Live long enough–or hear the theme song of “The Facts of Life” often enough– and you eventually learn “you take the the good/you take the bad/and there you have the facts of life.” Yes, more than 70% of the gay vote went to Barack Obama–more than went to Clinton or Kerry–and yes, 70% of our black brothers and sisters in California voted to deny gay men and women the fundamental civil right to marry.
Quite honestly, it’s been a bittersweet week for me. While I fully share the abundant joy of the historical moment with my black brothers and sisters as we finally bore witness in Grant Park to Martin Luther King’s dream, 70% of the black voters in California embraced the nightmare logic of this country’s miscegenation laws that would have made the marriage of Barack Obama’s mother and father illegal in America and just applied it to gay people.
Thanks. Does Hallmark make a card for that?
Early in June of 2002, I found out that the Cuban singer Albita was going to play at Ravinia so I called a good friend of mine, who happens to be Nigerian, and told hershe simply had to go to the concert with me. I had seen Albita perform two years earlier at RFK Stadium at the concert for gay rights which coincided with the March on Washington. Though much bigger names played that night–Melissa Etheridge, Chaka Khan, Garth Brooks, George Michael among them–Albita who came on early in the night simply blew me away with an amazing voice and an infectious Afro-Cuban sound. I came back to Chicago and immediately bought her CD “Son.” If it were vinyl, I would have surely worn it out in the first week.
Please, I implored my friend, come with me to hear this woman. “Ok, I’ll make you a deal,” she said. “I’ll go if you come with me to the Miriam Makeba concert later this month.”
Um. Sure. And who is Miriam Makeba? When is the concert? Wait a minute, the tickets I have for June 19 have some woman named Miriam as the opening act? It’s this Makeba person!
Amazed at the coincidence, I listened as she explained about “Mama Africa,” and why I had better get my skinny white behind to Ravinia even if Albita weren’t on the bill.
So we went to Ravinia together, curious about what we would each discover and just to make matters even more interesting we dragged along a mutual friend who had heard of neither woman.
Needless to say, it was a magical night of music. We went to see a concert but Albita and Miriam put on a celebration of life. Despite the fact that most of the songs were in languages we surely didn’t fully understand, there was no mistaking the universal language of joy, heartache and exile in their music and in their voices. We all walked away that night not as people of different races, genders and sexual orientations but as celebrants of a common, and yes, a sometimes deeply flawed, humanity. I was deeply saddened to hear that the truly amazing “Mama Africa” died this week. But despite the sadness, I was able to find solace in the hope, fearlessness and tenacity of a life lived by example and against injustice.
Her struggle makes mine a little more bearable today. As Albita sang on that magical night, “Azuca’ pa’ tu amargura,” Tom.
Sugar for your bitterness, Tom.
So, it was my good fortune to be the first person to point out more than a 13 months ago that in this political year image would be as crucial a factor in determining the presidential election as it was in 1960.
Since then, requests for interviews invariably, and very quickly I might add, boiled down to “what do the candidates wardrobes say about them.” Shortly after I was quoted in USA Today, a producer for WGN pre-interviewed me for a segment. I tried to explain to her that it was much more complicated than that. Could I go on air and briefly discuss the complexities? (Sure, that sounds funny now but at the time I was serious.)
She never called back and I learned my lesson. Give NBC, FOX, and CBS what they want.
Of course, though I was certain of the statement I made, I certainly didn’t know exactly how it would play out. As the nominees of each party emerged, lots of people jumped on the Nixon/Kennedy paradigm and they’ve pointed out the obvious similarities. One candidate is young, attractive and magnetic but lacks experience. The other candidate is old, not so telegenic, prone to soporific public appearances but chock full of experience.
(The role race has played in the campaign is beyond the pervue this blog entry, although you can bet the farm I have a lot to say about how it has been sublimated. Perhaps reading my blog “Sarah, Plain and Tall(tale)” might give you some idea….)
The Nixon-Kennedy debates were historically significant because they were the first to be televised and that very fact made it possible, if one were inclined to do so, infer something not only from the answers the candidates gave but how they looked while they were giving them. We all remember form high school history class that people who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon had won, but those who listened and watched on television thought Kennedy won.
I’ve been waiting for 13 months for the moment in this campaign that would make the issue of image as compelling– and decisive– as it was in 1960.
I think that finally happened in last night’s televised debate.
