This is Just. So. Embarrassing. If there is anything less attractive than the anti-American streak in our national character — a trait made worse, one suspects, for our neighbours’ sunny indifference to our seething — it is our tendency to prostrate ourselves before American celebrities. And they don’t get any more celebritous than Barack Obama. Okay, I get that he’s a likeable fellow. He avoids excessive partisanship, he comes across as thoughtful and decent, he connects with people — yes to all that.
But people, really: camping out at 4:30 in the morning on Parliament Hill for five seconds of waving from behind plexiglas two hundred yards away (and five seconds longer, at that, than scheduled)? Hours and hours of television coverage given over to a few brief clips of the President a) landing, b) walking with the Governor General, c) sitting with the Governor General, d) flashing by in his motorcade, and e) walking, sitting and standing with the Prime Minister?
Have we all taken leave of our senses? The CBC interviewed some lunatic woman who gravely informed us that, with the election of Barack Obama, she now knew that “everything was going to be okay.” A sign in the crowd read “First God, then Obama,” which was positively restrained compared to some of the comments one overheard. And I don’t just mean from the reporters.
I find all this openly worshipful behaviour more than a little disturbing. I don’t like it when I see it directed to rock stars — What possesses people to chant their names in unison? Is it not enough to be a slave? Why do you have to advertise it? — but I really mistrust it when it slops over into the political arena. And is it not all just a bit more loathsome for being attached to a foreign leader? Could we be more craven? Usually we reserve such spinelessness for Quebec separatists.
What is it people hope to achieve by such behaviour? What do they hope to prove? Is it all just a form of conspicuous consumption — an opportunity to flaunt their taste in political leaders, to bathe, somehow, in his reflected coolness? Do they suppose that Obama is in doubt about the degree of public affection he arouses? That he is insecure, and needs to be reassured? Or is it just blind, unthinking infatuation, a rush of blood to the head (and other parts) such as prompts teenage girls, mysteriously, to scream aloud at the sight of a Jonas brother?
This need for heroes, this cult of charisma — and we in the media are the worst offenders, though for more explicable motives — is not merely empty and shallow. It is dangerous. At the very least, it is a distraction. At the worst, it is a kind fascism. It appeals to all that is hollow within us, and — worse — within them. Was that not the least attractive thing about Trudeau: the glamour?
“Unhappy the land that has no heroes,” Brecht wrote. “Unhappier still the land that has need of heroes.”