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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What yesterday meant for popular culture

One can easily get annoyed by the fact that of the two million or so people at the inauguration it seemed about half were celebrities. I just about had what they call in the competitive eating world a reversal when I heard that Lindsay Lohan and Sam Ronson were in DC at a inaug. party. And I think seeing Heidi and Spencer from The Hills wearing Obama shirts (both McCain supporters, well so they said at the time) made me realize that we still have a lot of work to do. Then again maybe it was just in their script for an upcoming episode.

Celebrity political involvement (often little more than word vomit) isn't anything new; the scope of everything was just larger. However, this time it was different. Like everything else something had changed yesterday. It was a turning point in the popular imagination and social history of our nation, as the entertainment and sports worlds bowed to politics, and made it an equal.

An equal in the dreams of a generation of youth; as well as in appeal and attraction.

As much as we in the film world like to try and say it, American Cinema was never really as important as music and sports, and to a lesser yet still important extent television, to the Civil Rights movement.

For sports, a few examples:

Octavius Catto, the 19th century baseball and cricket great, and political activist, who was murdered trying to vote.

Jack Johnson knocking out "The Great White Hope" in the Fight of the Century

Jim Thorpe who was the greatest athlete in America, at a time when he and many other Native Americans were not even granted citizenship.

Jesse Owens' owning of the '36 Olympics in front of Hitler, Jackie Robinson and his post-retirement activism, Minnie Minoso, Mohammad Ali.

These are just a few of the moments in sports history which changed the American perception about race; and what is possible for all Americans.

For a Young Barry "The Bomber", basketball was a stabilizing force in his life.

And its fitting that yesterday the sports world took notice:

That Ali saluted the new commander in chief. That super bowl press conferences were postponed. Traveling basketball teams trips' schedules changed. (read more here)

As for music...well I don't need to say much more about how important music has been in altering the way race was perceived in America; how it broke down barriers, and was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement. It is fitting that Obama's inauguration has been celebrated with so much musical performance. I'll let music speak for itself:

America's way of thinking changed. Sports and music were part of that change. Yesterday's inauguration was a monumental change. No longer is it that the only way a child of any color can dream to make an impact on the world or, even to be seen as an equal to their peers, is to want to be an athlete or singer (I think that Jay-z performance may be as historic as anything yesterday in this paradigm shift, in American and especially urban youth consciousness), public service looks pretty cool too.

On another topic, much was made about the prayers, or namely who was going to be giving the prayers at the various events. First off, I don't think that it was fair to cause the controversy over Rev. Wright's views of gay marriage. Other than Bishop Robinson you'd be hard pressed to find a well known religious figure who doesn't hold similar views on the topic.

But how is Rev. Wright so popular? Maybe he's a better writer...maybe its the doctor Phil-like accent. I'm not one to judge someone's prayer...but I'm going to judge someone's that it really was, how do I put was trying to sound like an important prayer, but sounded like it was straining to sound sincere, and came across ...well-lame.

My favorite moment on the other hand, aside from, well Obama, Obama's speech, seeing the first family, and hearing Aretha, was Rev. Lowery. Haters (well one trifling conservative pundit grasping at straws to feel ok about his insecurities) but that was a capital P-R-A-Y-E-R prayer in the great tradition of African-American oratory. Engaging, pert, and a mini-sermon. And finally some love for the Indigenous people (though I guess we did have 11 tribes represented at the parade). In case you missed it...

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