Winning The Future Sounds Like a Twilight Zone Episode
Like many people without premium cable, last night I found myself watching Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. So let’s dive right into some juicy tidbits and get the cryptojournalists perspective on the spectacle.
If you would like to read the transcript for yourself, you can find it right here. Since I’m one of those hardcore cheapskates who refuses to pay for cable television, streaming live off the White House website was my means of viewing. Good fortune was smiling upon me early, because here are a couple of shots from the pre-game.
First, the website banner:
Before Mr. Obama began his rhetorical pose, I thought “Winning the Future” was a stupid tag line. Oh, no. It was the general theme of this speech. Combined, permutations of the phrase were uttered by Obama nine times (Winning the future said not once or twice, but thrice, and ‘win the future’ said six times). Blech. Where to begin?
Rod Serling or George Orwell? Here are my potential jump-offs. Winning the future sounds like some dystopian nightmare from the typewriter of Mr. Serling. How exactly does a nation go about winning the future? Who’s our competition (China, but get The Big O to say that)? If we’re winning, who’s losing? Is the time-space continuum a game?
By many rhetorical standards, America is already the pre-eminent Super Power. We’re already top dog. One could choose to say we’re winning the present (although Chinese central bankers would have great reason to dispute that notion), so a pressing need for winning the future is actually a negative.
We’re already Number 1. Something would need to be fell us from that top perch. Have I mentioned China? Calling for us to win the future infers we will not already. But we’re Number 1.
Without defined competition, an enemy, it proves difficult to muster people up to ‘winning the future.’ In the same vein of The Washington Times’ editorial on Obama’s space race analogy was a bad metaphor, the idea of winning the future is a lousy rallying call. This is indicative of the typical current mindset. Take my blog, please. Since this has not been posted within 12-hours of the SOTU, it’s already irrelevant. Because blogging on the intrawebs is a race to oblivion. You want to be the first to oblivion, not some gopher arriving after the fact. Some people call it immediate gratification. Others call it being skull fucked by life. Still others call it trend setting. Whatever you call it, winning the future sounds like it should pit Michele Bachmann and Nancy Pelosi in a steel cage match, winner deciding the menu at the Capital Hill commissary.
It’s broad and vague, without real merit or substance behind it. I could have been describing Barack Obama himself, so should we be surprised?
Ah, before I get ahead of myself, there was one really good bit of shtick in the internet pre-show.
That’s the bee’s knees! The president can’t keep his campaign promises. He’s still employing lobbyists (ok, that was a campaign promise….but the proliferation of lobbyists seems especially egregious vs. the man’s lofty claims). Maybe you’re steamed over the now-in-limbo individual mandate in the health care
insurance subsidy reform package. Chillax partner. Mr. Obama is reading ten letters a day! Which are heavily vetted by his staff to depict what the general public and the news (!?!!) deem important! Which likely means that, liberally wagering, the 1 out of 6 letters in reference to medical marijuana and the concurrent reformation of marijuana law makes good kindling.
Wild claims like the last are only made based on anecdotal experience. Such as the Q&A from the post game, where online users claimed to be asking about pot reform, but their questions were overlooked and never asked. Which is peculiar, considering who the moderator was last night.
Yeah, till this crossed my screen, I had totally forgotten that Kumar works for the White House.
Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, enough garnish. We’ve been munching on the celery and carrots in the tray, it’s time to dig into this turkey. There were really only a few passages which piqued my ears and elicited any kind of thought. Since we’ve already noted the nine references to winning the future, let’s move past that terrible rally cry. About 15 minutes into his speech, Obama dropped this truth bomb on the American people:
It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I’ve got real problems with this quip. Especially when Obama goes on to mention the U.S. has fallen to 9th place regarding proportion of college graduates. Hmmmm, do you think if, just maybe, students memorized facts and information instead of dreaming about what their career goals are in classrooms, we might produce better, smarter, more coherent and functional students? Or is that putting the apple cart before the jackass?
Topics such as teaching values in school and the education system are not my strong suit. Although anytime the anagram UNESCO crosses my path on any subject, I tend to be skeptical. But when a book chronicles the path we’ve taken towards slobbering stupidity, you should check it out. But until then, you need to shut the fuck up when grown folks is talking.
My main gripe with Obama’s statement above goes back to undergrad. If you didn’t know, I studied advertising. Remember than anytime you think there’s anything of intellectual merit on this blog. It’s probably an illusion. Still, that fantastic education in advertising can help draw out one point. Ad copy and design, if it taught me anything, taught me the two words people most like hearing in an ad are ‘free’ and ‘you’. When Mr. Obama asks, “What do you think of that idea?”, he inadvertently undercuts any chance to educate. Asking silly, subjective questions and dubbing it education is the equivalent of giving a hippie a wheat grass smoothie laced with beef broth. It’s wrong, but mean spirited at the same time. Facts are facts. Opinions are opinions. Teaching people that opinions are fact is what, in industry terms, we’d call bullshit.