I think we saw last night, for the first time in this election, how filtering a town hall meeting through television affected the candidates’ message and chances for victory.
The conventional wisdom had it that McCain was supposed to have the home court advantage in the debate because he had built his campaign on town hall style meetings.
Obama on the other hand was supposed to be at a disadvantage because he excelled as the rock star/politician in front of tens of thousands.
The conventional wisdom (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) got it all wrong.
Last night Senator Obama looked calm, cool and collected, in control and in command. . His youthful energy was contained but obvious in his statesmanlike posture. . John McCain on the other hand looked, anxious, jittery, scattered–aimless even– and inescapably old from what appeared to be a dowager’s hump as the cameras gave us panoramic views of him roaming the stage.
So what leads me to this conclusion? Watch the debate again and you will notice, if you didn’t already get the vague feeling when you watched last night, that Senator Obama’s choices in presenting himself to the studio audience and to the home audience contrasted sharply with Senator McCain’s.
Obama’s choices underscored his claim that in these turbulent times he is the leader whose judgement is superior to McCain’s while McCain’s choices undercut his claim that he is the safer, more experienced steady hand to lead us through this crisis.
Why do I say this? What specifically did each candidate do that we could see on television that could possibly affect how we perceived their message?
Senator Obama consistently focussed on fewer that three studio audience members while he was answering questions in a soothing voice and he minimally moved his entire body in order to do this. He usually pivoted slightly or he simply turned his head in another direction. This meant that not only was he connecting with the studio audience but he looked as if he were speaking directly into the camera, and therefore to us at home. The cumulative effect of this over 90 minutes allowed us to see Mr Obama as a calm, thoughtful, caring and decisive candidate.
In stark contrast, Senator McCain, roamed the stage, addressing multiple audience members and sections of the stage, haphazardly changing his tone and demeanor and repeatedly (and inexplicably) twirling in place, even walking backwards for no apparent reason other than to be closer to ( but not at) his podium.
If you were watching the debate on television, you saw that Senator Obama was always within the frame of the screen and the cameraman did not have to chase him around as he did with Senator McCain. At one point, out of what must have been sheer frustration on the part of the director, you saw both candidates on a split screen, and even then McCain couldn’t be contained in the frame.
The fact that the camera had to make such an effort to follow Senator McCain, he came off as erratic, uncertain and unfocussed. It didn’t help matters any that, unlike Obama, he never moved the microphone from his right hand, which meant that he was always forced to move his left arm only in order to make a point. This meant that his gestures were at once more highly exaggerated and repetitive. He could clearly be seen gripping the microphone tightly which made him look stiff and unnatural, as if he had suffered some sort of stroke which only affected the right side of his upper body.
On television, he came across as one of those grandpas who spend their spare time trying to keep someone (perhaps,”that guy”) off his lawn. This is hardly the image one wants to portray to an electorate looking for leadership in a crisis.
If it’s the case that Mr. Obama won the debate last night, as is the consensus, it is important to understand that it was in good measure because he was able to make us see him connecting to regular people and the television audience, undercutting any of the doubts that he is elitist, unprepared, and of unfit judgement to be Commander in Chief. He was able to accomplish this because of what he said, yes. But the image he projected on television underscored his message. The same cannot be said for Senator McCain.
With my apologies to Patricia MacLachlan, let me tell you a tale about loneliness and abandonment.
John, a “maverick” who, in 8 years of political marriage to his party’s president voted for 90% of the president’s legislative agenda, finds himself saddened by his chances to successfully distance himself from the selfsame disasterous economic and military agenda he voted for so he can now become President himself.
Somewhere in one of his eight homes, he is also saddened that his opponent, an elitist African American upstart half his age and who was raised by a single mother on food stamps, picked a champion of the working class and expert on foreign affairs as his vice presidential candidate.
Even his couture clad, brewing-fortune heiress wife is unable to console him from his public admission that he knows very little about economic matters, which suddenly matter very much to the voters.
Clearly unable to to handle the the burden himself, he decides to put out feelers for an upstart half his age of his very own to put on the presidential ticket.
He asks a few buddies, perhaps some randy buddies, and they tell him that putting a woman on the ticket would show the other side that he meant fundamentally sound business.
So they look around for a political bride.
They find a really good one in Maine, but decide that she isn’t young enough or much of an upstart, so they send her packing.
Suddenly, as if she were a credit card sent through the mail without a FICO credit check, someone pops up on their radar. Her name is Sarah.
