Oct 282008
Authors: Ryan Nowell

So, I was one of the 45,000 to line up on Sunday but only partly to see the man himself.

Standing for two hours on a surprisingly cold afternoon for the chance to squint at a Barack Obama-dot from a football field away, while perhaps sweet ambrosia for the party faithful, was not my preferred way to spend a piece of the weekend.

Mostly, I was going to observe the assembled throng.

The one thing every politician wants to be (or portray themselves as) is a Cultural Moment, some organic event that bubbles out of the social goop that articulates the era’s unrest and yearning. Big stuff. Hence the caps.

Modern media saturation has not been kind to the Cultural Moment, though. The two-and-some-change decades that have weaned this paper’s key readership have seen these Moments dwindle to mere water cooler fare.

With our attention on other, inane avenues, politicians have taken to manufacturing this phenomenon in place of inspiring it, with mixed results.

There’s a good deal of political fetishists out there chanting and screaming, who’ll testify that candidate X will deliver us from the perennial near-future smack-down that always comes around Election Day.

The other 57 percent of us would apparently rather sleep in on Nov. 4.

That’s what I went looking for last Sunday. I wanted to see if this was it, that moment when we recognize ourselves in a politician and let our will be known, or if this was only it because we’re being told it’s it.

I arrived in line around noon and already it stretched around the corner of Loomis and Plum.

Taking up a place in line, I had an eye out for any mean-spirited generalities I could make about the crowd — some common physical trait, brand name or suspect odor to broadly characterize Democrats in a bemusing and clever fashion.

As the most stereotypically liberal-looking person there, though, I decided a different plan of attack was needed. Beware: Shopping from the Sacco and Vanzetti collection and wearing your hair like a Phish roadie can leave you dwelling in many a glass house.

One did not have to stand in line long for the propaganda pamphlets to fill their pockets. In all fairness, if you’re going to go anywhere to deep-throat the party line, it’s a rally.

Nonetheless, the multitudes earnestly pimping executive interests in the form of stickers, signs, pins, posters and leaflets were quite the barrage.

Sooner or later, everyone was told to sign-up with “the clipboard people” if we wanted to get into the rally.

This meant filling out personal information, volunteering some time to the campaign, and getting a big X dashed across the back of your hand. Later, I learned that no one was checking for X’s — they just wanted your phone number.

Things got really exciting around the hour and a half mark, when a gaggle of conservative protestors showed up for some fruitful discussion by way of shouting match — one dressed as a big orange chipmunk.

Another guy in line suggested this was a comment on the ACORN “scandal.” I thought that was giving them too much credit. I think the elephant suit was already rented.

The main event rolled around and Obama gave a rousing speech, that way he does.

Sure, half of it was an attack ad and the other a plea for bipartisanship, but he was among good company when it came to slack-cutting.

The crowd went ballistic during the intro and outro, we all busily snapped pictures and hoisted children up to catch a glimpse at the presidential looking dot on the horizon.

Is this the Cultural Moment our generation has needed? Is this the campaign that will wrench this generation out of the psychic toilet it’s been treading for years?

It’s important to note that our rousing speech was really no different than his last. And that one no different from the one before it.

What vexes me is the crowd. I’m standing a million miles away from a man I can barely see give a speech I’ve already heard while everyone around me are describing this transcendental experience of becoming a part of some great, clamoring, momentous one.

And why are we all describing this uplifting hoo-rah sensation when nothing could be more impersonal? An ideological spasm?

If you were at the rally and you were roused to action, then I’m glad you have something to believe in. Me? This is change I can suspend my disbelief for.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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