September 08, 2013

President Obama's Moue

I'm pretty sure I know where President Obama got his moue:

I only wish I had been able to google an image of Bubba Bill moue-ing alone.  Here he's moue-ing with Hillary, probably about some unfair attack on his wife:

 Where Bill's moue is a little stronger is in the inversion of the smile; he pushes up more forcefully with the lower lip, which, to be fair, seems to be a little thicker than Barack's.  Well, F= ma, so Bill, pushing forcefully up with that lower lip, can contort more of his visage into a simulacrum of sincere regret.

"Moue" is one of those almost-untranslatable French words which lose a lot when the attempt is made to define them with English words.  It is a pouting look of resignation and sadness, an expression you might wear if you thought you were about to receive something you wanted and it was taken away at the last moment. Sort of like chagrin, another Froggish word, but a little different. 

The Obama image was actually taken from a French publication which captioned it, "La Moue du President."  I had just been guessing that Barack's inverted smile might be so called in French. I suppose the French are more attuned to this sort of nuance, another French borrowing.

I've been of the opinion for a long time that President Obama's real talents lie in the dramatic arts,  and especially impersonation.  This makes him an ideal candidate in the post-modern, media-defined reality of the American present.  I don't think I've ever heard Mr. Obama say anything, off the cuff, that sounded the least bit original, insightful or even particularly useful.  His campaign speeches in 2008 were often electrifying, but I noticed even then that they bore an eerie similarity, in cadence, volume dynamics, and timing, to the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It was a little unsettling. From what I can tell, Barack was born in Honolulu, spent part of his early youth in Indonesia, then returned to Honolulu and went to high school at Punahou, then matriculated at Occidental in Southern California, then went to Columbia and Harvard, then worked in Chicago.

Where in any of that would a person pick up the soaring oratorical style of a preacher plying his trade at the Dexter Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama?  From the church he attended in Chicago?  That preacher proved to be more trouble to Barack than he was worth.

Nah, I think he studied the Lincoln Memorial speech of 1963 and essentially analyzed it, internalized it, and began delivering it.  I grew up in close proximity to chataqua-style preachers (a heavy burden of my youth) and saw some pretty good ones.  A lot of it is timing.  Dr. King had it down to a T.  Once he had the audience revved up, he would not slow down or pause when the cheering and "Amen" shouting began.  On the contrary, he would accelerate, raise his voice to higher volume and soar out over the cheers and calling. The effect that MLK produced was...well, there's no other word: electrifying.  In effect, he used the reaction of the crowd as part of his own rhetorical power.  It is a master's gift.

Barack got all of that and made it his own.  Keep in mind that I recognize that as a substantial gift in itself - the ability to discern what it was that MLK was doing, how it worked, and why it was so effective.

On the other hand, the essential problem with impersonation is that it allows the audience, or voting populace, to identify you with the original (probably in an unconscious way, unless you're a blogger with a little too much time on your hands) without actually imbuing you with the talents and gifts of the original. Frank Gorshin might have sounded exactly like Jimmy Cagney, but that doesn't mean that Frank Gorshin would have been any good in "White Heat."  Imitating MLK, Jr., or pulling a Clintonian moue, may get you through this press conference, or the next invasion in the Arab world, but it doesn't actually lead the American people anywhere good.  Martin Luther King's talents just began with public oratory.  He was also a brilliant writer and a keen political mind who seemed to know exactly which buttons to push and when.  As with most geniuses, he was far out in front of his camp followers, who often thought he was going too far, too soon. 

This is certainly not a problem with President Obama.  It seems to be 2003 all over again, as he agitates for a war just about everyone recognizes is stupid, using the same tired arguments as his predecessor, the same mobilization of "serious faces" (John Kerry this time instead of Colin Powell) to sell the war, even the same jingle:  "President (fill in the name) used poison gas on his own people!  So we must invade!"

With a long way to go in Obama's second term, I think this is what a lot of American people are waking up to realize, particularly self-identified liberals.  There doesn't seem to be a There there in our "Being There" president.  It seems more like a recycling of bits and gags from previous presidencies, with all the same people running things, all the same moves, all the same wars, all the same moues.  The Hologram nominally at the center of it all leaves a power vacuum in which the vested interests of the military-industrial complex, which abide from administration to administration, can do what they want, confident that the Mimic-In-Chief will let them have their way.

No comments:

Post a Comment