Este artículo está disponible en español gracias al traducción de Julián Ortega Martínez.
There is something desperately lonely about Barack Obama’s universe. One gets the overwhelming sense of someone yearning for connection, for something that binds human beings together, for community and commonality, for what he repeatedly calls ‘the common good.'”
Simon Critchley, The American Void
There is an interesting thread this morning on the Global Voices authors’ mailing list about the amount of attention we have given to Barack Obama and the US elections over the past couple weeks. After all, Global Voices’ mission is to “shine light on places and people other media often ignore.” Neither the United States nor Barack Obama fit into that equation. (Besides, we have a whole other website solely dedicated to the US election.)
The person who started the thread, noting that about a third of GV posts over the past few days have focused on the US elections, asks if 30% of the global blogosphere is writing about Barack and the elections. Eight others quickly replied to say, essentially, ‘yes, and probably more.’
I hate to overuse the “Global Voices as Earth-sized dinner party” metaphor, but it is so often applicable. As the worldwide blogosphere expands, conversations become more segmented and more provincial. It’s the same thing we see at dinner parties: the more guests, the more probable that conversations will fragment based on proximity and shared interests. But then, occasionally, a topic is brought up which brings the whole table back together – something that everyone is interested in discussing.
This happened, in fact, at the Pop!Tech conference in Camden, Maine a couple weeks ago. Each presenter appealed to the interests of a certain percentage of the audience. But as soon as Juan Enriquez stepped on stage and started talking about the economy it became immediately obvious that this is what the entire room wanted to discuss. (Extra time was made so that we could do just that.)
But more often than not – and more so today than ever before – our interests and our contexts are different. This is true even with our close friends. If I want to understand Georgia’s latest blog post, I also need to understand some basic things about her country, Trinidad and Tobago.
Almost everyone in the world knows who Barack Obama is even before he has become president, but it’s a thin slice that could tell you anything about Patrick Manning, despite his notoriety among Trinis. (‘Trinis’, to add context, is one of many ways to describe those who live in Trinidad.) To understand why Georgia is making such a big deal about two radio broadcasters being fired from Radio 94.1, you would have to know something about Patrick Manning, Trinidad and Tobago’s history, and the creeping erosion of legal rights.
In other words, you would have to invest time, our most precious resource. (If, for some reason, you choose to invest the time to learn more about Patrick Manning, I recommend, ‘his’ highly entertaining blog.)
In the past year I have been in the following countries: South Africa, Liberia, Madagascar, France, Belgium, Austria, Qatar, Bangladesh, India, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Colombia, Jamaica, Argentina, Chile, Croatia, Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Kenya, Uganda, and Cambodia.
In each place I had to invest uncountable hours of reading newspapers and Wikipedia to have the basic context in order to have a conversation with locals. (Fortunately, I had all 2.2 gigabytes of Wikipedia on my mobile phone.)
Then I returned to the United States and realized that I had nothing to talk about with my fellow Americans. I could talk for hours about the root causes of anti-gay violence in Hungary or how the ousting of Thabo Mbeki from the African National Congress might actually lead to a multi-party democracy in South Africa. But there was never an easy segue to – or a show of interest in – either conversation.
I landed at the epitome of anti-climax, La Guardia’s international arrivals terminal, with no knowledge of Tina Fey’s uncanny resemblance to and impersonation of Sarah Palin. I hadn’t watched a single episode of The Wire (much less Smallville or Gossip Girl). And frankly, despite having listened to the amazing This American Life episode on the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, I still didn’t understand it.
In other words, just when I thought I had arrived to a place that was my own, where I could talk with confidence about common characters and conversations, I realized that, in fact, I had a lot of catching up to do.
There was, as Simon Critchley describes Obama’s universe, “something desperately lonely,” about my own. I arrived to Rockridge “yearning for connection, for something that binds human beings together, for community and commonality, for what [Barack Obama] repeatedly calls ‘the common good.'”
I wanted a shared lexicon, a single topic I could discuss with my friends in Oakland, South Africa, Malaysia, and everywhere in between.
That single topic, of course, is Barack Obama. For the first time that I can remember the entire Earth-sized dinner table that is the global blogosphere has stopped its separate side conversations to come together to take part in the same conversation. That is exciting; something we all want to be part of. But it is also classic old-school US hegemony.
It is precisely the enigmatic, inert character of Obama that seems to generate the desire to identify with him, indeed to love him. Perhaps it is that sense of internal distance that people see in him and in themselves. Obama recognizes this capacity in an intriguing and profound remark when he writes, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” He is a mirror that reflects back whatever the viewer wants to see. Somehow our loneliness and doubt become focused and fused with his. Obama’s desire for union and common good becomes unified with ours. For that moment, and maybe only for that moment, we believe, we hope.
I think that the abundance of Barack on Global Voices reveals more than a longing for a common topic of conversation. Obama himself represents the possibility of the entire world coming together regardless of tribe, gender, ideology, or faith. No matter where we live, who we are, or what we do, if we look close enough, we see something of ourselves in him.
Despite talk of The End of the American Era, the amount of global attention focused on America’s election – and its President-Elect – shows that American hegemony is still in full effect. After all, how much time did you spend this morning reading and talking about John Key? How much time will you spend this month following the campaign season in Ghana? Will there ever again be a single topic of conversation online that matches ubiquity of attention the world has given Barack Obama this past week?
I’m doubtful. But then again, I was doubtful in 2004 while watching Barack Obama give the keynote at the Democratic National Convention and my friend sitting at my side said, ‘dude, how badass would it be if that guy was president.’
Love the post.
I am trying to refrain from over expanding on the subject of BHO (mostly unsuccessfully) because I realize some are getting over-saturated already. The funny thing is, a Malagasy blogger who has a strong dislike of the Obamania wrote 5 successive posts about how insane the global obsession over BHO was. And yet, as you pointed out, BHO is as inert and enigmatic a character as they come. Fascinating world we live in. My hope is that the subject will move from BHO to what he is about: an openness to difference.
This is great post, David. One of your best. You touch on several sensitive issues and draw thoughtful conclusions. Which amounts probably to what Pilar calls the desire for a better world to live in. And I would paraphrase: as an imagined community with some shared goals based on the pursue of the public good.
I know you were way offline during 9/11, but do you think that might have been a time when the world was completely focused and talking about an attack on American soil?
I really doubt you don’t have anything to talk about with your friends living in the states.
I’m sure there was a lot of talk about 9/11 around the world … there certainly was in India where I was. But blogging and online participation in general was nowhere near the same scale as now.
I just love your Topics David
they do teach me much however, i have less internet access