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Michelle’s Moment

August 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Michelle Obama’s speech in the Convention Centre last night was aimed at accomplishing several goals. It sought to humanise and feminise her as a political spouse, to identify the Obamas with the familial aspirations of Middle America, to present her husband as primarily a loving father to their children rather than a pointy-headed intellectual, to dispel any doubts about her love for the US and finally to praise Hillary Clinton as a woman and a leader. Party supporters will decide if she hit all of her targets but she gave it her best shot.

After a nervous start, Michelle allowed the warmth of the audience to carry her through and undoubtedly daunting speech. If there was one theme hammered home throughout with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, it was that of ‘Family, Family, Family!’:


’I come here tonight as a sister, blessed with a brother who is my mentor, my protector and my lifelong friend.

I come here as a wife who loves my husband and believes he will be an extraordinary president.

I come here as a Mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world’

Barrack, we were told, was ‘was raised by grandparents who were working class folks just like my parents, and by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills just like we did.’ This is more than a nod to Main Street America, it’s a fully fledged bear hug. We heard of the ubiquitous ‘hard-working’ families – making this writer long for the candidate who goes after the feckless slob vote. Even Joe Biden was brought in as someone ‘who’s never forgotten where he came from’. Obama identifies with Joe Sixpack struggling to pay for gas or trying to put his kids through college; Michelle was at pains to emphasise how average her husband really was.

There were paeans to the party faithful; the twin Democrat icons of feminism and Dr King were duly saluted. Her husband would, in a phrase allowing plenty of manoeuvre, ‘end the war in Iraq responsibly’. She praised the Obama supporters that had followed them since Iowa and before. She gave thanks to Hillary for breaking glass ceilings. She is proud of Barrack’s idealism; ‘all of us [are] driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do – that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be’.

Only two mentions of God and that was in the traditional peroration. But Michelle and her speech-crafters wanted her audience to know that despite reports to the contrary, she was not afraid to use the phrase ‘that is why I love this country.’ She wanted to convey how here sense of patriotism was rooted in the American Dream.

Such speeches may seem somewhat mawkish and sentimental by European political standards; the, doubtless sincere, references to deceased love ones, overcoming illness and the personal narrative essential to all American presidential odysseys. But Michelle Obama coped admirably with the expectations foisted on her by an eager audience and demonstrated that the Obamas are beginning to eclipse the Clintons as the most formidable double-act in politics.

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The ‘Dark Knight’ and Terrorism

August 3, 2008 Leave a comment

Batman – popcorn summer action hero or a spotlight on contemporary America? Having recently seen the movie, an obvious resonance comes to mind already discussed back and forth from the New York Times to Fox News. Batman/Bruce Wayne struggle to determine what the true path of righteousness really is when it comes to keeping Gotham safe from the Joker; we see visual and plot references to rendition, torture, and a smoking Ground Zero. Christopher Nolan presents us with a superhero all too human: susceptible to blind rage, vengeance and fear. As well as enjoying compelling stunts and special effects, we as viewers become participants in moral questioning – how would we keep Gotham safe?

The Director makes this film more relevant to post 9-11 events by shooting Gotham as definitively New York, not some gothic fantasy city. It’s a complete jolt to the senses; expecting only coded references to the Big Apple, we see a cinematic version of New York at its’ most beautiful since ‘Manhattan’. When bombs start going off and the Joker unleashes hell, it is more terrifying for having this immediately recognisable glinting glass and steel panorama attacked; scenes of smouldering rubble remind all but the most blinded cinema goer of the Twin Towers destruction. The Joker’s terrorism (or anarchism as observed by some commentators) feels more real as a result; abstractions of a writers pen seem very far away as the city burns.

Nolan takes us further down paths of moral consideration. Giving the Devil the best tunes has been a motif in art since we sat around by fire and told tales of good and evil. Heath Ledger’s performance is stunning but full credit to the writers/director for providing the Joker with such compelling dialogue. His villainous charisma makes him a seductive character; we should abhor him and all his works yet he manages to manipulate our emotions as we swing between loathing and sympathy for his pathetic failings.

We ask ourselves if the good guys are entitled to use any and all means necessary against the Joker; ultimately the answer appears to be no. Batman beats him up when there’s a ticking bomb scenario being played out, (in a powerful scene with Ledger, Christian Bale and the ever excellent Gary Oldman), but there is a personification of the perils of such a modus vivendi in D.A. gone bad Harvey Dent/’Twoface’. Dent loses all sense of the dividing line between right and wrong and this question is considered in a pivotal scene between Batman and the D.A. Batman has to swing back to being a morally less ambiguous figure and less willing to blur the lines as the audience compares and contrasts him to Dent. The message is ‘Battle ye not with monsters lest ye become one’.

This is a dark and brilliant movie; go to be entertained, critically engaged and intellectually stimulated. And as Nolan, Dent, and Wayne all ask – consider whether and why we need a ‘Dark Knight’ to protect us. The ‘Dark Knight’ challenges us to define what our own hopes and fears are about civil society.

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