small plaster ear, with the message, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Ear."
His favorite was called "Drive-By Santa," and showed a sleigh from behind rushing down an urban street lined with broken windows, with Santa hurling gaily wrapped packages through every one as he raced away.
If your heart is weary of its disappointment in Barack Obama--over the scuttled public option in health care, his Bush-friendly Justice Department, or his decision to send 30,000 new troops and more than $30 billion into Afghanistan--give it a little defibrillation with this thought: What if Obama catches Osama bin Laden in the next 18 months?
Big if, I know. And Obama didn't say that's what all those boots on the ground (plus all those shoes worn by the tens of thousands of contractors who will accompany them) were about; in fact, the president mentioned Osama just once in his Afghanistan speech at West Point, and then only in passing, when he said the Taliban's refusal to give bin Laden up justified our first invasion.
But after watching a Republican Congress with razor-thin majorities get everything it wanted for 10 years or so, and then watching a Democratic Congress with razor-thin majorities get little more the blame for a bank bailout engineered by the Bushies, harpooning the Great White Whale for American vengeance is just about the only card Obama can pull out of his hat to restore faith in his leadership.
Ever since Barack Obama's inauguration, progressives have been able to point to one segment of the traditional media that consistently bears witness to the depth of change implied by the Democratic landslide: the chastened demeanor of George Will on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Particularly obvious whenever Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is on hand to call Will on his donnish prevarications, the change has nonetheless been unmistakable over time and provided the show's real "Sunday Funnies" for lots of us, as this clip from Stephen Colbert last month makes clear:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|George Will's Long Tie|
Of course, chipping away at Will's certitude is intrinsically funny because of his magisterial, always unsmiling manner--it's like teasing a pinched and grumpy-looking hedgehog with a sharp stick.
You gotta give Sarah Palin's book tour credit for one thing: It's really putting the passive-aggressive instincts of the religious right on public display.
And not just because she spends much of her 432-page book blaming campaign media flacks and hairdressers, bless their cinder-black hearts, for the McCain/Palin ticket's loss in 2008. Here's Sarahcuda talking up Going Rogue for the Christian Broadcasting Network this week, reproving her critics by saying, "These are probably some lonely people, some shallow people who want to take a shot like that, and we need to pray for these people."
The former (for half a term) governor of Alaska sounds a bit like the Saturday Night Live Church Lady, who pretended to be generous and devout but was always on the verge of boiling over with resentment, even barely contained violence, for anyone whose demeanor she considered insufficiently pious. (What would Dana Carvey's character have said about Palin's too-tight skirts and stiletto-heeled red pumps, I wonder?)