Friday, August 15, 2008

Who's Your Dandy?

It all started back in April of this year, when an ill-worded comment by Obama suggesting that some white voters were a tad "bitter" prompted his then-opponent Hillary Clinton to accuse him of being "elitist." Since the end of the primaries, McCain has jumped on that bandwagon as well, most famously running the television ad claiming that Obama is more of a "celebrity" than a leader. And then there was this recent exchange between Sean Hannity and Karl Rove in which they uncovered SHOCKING. NEW. EVIDENCE. of Obama's "elitism." (They claim that, if elected President, Obama would replace the bowling alley in the White House with a basketball court... presuming, I guess, that bowling is somehow more "of-the-people" than basketball.) I feel like I've been reminded that Obama was educated in the Ivy-League, that both he and his wife are well-dressed and good-looking, and that he can cut a rug as much as I was that Edwards is the son of a millworker. Of course, anyone possessing an ounce of familiarity with American history knows that all of this Ivy-League/celebrity/elitist talk is really just code for "uppity Negro," which is supposed to scare the living daylights out of whites and foster righteous indignation among blacks.

Enough already.

I don't have any real statistics on this, but if I had to guess, I would say that a significant percentage of American politicians (at the federal level, anyway) are Ivy-League educated, that about 90% belong to an "elite" social or economic class, and that 100% of them enjoy some form of "celebrity" status. And all of those numbers go up for Presidential candidates. So, if we have problems with the fact that Barack Obama is elite, it is not because "the rest of us" can't be a part of that club, but rather because HE shouldn't be a part of that club. Even more, we think it's seriously presumptuous for Obama to think that he should be. Don't believe me? Just look at these comments from almost every major news outlet:

AP: "In a speech that risked being seen as presumptuous..."

TIME Magazine: "capable to become the Commander in Chief of a superpower -- without seeming presumptuous..."

The National Journal: "He is well aware voters here at home might see that as presumptuous..."

Washington Post: "Whether by the end of this week he will be seen as presumptuous or overly cocky..."

Chicago Tribune: "That means walking the fine line between looking presidential and appearing arrogant and presumptuous..."

Boston Globe: "plus the growing sense in some quarters that the presumptive Democratic nominee is getting a little presumptuous..."


But seriously, it's very odd that Obama continues to be painted in the press as some sort of dandy. Historically, the "dandy" arose as a figue of anti-egalitarian political protest, attempting to recapture feudal or pre-industrial aristocratic values against the onslaught of a rising middle class. The dandy was well-dressed, foppish, cultured, educated, confident, even arrogant... and, oh yeah, presumptuous. But the point is that the dandy was all of those things because he despised the people and he dreaded the possibility of being mistaken for one of them. That's just not Obama. I think there's a lot of proof that Obama is for "the people," but his position on the gross injustice of felon disenfranchisement is particularly compelling evidence.

And, yes, it does matter here that Obama is black. In the grand scheme of things, he can no more be a genuine dandy than... well, no more than I can.


KHG said...


or, er, I guess the philosophical equivalent to amen is...


John said...

If I may move somewhat away from the main line of thought about Obama... Is the dandy as such really trying to "recapture pre-industrial aristocratic values"? Or rather if he is does he not also represent something modern in consciously creating a persona for himself, projecting a persona and not simply embodying a role or position? And projecting what is not his own (or her own? Can a woman be a dandy?), what is actually self-consciously anachronistic or out of place.

Now at this point I am searching for something I cannot quite identify, so I take the book Baudelaire by Jean-Paul Sartre (one could easily reverse the terms of biographer and the life studied, were it not anachronistic. But perhaps one still can?) off the shelf. I won't bore readers with the implications of this book and its attack on the poet by the philosopher. I will simply transcribe from the back cover: "Baudelaire, man of shadows, opium-addict, dandy, frigid disciple of volupte; and then the greatest lyric poet of his age. Sartre lays bare the "lunar landscape of this distressed soul"..."

That such a formulation is possible is enough, I believe, to distinguish the dandy from the aristocrat.

DOCTOR J said...


I would say, first of all, there is no distingusihing the dandy from the aristocrat in any substantive sense, since the dandy (by definition) "plays" at being the aristocrat to the extent that there is no distinction. Such is the dandy.

And, that said, I would have to say, no, there is no "female dandy." The closest thing, I think, might be a female version of the "dandy-butch," which would involve a whole other order of characteristics and ambiguities that escape the garden-variety dandy.

And, this should go without saying I guess, NO form of dandy-butch would ever be considered as "electable" to public office, I fear.

John said...

In regard to the first part of your answer, isn't that precisely what sets up the distinction? The playing at being someone as opposed to being someone? The theatricality of being if one can call it that? Will you say that the curtain only goes up on another curtain, that we are all playing-at-being?

John said...

In regard to the second part of your answer, if you mean by "there is no female dandy" that it is impossible within a patriarchal society, I guess you are right. But maybe someday Madonna Ciccone could be elected to public office. (She constitutes something like a female dandy, wouldn't you say?)

John said...

If I was an animal I'd be a lion
If I was a car I'd be an Aston Martin
If I was a genius I'd be Isaac Newton
If I was a hero I'd be Martin Luther


If you want to reach the top [reach the top]
If you do you'll never stop [never stop]

[The top]

If I was an actor I'd be Marlon Brando [the top]
If I was a painter I'd be Frida Kahlo [the top]
If I was a drink I'd be a Lemon Drop [the top]
If I was a song I would be Super Pop

(chorus, repeat)

[The top]

If I was a star I would be who I am today
If I was a fighter I'd be Cassius Clay
If I was emotion I would be intense
If I was a man I would be president

I'll be different if I'm the president
I'll be different if I'm the president

(Madonna, from "Super Pop", Confessions on a Dance Floor)

The politics of (polymorphous) identity...