History Conscious

Simon Hoggart on Obama’s acceptance speech:

Here is a man, you feel, who is already looking back on his own life as a central moment in the American narrative. In a sense, he hovers over himself, watching and hearing his own performance, as if being elected President was the supreme out-of-body experience.

I think this attitude, conscious of being a crucial part of a larger history, could lead to wise decision making that eschews the partisan for the conciliatory, and the short-term for the long-term.

Reading the second-day coverage of this election, one can clearly see how history conscious the media are too.  They have been aware for weeks that this moment would be transformational, and have had time to prepare their most eloquent, flowing, go-down-in-history prose.  Sadky, very little of it will ever be read again – instead, it will merely be rewritten my new hands, as future pundits with the benefit of hindsight file reminisces of a pivotal moment.  Only Obama’s acceptance speech will endure (and even this may be superseded by his Inaugural address next January). I half wish that the papers reverted to their dense, colourless reportage, and let us conjour whatever historical significance we wish in our own minds.

Is there a difference between living the history, and merely watching it unfold?  I think so, and for those of use observing the moment overseas, I think the detachment was particularly acute.  We are delighted and relieved at the news… and yet we were unable to participate.  The celebrations in Grant Park, Chicago were genuine, but we were elsewhere, and so we had to watch them on a flat screen.  That most important of sounds, the noise of the thousands cheering, was dialled down by the sound editor, so we could properly hear Obama’s words.  It is historical, yes, but by the time we come to experience it, it has already been tampered with.

5 Replies to “History Conscious”

  1. If your rationale for covering the election run-up in so much detail (to the exclusion of our own domestic affairs) was correct though, this result does affect us, and we are living the history every bit as much as the crowds in Chicago, just in a different way.
    I hope you haven’t been brainwashed by your consumption of american media into thinking that history only happens within the usa? Thinking that the american perspective (on this or any event) is somehow more valid than any other is, to my mind, an odious thing, and the very thing that large portions of the world object to. Why are you subjugating your own experience (and that of everyone else not in the usa) to theirs?

  2. Oh, I’m not denying that the result does affect us, and we are part of the moment regardless. I’m merely observing on the fact that our experience is mediated, and that we may lose something through this.
    You owe me a tenner, by the way.

  3. No actually, she owes ME a tenner. That’s the only reason I supported Obama. If you recall Robert, you were too Mr Health and Safety to participate in the bet.

  4. Actually, Rob owes Tyra a tenner (assuming he’s cashed my cheque). I hope she spends it on something good.
    But our experience is no more mediated than anyone else’s, Rob. I know what you’re getting at – it’s not our president, and we didn’t get to vote, and we haven’t been responsible for inflicting Bush on the world, so our experience is different from that of the Chicaganians. But by the same token, their experience is different from ours. And I think it’s important to never forget that. Different works both ways, assuming both perspectives are valid (which I do).

  5. Loved this to and froing. I was just struck by the fact that by toning down the sound in Grant Park our experience had been tampered with. And this must be happening all the time in all sorts of circumstances.
    I also agree with Rob (and Simon Hoggart) that Obama does seem slightly distanced from the moment and as Rob suggests this may allow him to make more thoughtful decisions.

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