Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Things in general

I'm surprised at how relieved I am that Obama won, since I don't think there are all that many substantive differences between him and McCain. Admittedly, those differences all affect my life and the lives of people I know rather than the lives of foreigners I've never met and never will because my tax money killed them, but still--I'm surprised. I think it has more to do with how his election is a sign that, while they're inconstant and unreliable, there are good impulses in a big chunk of the American populace.

The one time so far that I've actually dropped 100% of my cynicism for a moment (which I didn't think would happen at all) is when I came in to work this morning and the first thing the woman at the front desk said to me was "We won!" Yes, we did, Melissa, and you just gave me chills. Thank you.

In other news, Bernard Chazelle was smart the other day, as usual. I agree wholeheartedly. While Obama himself won't do all that much for America's Black and poor populations, he is an important symbol. It's like how...OK, this is complicated, so new paragraph.

Young men in the 1950s formulated a way to rebel against their repressive society, what with the beatniks and the Angry Young Men and the Rebels Without Causes and all that. It was almost entirely exclusive to men, though, and going into the 1960s women had no model for their own rebellion. So they started to rebel by attaching themselves to rebellious men. Take the girl groups--the ones who were supposed to be "bad girls" (The Ronettes, The Shangri-La's, and all those) were not in themselves "bad"--but they sang about being in love with bad boys. "Leader of the Pack", for example, is about a tragedy caused by the conflict between the narrator's desire to rebel (by being with a bad boy) and her inability to do so (by ignoring her parents when they tell her to break up with him). The Crystals' "He's a Rebel" is the ultimate example of this, naturally: "When he holds my hand I'm so proud/Cause he's not just one of the crowd"--he makes her stand out as different by being different himself--but finally, "He's not a rebel to me". (I wrote a paper on this years ago, so I know there are sources for lots of real-life examples, but I don't have the energy or resources to gather them together right now. Take my word for it that it's not just an entertainment phenomenon.) Anyway, by the end of the sixties, there was now an ad hoc but firmly established model for female rebellion, which the women of the 1970s built into what became the women's lib movement and finally the contemporary feminist movement. Obviously, there are a lot of steps missing here, it's not that direct, and there were lots of parallel developments (The Feminine Mystique, durr) going on at the same time that built synergistically towards contemporary feminism, but still--this progression was a big, important part of it.

From what I can tell, for Blacks in particular and for Americans in general, Obama is equivalent in that storyline to the men of the 1950s, or, if we're very lucky, the women of the early 1960s. He himself won't do jack for us*, but people will see him and be able to use him as a symbol and a model to build upon, and perhaps eventually what he has started will lead to something positive.

More to come, maybe. So far today all I'm doing is filing, so I've got plenty of free time, but who knows if that'll keep up.

*I'm having difficulty talking about this without sounding either overly inclusive or overly exclusive. Obviously this is something that applies primarily to Black Americans, which is a group I'm firmly not a member of, but any possible avenue out of the racism that has crippled America and the world for centuries is a boon to all of us, except for those who use racism to their benefit in the struggle to maintain financial dominance. And they are a people I have absolutely no problem excluding from my definition of humanity. So, the pronoun is "us".

OH AND: Charles Stross is smart, too.

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