Sunday, May 1, 2011

Too Professorial

For all of the expected political-carnival reasons and more, Obama's White House Correspondents' Dinner opening remarks offers quite the epideictic flurry: what a week. Sure, I found it funny, but by the end I was thinking more along the lines of speech-type and classification, asking, in effect, What was that? Strange, patriotic mash-up video with pulsing birth certificate to open, more birther-fringe comedic jabs, a Lion King rickroll, a parenthetical clarification to the Fox News table, and then direct riffing on The Donald and his election aspirations (essentially, a roast!), then a groaner, the swipe at NPR's funding solidity, a spoof movie trailer about delivery, teleprompters, and keeping to script (riffing on VP Biden), and then a stark switch-up, an honorific to journalists, and a somber tribute to military personal and those affected by the tragic tornadoes in Alabama and the SE U.S. It adds up insofar as it happened in an uninterrupted 20 minutes, but it also displays a degree of variability and rhetorical versatility (even if it was scripted, maybe especially because it was scripted) that I found, well, noticeable. How, then, to classify such a moment?

And how does the sum of it shift shortly thereafter when Obama left upon news of the NATO air strike that killed Kadafi's 29-year-old son, Saif?

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 1, 2011 9:40 AM to Genre

Interestingly, I think that Obama's speech actually lined up well with the conventions of the occasion, meaning that the way I would classify it is "correspondence and/or similarly intended to be kind of funny" dinner. Other than the repeated jabs to Trump (and that got even more pointed with Seth Myers), Obama did a good job of combining self-deprecating humor with a few pokes at the press, names in the news, other politicians, etc. And then you do have to end with a reminder of the sober state of affairs. Pretty standard fare.

Presidents have screwed this up before, notably Bush II with is video were he was looking for the weapons of mass destruction. Ha. Ha.

Posted by: Steve Krause at May 1, 2011 12:36 PM

The point I was trying to make is that the only classificatory gesture available (e.g., this is standard fare or this is the typical WHCD genre) elides all of the situation's unique conditions. I haven't studied these, but I will say that aspects of this one struck me as somewhat distinctive: when was the last time a sitting President used the WHCD intro to roast a rival who was 1) present and who 2) that week had made such a turd-splash as Trump with his taking credit for the released birth certificate?

To my eye, classification of the rhetorical situation strains under these conditions--but I'm not the first to say that it *always* strains, as does any attempt at tidy classification.

Posted by: Derek at May 1, 2011 12:43 PM