Television’s Last President

By Ben Johnson

Barack Obama was inaugurated to his second term as U.S. President today, and his inaugural address was on televisions everywhere. Maybe you got a chance to see it. There was some talking, and Michelle Obama has bangs now that make her look like 80’s Whoopi Goldberg, and then Obama talked, and then Kelly Clarkson sang something, and then a guy read a poem, and then Beyoncé sang the national anthem, and a guy said a prayer, and Sasha Obama yawned real big one time. You may have heard about any one or more of these aspects of the telecast from the knuckleheaded amateur and/or professional comedians that constitute your inner circle on Twitter or Facebook.
 
What did Obama say? Just the usual claptrap about banding together and not fighting each other to the death over microscopic temporary political advantages while the world descends into inevitable Armageddon. Whatever. If you’re curious there’s a thing called the internet now and you can use it to look at all the words and pictures that happened. Then if your own eyeballs and earholes don’t do the trick, you can scan for whatever granular-level analysis and commentary that confirms your worldview. They will all tell you this: the President said words today, because today is a special day for the President to say some words.
 
How did he do? Well, I’m of the opinion that he believes the words he says. I also believe anybody on TV saying anything and expecting that to make any difference is either comedy or tragedy. Comedy in the case of your usual jabbering career yelper seeking advancement through a misguided elevator pitch to a no longer extant mass mind, and a sadly deluded tragedy for any actual noble human being hoping to communicate actual human imperatives with other human beings. The only purpose television still serves is for offering source material for individual decisions on which is which. I’ll leave it up to you to decide where to put Obama in order to posit the following: now that we have the internet, television has been exposed for the rickety theater it’s always been, and everything available on it is the slowly unwinding death march of mass consciousness.
 
Not too long ago I lived on a cruise ship. Cruise ships are where American monoculture goes to die. Why? Because they’re vacations for old people, and what makes old people relax most is something familiar they don’t have to worry about. So they pay through the nose to live in an isolated bubble where people still do Archie Bunker impressions. They do this because they’re old. They don’t care that Archie Bunker himself is not funny, and they care even less that somebody being paid thousands of dollars to impersonate Archie Bunker is beyond not funny. They just laugh because hey that’s Archie Bunker and I know Archie Bunker. (FYI: Archie Bunker is a character from a TV show that went off the air 30 years ago)((These people are OLD)) I have lived in one of these bubbles. I have spent whole evenings walking off panic-stricken insomnia through the hulking corpse of the beast. Okay? I know what rigor mortis of vestigial culture looks like. It’s a 50 year old man with plastic surgery doing a tapdance routine for retired actuaries and calling himself a showman.
 
This is what echoes in my brain when I watch anything on television. America’s Next Top Spectacular Talent Explosion of Fat People Changing Their Lives With Inspirational Ikea Wife Swaps. You know the program. It’s on the Everything Channel. This is the medium our democratically elected leader has the power to preempt with his bigtime speech opportunities. Sorry, America’s diminishing pool of TV-watching sadfucks: you thought it was going to be Judge Judy, but it’s the President’s Inaugural Address. At least you can enjoy Kelly Clarkson at the same time. Remember her? It wasn’t too long ago we elected her to Famous From Now On. I like that coat. Etcetera. Here she is on television singing. Soon she will leave this bandstand on the steps of the Capitol and then be escorted to a hotel room where she will change clothes and take a shit. I know all of this now. I can see it bleeding through the screen at me.
 
Now we have the internet, where every event anybody else might be interested in is joked about from every possible angle until it disintegrates in real time like an overhead cloud of millions of pieces of Mike Teavee, and none more so than the big ones that show up on TV and preempt Judge Judy, and those out of a sense of tradition and obligation, and this process of disintegration makes everything equal. To the point where the only people I want to pay attention to anymore are the weird drug friends who are live-tweeting the plot of Ice Pirates while all of this is going on. That is my Gettysburg Address. And I can pay attention to that instead of the Inauguration because that’s a socially acceptable and easily available content option from now on, and the same for everybody. We can all just be who we are forever from now on without somebody cutting in to tell us that this one thing, this talking guy we voted for and his motley cabal of wellwishers, is very important. That’s where we’re inexorably headed. But it’s taking a while because enough people still like their Archie Bunker and Brian Williams. Just nobody you and I hang out with.
 
In the meantime, before we finally give up the ghost on the idea of a group of people being bound together by anything like a “nation,” our collective unconscious is firing its neurons at a decelerating pace. The internet is currently teaching us that our mass culture is devolving in complexity of universal truths we can agree on from “tapdancing mallet jugglers are entertaining” to smaller simpler more quickly digested concepts like “Beyoncé is pretty.” Our homuncular collective id is Benjamin Buttoning. Right now we’re at a drooling stage, and Beyoncé is pretty.
 
She is pretty, you guys. She is so very pretty. God bless America, USA. Super Bowl. Infinity.

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