Back during the Cold War, and for a good decade after it officially ended, one of the entertainments available to people in the intelligence services was reading the sycophantic drivel written by the state-controlled press about the leaders and policies of Communist nations.
There were other authoritarians out there running countries into the ground, but the Communists were the hands-down winners in the slurp-and-smack media sycophancy sweepstakes. Some of the best times were when one Communist leader would send another laudatory greetings on his birthday, or on a revolution or independence day. In those cases, the media on both ends were involved in the riot of exclamatory acclaim. Poems would be written (often purportedly by starry-eyed “students”), and would unfurl in endless verses sandwiched between veritable explosions of complimentary adjectives. The translations into English (typically done by the old Foreign Broadcast Information Service) added to the festive and hilarious atmosphere. The difficulty of capturing national styles in sensible English translations was often apparent.
But some of the most admirable efforts came from the ranks of fake criticism, a charming conceit of state-controlled media in which state-approved writers pretended to openly discuss critical themes about the regime by staging an army of straw men and then mowing them down — with a pretense of disinterested objectivity — through the use of Party talking points. A state media organ that could elegantly combine self-consciously sophomoric verse, faux criticism, and full-throated ritual adulation pulled off quite a tour de force. You wanted to leap to your feet for a standing ovation. You could just imagine Big Comrade, surveying his domain and knowing he owned everything in men’s hearts: art, artifice, criticism, complaint, consensus.
I’m of two minds about the standing ovation for the new Obama Virtual Museum being perpetrated by the Washington Post. (H/t: T. Becket Adams, Washington Examiner) It’s definitely worth more than a golf clap, however. I’d put it without demur at the tennis-audience applause level.
You really should just check it out for yourself. Be prepared in advance for the spectacle of Obama glimpsing his reflection as Abraham Lincoln.
This image can’t help evoking the famous depiction of Narcissus glorying in his own reflected image. Score one for un-self-conscious sycophancy.
But I digress. There will be four more big releases from the Obama Virtual Museum, each of which WaPo is calling a “room.” The first “room” gives us “The First Black President,” with topics like “A hopeful moment on race,” “A soliloquy in Philadelphia,” and “The beer summit.”
As an aside, I foresee a tremendous growth industry in parodies of the Obama Virtual Museum. Few among us, after all, could not commemorate our lives with the topics “A hopeful moment on race,” “A soliloquy in Philadelphia” (or somewhere else suitably historic-n-iconic), and “The beer summit.”
I do want to mention one thing that struck me as I paged through the first “room,” and that’s how much the silhouette graphics remind me of the “Life of Julia,” rolled out as a campaign theme for Obama in 2012. I wondered if WaPo paid the same design team to put together its Virtual Museum of the Obama legacy.
If you need convincing about the sweaty enthusiasm of WaPo journalists for this commemorative project of their mother ship, here’s a sample tweet.
The coolest, most visually and journalistically compelling online project I've seen us do: The Obama Legacy Project: https://t.co/COtyQANXEc
— Ed O'Keefe (@edokeefe) April 22, 2016
T. Becket Adams has links to a smorgasbord of them.
Very different, in sum, from the “don’t let the screen door hit you” farewells from the mainstream media to George W. Bush.