She is from Alaska and she is eager, really eager and more than willing to travel down to the lower 48 to take the job immediately. The randy friends like that she was a former beauty pageant contestant and although she is married with children and a potential future ex son in law, it means that she has plenty of practice in the interview portion of her pageants to give confusing, nonsensical answers to difficult questions, and such as.
She seems like the kind of gal that can really read the heck out of an electrifying speech, which some friend of John’s could write and pepper with truthiness. No need to bother the FBI to do a background check.
Just as John had hoped, his plan succeeds beautifully. Within hours of the political marriage, they manage to steal the political thunder from their elitist community organizing upstart opponent. Everyone is talking about Sarah!
Oh, and how much does Sarah like talking about her Alaska homeland which she misses very much. To relieve her homesickness, she paints beautiful, fanciful pictures with words about her life there and the shores of Alaska and their proximity to a far away land called Russia. She even talks about the strategic proximity of her homeland to the exotic land of Canada.
But after a severe economic crisis threatens to force the entire world to party like it’s 1929, John is afraid they may lose the election and he may be forced to sell the entire country to China.
When Sarah leaves to go to the United Nations and on national television with Katie Couric to talk more about Alaska, John panics. Fearing Sarah may not survive the return trip, he declares that he will suspend his campaign and cancel the scheduled debate with his upstart opponent to go to Wahington to help fix the economic meltdown that a week earlier he had declared didn’t exist.
In his haste to get to Washington, he forgets to close down any of his campaign offices or stop running any of his campaign ads on television. He also forgets his haste, since, having cancelled an interview with David Letterman because he has suspended his campaign, he goes to Katie Couric’s CBS office instead, where it turns out he decides to be interviewed. David Letterman feels lonely and abandoned..
In the end, John’s fears are well founded. Sarah does not survive the return trip. Actually, she is politely asked not to return, abandoned really, by one of her most influential admirers at the National Review. She’s had enough of Sarah’s tall tales. She admonishes that “if BS were currency, Sarah… could bail out Wall Street herself.”
Sarah is now working on learning to print currency, and in her spare time, cold fusion. (It’s cold in Alaska and her parents say there’s nothing that their daughter can’t do.) She plans to report on her results this Thursday nite.
During the past few days I’ve been trying to put the finishing touches on the redesign of my website. A Higher power willing, the new home page will be up today with the rest of the pages gradually coming along in two weeks.
One of the pages I still have to redo is the “about tom” page, which essentially serves as my virtual/online resume.
Watching Sarah Palin speed date her way to foreign policy cred at the United Nations yesterday made me think how much more impressive my fashion credentials would be if I followed her example:
I met Calvin Klein once in Chicago and saw him once walking the boardwalk on Fire Island with David Geffen. I’ve stood in line with Christy Turlington at O’Hare waiting for a limo. I’ve met Todd Oldham and Zac Pozen. I’ve had dinner with Rubin Singer and his staff. Rubin worked for both Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass.
I’ve dished about Condoleza Rice’s wardrobe with Albert Kreimler of Akris.
I’ve rescued away Thierry Mugler from hangers on by asking him to tell me how his then recent interview in Time magazine with the art critic Linda Nochlin (whose essays I used to teach, not ban) came about. I was wearing a Dolce and Gabbana vest. This happened on Mykonos, no less.
You can, if you wish really hard, see parts of Turkey, our strategic NATO ally in The War Against Terror, from Mykonos.
I’ve slept with someone who’s slept with Marc Jacobs (and who hasn’t, you say) and no one got anyone pregnant.
Probably because none of our mothers were hockey moms.
I introduced Narciso Rodriguez to Michelle Obama. I styled the first magazine cover with Michelle who favors Maria Pinto’s clothes. Maria Pinto used to be an assistant to Geoffrey Beene. Geoffrey Beene reprimanded Narciso for copying his clothes. So, by Palin logic, I’ve also met Mr. Beene, twice(!)–although he’s dead.
Geoffrey Beene’s signature fragrance was called Grey Flannel, and tonite I will be wearing a grey Band of Outsiders three piece suit to the Giorgio Armani party sponsored by W magazine, which this month has Anne Hathaway on its cover. She was one of the stars of The Devil Wears Prada. Prada used to own Helmut Lang which is now designed by Nicole and Michael Colovos.
As Bette Midler (who I have seen in concert) would say: “Shall I go on?”