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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Obama Relies On Hollywood For More Than Just Money

Michael Juliani |
September 22, 2012 | 10:53 a.m. PDT

Assistant News Editor


(Dawn Megli / Neon Tommy)
(Dawn Megli / Neon Tommy)

In front of the student union sophomore year, a blonde guy who looked like one of those beaten homeless dogs that run around poor Los Angeles convinced me to sign the Prop 19 pledge list, which meant that I supported legalizing marijuana.

As far as I can remember, that's the only kind of political list I've lent my name to since becoming a legal adult.

So where did the Obama campaign glean that I lean left?

I don't quite regret signing to support Prop 19, which I did end up voting for in 2010, but I'm not charmed by getting email a while ago from George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker telling me about the fundraising dinners they threw for Obama.

Though I'm more bored by the criticism of Obama's celebrity-hosted fundraising dinners, especially given the sort of political climate that's been set up during the last four years, where the Tea Party took one side and Occupy Wall Street took the other, and I began to try to understand what a very drunk man told me one night a few years ago: "Liberal Democrats, Conservative Republicans: we're all the same."

Given Occupy Wall Street's narrative, Obama would seem to be gaining favor with some form of the "One Percent," even if the celebrity "One Percenters" are as liberal as any open-minded suburban grandma.

Occupy would've, for my money, wholeheartedly supported the Obama campaign in 2008, seeing it as the flag to ride on to a new, more human America.

But Occupy came to prominence due to a sense of being forgotten and abused, even by Obama, a candidate who at first embodied the defeat of the resolutely abusive notion that anything but the status quo could keep America afloat. 

In the newsroom earlier in the week, I answered the Neon Tommy telephone to a man asking me if we had the number for the Obama campaign.

We didn't, but he asked me a few more questions, all pertaining to whether we were going to rake Obama over the coals for not having any courage.  The caller made sure to mention that he was black and from the worst ghetto you could imagine. 

His language was militant, and he phrased his proof of Obama's cowardice by comparing him to Kennedy, who he said "was willing to take a bullet for us."

I had a moment's vertigo in which I couldn't imagine America's first black president being seen as a coward by another black man, but perhaps that's some ugly racism that lives somewhere in my fat.

It should be nothing new to people that politicians are willing to do anything to win, and I think that without the celebrities, Obama would be hard-pressed.

He would be the liberal Herman Cain, or the male Hillary Clinton.  In short, he wouldn't be Barack Obama, and he wouldn't be president. 

It's this fatalism that drives people like the "Hollywood fund-raising insider" that the Hollywood Reporter quoted to say things like "We don't like what he's doing, but we understand it.  He has to raise the money.  It's a bad situation."

Apparently, some of Obama's "most ardent entertainment industry supporters quietly [told] The Hollywood Reporter" that they worry that the president's reliance on celebrity money will alienate swing voters and give ammo to the right, who are never out of ammo for a black, "socialist" incumbent.

The recent polls certainly don't reflect this, but then again, Mitt Romney's mistakes are Obama's biggest asset right now.

Romney's the one more at fault in spinning his own narrative for the other side to use, it turns out.

But in general, Obama has needed celebrity support, because he's become the independent voter's idea of the lesser of two evils.  

My militant newsroom caller made this argument, saying that "we're" supporting Obama only to thwart that "racist faggot" Romney from putting his anti-47 percent mark all over the America that would quite likely rather revolt than devolve.

Obama's revolutionary qualities do not hold the same salt now that they did four years ago, even though his administration killed Osama Bin Laden, enacted healthcare reform, passed fair legislation in favor of illegal immigrants and announced resolute support for same-sex marriage.

Somehow, Obama has managed to do all this and be called a socialist and still lose some of his radical charm.

Last week, we heard from Jessica Alba (or those of us who are on the Obama campaign's list did) with her glowing praise for the president. 

Alba came to prominence in my early teens as one of the three or four women you'd see in a bikini on the cover of magazines every month, so not much she says to my demographic goes automatically unnoticed, even by snobs.

I think what the Obama campaign understands has been taken from observing social media over the last few years.

Twitter gives "lay people" the opportunity to experience their favorite celebrities on the same platform as the one they use to communicate with their family, friends, colleagues, classmates and other "lay people."

And now, alongside the emails that detail my workload for the day, I have a message from the president, from Jessica Alba and anyone else the campaign can convince to go all in for more Hope and Change.  

Americans, or possibly even "people" in general, cannot be made to care about anything they don't have to care about.  

The apathy narrative seemed to dissolve a bit once people realized P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" campaign was misguided.

Because voting is not the point.  It does not in itself indicate participation in a nudge toward progress. 

This is a point I seem to return to most nights I'm talking with my Iranian roommate who's only been in America for a month and who seems to fathom Republicans as being nuisances to logic. 

The Occupy movement was made up of people who have been made to care because of oppression, joined by those whose empathy couldn't hold back any longer.

I tell my roommate, "Gays, women, minorities, criminals, the mentally ill, the poor…they're the ones who are oppressed in America.  They have a reason for change.  Most Republicans vote because of economic and/or Christian self-interest."

So then what makes an upper-middle-class white American vote for Obama?

Obama's reliance on celebrities must not stop only at the fundraising, as the Hollywood Reporter's nameless insider suggests.

I think that, like the rest of us, President Obama feels stuck, and he's hoping that these celebrities can prove to him that he's the man he was four years ago. 

Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign at our blog Politically Correct.
Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.  Follow him on Twitter here.



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