The Magazine

The Vulgar Era

Oct 8, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 04 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook is decidedly not in the habit of waxing nostalgic about the golden age of civility in politics. Our position is clear: There never was one. It is true that Congressman X (R) may have shared a highball with Senator Y (D) at the Monocle in 1965, but the Democratic majority in Congress was so prohibitive in those days that GOP members had little choice but to cultivate their masters in any way they knew.

Madonna

Which brings us to two recent high-profile endorsements for the president. It is no shock to learn that the vast majority of politically active celebrities are crazy for Barack Obama: Show biz is dominated by the left as decisively as academia. But the nature of that craziness has changed over time—and not in a good way. Yes, Mort Sahl used to poke incessant fun at Ike, and David Frye made his name impersonating (some would say channeling) Richard Nixon. But it seems to us a considerable distance from all that to Bill Maher’s obscene attacks on Sarah Palin (and conservative women in general) or Julia Roberts’s observation that you find “Republican” in the dictionary between “reptile” and “repugnant.”

Now comes Madonna, the 54-year-old bad girl of pop music, who interrupted a recent performance in Washington, D.C., to talk public policy with her audience: “You all better f—ing vote for Obama, okay?” she said. “We have a black Muslim in the White House, okay? Now that is the s—. And it’s some amazing s—. And Obama is fighting for gay rights, okay? So, support the man, goddammit!”

This is not exactly the way Lloyd Bridges would have embraced John F. Kennedy in 1960. Even Tallulah Bankhead was more decorous when she rang doorbells for Harry Truman in 1948. But the point is, does it work? Apart from Madonna’s self-selected fanbase in Washington’s Verizon Center, is f—ing vote for Obama, okay? likely to persuade anyone else? 

This question lies at the heart of The Scrapbook’s reaction to an extended super-PAC video featuring the 63-year-old actor Samuel L. (Pulp Fiction, Snakes on a Plane) Jackson. Rendered in the style of a children’s fable, with rhyming verses and picturesque scenery, it features a little girl seeking to shake her suburban family out of its indifference about the Obama-Romney race. When her winsome efforts fail, Jackson appears out of nowhere, dressed gangsta-style with matching beret, to deliver a series of menacing, motivational quatrains, all ending with “Wake the f— up!”

Of course, this plays on Jackson’s recent appearance in another YouTube video, where “Go the f— to sleep!” is incessantly repeated. But The Scrapbook is struck by two paradoxical thoughts. 

First, you don’t have to be a prude to be discouraged by the spectacle of famous adults expressing themselves about Barack Obama, or any political candidate, in this way. In the final scene, as the aforementioned little girl throws open a window and shouts “Wake the f— up!” to the somnolent townsfolk, you have to wonder whether Democrats find this awe-inspiring, or cringe-inducing.

And second, The Scrapbook sees the glass half-full. For as distasteful as these episodes might be, the Samuel L. Jackson video suggests a certain nervousness in progressive ranks. It means the near-hysterical fervor for Obama of 2008 (for a good laugh check out Stevie Wonder singing “Barack Obama” on YouTube) has not just subsided but almost wholly disappeared from the landscape. Samuel L. Jackson’s point is not that Barack Obama has been great but that he is preferable to the alternative.

For that matter, is a snarling character actor dressed in full criminal kit, who says he supports Barack Obama “because he is black,” the very best image for Democrats to project?

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