how culturally connected should our president be?

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Friday, February 10th, 2012

how culturally connected should our president be?

yesterday, barack obama’s campaign released a 27-song spotify playlist that serves as the “official” playlist of the president’s bid for re-election. you can see the track list here or you can actually access it via spotify by clicking here.

after viewing the tracklist—featuring songs from wilco, no doubt, ray lamontagne & others—i tweeted the following:

my tweet was tongue-in-cheek, so, no, i don’t really think you should vote for barack obama primarily because he (and, let’s be completely honest, his staff) has good musical taste. yes, i assume the republican candidates’ musical tastes are probably somewhat lacking in comparison, but i’m sure their staffs (much like obama’s) would curate a playlist that would cover many (or all) of the appropriate political/cultural touchpoints.

but with that said…

i actually do believe there’s real value in a president’s engagement and awareness of our society’s cultural distinctives.

let’s be clear: it’s absolutely critical that our president have a firm understanding of the international political and social climate. it goes without saying that the president should have sound economic policies and plans for our country. he or she should absolutely be able to lead our nation through times of tragedy and uncertainty or even times of war. sound policy and leadership are at the very top of the list when it comes to the most important presidential requirements.

but it’s a curious notion to me that our president is somehow better off from a lack of awareness of popular culture. or that policies and leadership live in a vacuum apart from some of the very things—movies, music, sports, technology, etc—that most define our society.

let’s take SOPA. the nuts and bolts of SOPA are fundamentally about copyright, content creation and content distribution. it’s about fast five (the most pirated movie of 2011) and adele’s 21 (the most pirated album of 2011) and crysis 2 (the most pirated pc game of 2011) and glee (the most pirated tv show of 2011). it’s simultaneously about torrents and peer-to-peer networks and search engines and tech startups. fundamentally, it’s about the patterns of consumption of and modes of engagement with popular culture. and without a firm understanding of those patterns, lawmakers (including our president) are handicapped in their ability to make sound policies and appropriate leadership decisions.

to the broader point, i’m not so much concerned that our president likes to listen to kanye or watch jersey shore. but i’m absolutely concerned if someone asks him about one of those things and he offers a blank stare. yes, the president should know who kanye west is and yes, the president should know what jersey shore is. i don’t need him to quote lyrics or tell me every jersey shore character, but he should absolutely be in tune with what is culturally shaping and influencing our society (for better or for worse).

so yes, i’m glad that this campaign playlist is relevant and good. and yes, i’m aware that it was created (as the spotify description states) by his campaign staff. but i think it reflects a candidate who’s in tune with the cultural realities of regular people. and when a president is engaged and aware of the social patterns of the nation he leads, that lends itself to more informed policies and more appropriate leadership.

ball’s in your court, republican candidates. what’s playing on your radio?