Littered with you’s, Mr. President sounds like a talking head from a University of Phoenix commercial, not like a man equipped to make any type of decision on how to (if its even possible) make people smarter. That’s only half this awkward rant. Still hearkening back to my undergraduate days, I’ve got a fun anecdote I’d like to share.
In another of my stimulating advertising classes (this time ad management), we once had a guest speaker. She was a past graduate from the program there to discuss finding jobs after graduation. This was Fall of 2002. It was a glorified session of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” See? There’s the hook. What do you want to be when you grow up?
As it turns out, at the time I wanted to be a UPS driver. Not really, but that’s the answer I gave. Told the class how I’d heard they had great benefits. Much better than chattering, “I wanna be an account exec!” or “I want to be an art director!” My professor and a fellow professor sitting in on the class whispered to each other. Good times.
Fast forward to the end of the week. The professor who had sat in on the class was teaching one of my classes. As people are working in the computer lab, he comes up to me.
“I thought it was funny how you said you wanted to drive for UPS,” he said. I laughed and agreed, cause hell, I thought it was funny. Also a wee bit on the nose. “What we didn’t mention to the class was, she (referring to the speaker) had been fired that morning,” continued on my professor. Cue up the rimshot. Thank you, I’ll be here all week. That’s the gist of it…what you want to be when you grow up day was a speaker fresh off a firing. Priceless.
Problematic within the speech is the notion that Mr. Obama sounds like a paid spokesman for McGraw-Hill. It sounds like ad copy. Approaching students with questions about themselves requires no thought and creates no depth. With no depth and nothing fresh, how do thoughts synthesize (in the English class sense of the word) instead of metastasize?
Regrettably, it seems that winning the future will require a heavy emphasis on education, or so says the federal government. Further along in the speech, mention is made that “by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” Wow. Cue up Mr. Orwell.
Highest proportion of college graduates in the world? That is an exceedingly misleading statement. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. America: quantity over quality. Orwell’s notable quote on political language, from Politics and the English Language, still ringss true.
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
An appearance of solidity to pure wind. That sure sounds like highest proportion of college graduates in the world. If you pay a university for a degree, but in the interim have learned nothing, are you more educated? Quantity over quality works for franchises and merchants.
Ok, let’s get back to Mr. Serling.
There was one more Twilight Zone-esque reference to the realm of book learnin’ which seemed to me to be both pretentious and cripplingly isolated and lonely at the same time. (Note: emphasis added)
This isn’t just about a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.
All these investments – in innovation, education, and infrastructure – will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.
Yikes. I always thought college was about getting drunk and partying. Oh, that was just the movie Animal House? Are you sure? Unregardless of these facts or fictions, socializing in a campus atmosphere is a component of college. Gee, look at me with these big words. Sorry to the under-25 crowd.
Ok, enough digs at the younger citizens of our Republic. Taking classes with a digital textbook sounds like it would be a real shitty time. Where’s the interaction? That’s all I’m saying. And what if the premise posed in The Guardian a few days ago, that technology “make us less human” (that is some STRONG language) and is “isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world” (perhaps possibly) has merit?
A crapulent dud across the board is how I’d describe Mr. Obama’s education tactics as he’s presented them. If churning out uneducated college graduates and handing people e-tablets and calling it education is the plan, winning the future would be somewhere in the 20-1 range were Vegas to give odds on its success. Being generous.
At least today, that’s my main course. But I’ve got a little slice of rhubarb pie for desert. Another inexplicably deceptive truth bomb was dropped by Obama later in his speech. In reference to boosting American exports (a rhetorical HA follows), he actually BOASTED:
Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.
What do you think “support” American jobs means? If you’re one of the seventeen people who tunes into Outsourced on NBC, you might know where I’m going with this. Agreements which “support” jobs translates to losing many more in return. At the very least, it’s the type of doublespeak which would even impress Orwell.
I’ve got one last passage that I’d like to quote. Then I think you’ll see what sort of world this current class of politicians really live in.
America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and constructed the interstate highway system. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.
In other words, this is Obama’s ideal American business……
That joke works if you’re a sociologist, an urban planner, or if you’ve ever read Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker.” Meaning, you’ve got to laugh (if you have a real sick sense of humor) to believe that interstate highways have contributed to business. To profits, perhaps….but there are too many accounts of the devastating effect of bigger roads on smaller communities and local businesses. The State of the Union address, coming to you from……The Twilight Zone.