Utopias have a habit of tumbling down in the long run, falling foul of brutal realities and nasty predicaments. In the short-run, they resonate with a pop-like glow, mesmerizing crowds narcotized on slogans and promises. Regarding the inauguration of the Forty-fourth president, ‘hope’ has become a market slogan, with ‘change’ purring in its motor.
The market has moved in with vigour to capitalize on Obama’s incipient presidency. The time has come for money to be made – and in America, selling the Presidency, like selling products about the British Royal family, is a fairly common practice. The surprise is that anybody should be outraged at its supposedly diminishing value.
Obama, in short, is a money-spinner. He has already proven his worth, whether for the maker of matryoshka dolls, where large Obamas give birth to little Obamas in a surfeit of image reproductions; or liquor vendors, where booze features Obama as the lubricant of liberty, cognac of freedom; or makers and sellers of sexual products, where the president is bound to provide another sort of stimulus to customers.
Commentators suffer on public radio roundtables, lamenting the decline of utopian sentiment – as if that wasn’t ever going to happen, assuming that utopia wasn’t itself a marketing ploy. The genius of the Obama campaign was an uninterrupted sequence of sloganeering that would have made GM and PR personnel envious. It certainly did that to the stunned Republicans, who had, for years, spent time promoting Bush as simply a man with an image problem for many Americans. Besides, let him be hated, as long as he is respected, the mark of the truly desperate.
In terms of marketing, Bush also brought in the cash, at least for the tourist vendors populating stores from Manhattan to Karachi. Even those who despised him would happily feed the American (and global) economy with Bush merchandise, drowning it with books of his jokes (that is, his mis-quotations), mumblings, and anti-war placards.
Obama, at the inauguration, has already become a label for American consumers. Utopia, or at the very least the message of hope, moves from the high-sounding rhetoric of office to the banality of bedroom antics for the everyday American. The Obama rise to fame is facilitated by the thrill the Obama dildo gives the sexually starved. Merriment may either precede or follow with enthusiastic sips of Hennessy 44. Then there are those candles with his genial face, aromatic with felicity and, well, hope.
Are people being too casual about this event? Millions clogging Washington, D.C. would suggest otherwise. Are they neglecting the seriousness of it all in parting with their cash for a doll? That all might well be, though most won’t look at it that way. To lift the American presidency, and the man, Obama, beyond the fold, into rarified air, is not something that is bound to happen. America has, since its inception as a nation of grand consumers, reveled in commodifying dreams. Besides, as one correspondent for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, ‘the incoming president may very well lead to some economic stimulus’ (18 Jan). And much more.
BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org