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Faster Than a Speeding Meme
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Approximately forty-five seconds after the release of that will.i.am video for Obama, and the corresponding insta-backlash, comes the McCain version. It is hilarious and, content aside — neither the original nor this parody offer much in the way of real policy argument — worth appreciating for its meta-ness alone.

February 11, 2008 / Uncategorized

16 comments

Despite my grudging support for Obama, I can’t help noting that even a parody of McCain highlights the fact that, well, at least McCain talks about relevant policy decisions in his speeches. (Unfortunately his positions seem to have developed during his visit with the militaristic denizens of the outer solar system or during some kind of really depressing psychedelic drug overdose…)

Not that I think Obama doesn’t have policy. Not that I don’t like the occasional speech about hope and setting aside our differences. But does EVERY FRIGGING SPEECH have to be about hope and change?

Screw “Yes We Can”, let’s see some more of this action. “I have a dream” was not “I have a dream but it was a couple of nights ago and I’m kind of fuzzy on most of the details now”.

Are there other Obama speech selections out there that offer more than a vaporous pageant of platitudes? Please send them along!

The Obama speech that excited me most was his Sunday speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (yes, MLK’s church) just before the King holiday. It isn’t long on policy, but its platitudes (if that’s what they are) are thick and weighty and delicious.

It’s also half an hour long, so get comfortable or bring a towel.

Also, Yglesias has a post with links that speak to Obama stumping on policy. Haven’t previewed, and so won’t vouch.

I’ll vouch for the Yglesias post above. I was also going to point to Obama’s Jefferson-Jackson day speech in VA a couple days ago.

As for the video, my first reaction to it was not political. I loved that language could so easily become music. Robert Pinsky, in his little guide to reading poetry _The Sounds of Poetry_, highlighted this potential, writing about speech: “We sing to each other daily.” (or something like that–I don’t have the text in front of me)

Perhaps more appropriate for the Snarkmarket audience, it reminded me of the RadioLab episode titled “Musical Language”. In the opening story, the words “sometimes behave so strangely” change magically from looped speech to catchy tune. Check it out.

I will stake out this position again: “Musical Language” is easily the best episode of Radio Lab, and contends for the best single hour of radio ever.

To Tim’s RadioLab statement, I confer my strongest support.

I’m also pretty into thick, delicious platitudes, myself.

Thick, delicious and/or beautiful speeches I have nothing against, but my diet must be varied. Thanks for the pointers to the fix I needed.

Have to demur on the “Musical Language” accolades. IIRC this is the episode that discusses the “Rite of Spring” premier and sadly that entire segment is utter nonsense. The rest of the episode was good.

Really? Like, nonsense as in misreporting an apocryphal tale, or just poorly-constructed and -presented?

I can’t speak to the nonsensical-ness of the Rite of Spring story, but I will point out that the story featured an attempt to depict orally the collective negotiations of neurons. This was patently silly, and yet because of this wonderful.

The key to RadioLab is not that it always gets its science right, or that its arguments are always plausible. Rather, RadioLab deals in beauty, with ideas as an epiphenomenal good. Moreover, RadioLab’s beauty comes from playing with the potential of radio and an obvious passion for the distinct strengths of the medium. That is why Tim is correct, and “Musical Language” is one of the best hours of radio ever.

“Ideas as an epiphenomenal good!” Holy moley! What a great phrase!

The concept that the riot at the “Rite of Spring” premiere was caused by a primal fear reaction to the dissonance of the music is patently absurd.

Empirically we all know what causes people to riot at concerts: the band is off, doesn’t play a full set, or doesn’t play the music the audience wants to hear. I submit that the third is the most parsimonious a priori explanation for the Rite of Spring riot. For a more nuanced explanation, we should ask a historian or a sociologist, not a neuro-anthropologist. It’s certainly a good story, but RadioLab’s framing of it is ridiculous.

Generally, I really like RadioLab, although I find the production reminiscent of “short attention span theater”, e.g. Bill Nye the Science Guy. Sound effects aren’t for everyone. If I had to pick a favorite RadioLab so far it would definitely be “Sleep”.

I guess I’m the stodgy reactionary. The best hour of radio still goes to TAL, with plenty of possible nominees: “Habeas Schmabeas”, “Perfect Evidence”, “The Super”, “In the Shadow of the City”, “Simulated Worlds”, etc. TAL isn’t flashy, but it clearly has a style of its own, a style defined enough to be parodied marvelously.

“Idea as an epiphenomenal good” is indeed a remarkable phrase, and I think rather delightfully ambiguous. I don’t think this is how you meant it, but for some reason I took “good” to be “a good” as in, “something produced, a good or service.” How much of art is pumped out and supported with real dollars and cents, all with the idea that if we surround ourselves with enough of it, our juiced-up neurons will magically start synthesizing Ideas That Change The World

Now admittedly, theater practice was a touch more rough-and-tumble in the early 20th century, and ideological visions were sharper. But very few people go to the ballet and start throwing punches when the setlist isn’t what you want. Jonah Lehrer advances a wild but intriguing explanation for why people seemed to become physically upset, one that doesn’t discount a traditional explanation but does tweak it somewhat. You don’t have to buy the proposition outright to be intrigued by it, and that intellectual intrigue is what makes for good radio.

Radio Lab very rarely traffics in established science. It doesn’t do what NOVA does, or what Carl Sagan did, wrapping knowledge about the universe in a pedagogically appealing form. Like TAL, it’s a show about storytelling, and the stories it tells primarily present moments of discovery, or speculation, without attempting to resolve the nature of time, or the self, or memory. This is one reason why the two-host format works so well; occasionally either Jad Abumrad or Robert Krulwich will resolutely disagree with one another, or with their interviewees.

This is why I would qualify Dan’s formulation above; Radio Lab does not deal primarily in beauty, but in a kind of feedback loop of beauty and intelligence.

Saheli- Isn’t that ambiguity surrounding the word ‘good’ productively fabulous?

I feel like I’ve read/heard some economists play with the dual meaning, proposing that good analyses should look at the the production of both “goods” and “bads”. There’s a chance some of that goes back to Marx, but now I’m just making stuff up.

A piece of trivia for you: when Marx talks about “blood and treasure,” he uses “Gut und Blut” (blood and goods). This is actually the typical German formulation of the concept. He also uses “gut” and “ware” (nearly) interchangably where we use “commodities” in English.

Ideas as surplus value/public good.

Tim: totally with you that the idea is not pedagogical discussion of established science. Likewise, I think the attempt to revisit and explore the “Rite of Spring” riot was a good idea. But the discussion they managed to generate was just not good.

Half the uproar at “Rite of Spring” was over the choreography anyway. And it’s not all that uncommon for these kinds of events to get out of hand. Take, for example, the time Cornell MacNeil rushed off stage and started a fist fight with an audience member who had, in his opinion, catcalled the leading lady unjustly. In late 19th century San Francisco, the ushers carried clubs to subdue unruly audience members.

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