21 January 2009

Barak Obama and American Culture

It would seem that the whole world has been watching the inauguration speech today. Certainly an auspicious occasion - but an oration couched in vague terms, abstractions, and metaphors which leave everything open to interpretation. My guess is that Obama will rapidly become mired in the military-political complex no less than his predecessors. I am always mindful of the pub quiz type fact that contrary to popular opinion, the president who took the USA into the war in Vietnam was J.F. Kennedy, and the president who took it out was Nixon. How's that for an irony and contradiction?

Meanwhile, the force of American cultural values continue to run energetically beneath the surface of all this popular glitz. In the last few days I have been reading some of the less well known stories of Henry James - an American writer who actually became a British citizen during the first world war. And I have been listening again with renewed enthusiasm to the music of Jimmy Scott, a singer who hardly anybody knows but who is the greatest male ballad singer of all time. You only need to throw in David Mamet's 'Glenngary, Glenn Ross' which I watched on DVD the other night, and John Adams' 'Nixon in China' which I bought at knock-down price on CD recently - and that tells us something that Barak really can be proud of.

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