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Osama Bin Ladin, Barack Obama Find Common Ground... On Global Warming | Main | WSJ: Rumors Fly That Crist May Switch Parties
January 29, 2010

Even Jon Stewart Ripping on Chris "I Forgot He Was Black for an Hour" Matthews

I didn't deal with this because all I have to say is so friggin' obvious it pains me to say it. I don't like boring you with the obvious.

But okay:

It's not that Chris Matthews is a racist per se. It's that he's never viewed Obama as anything but black, and therefore not as a human being, nor as a politician, but as a Symbol (capital S intended).

There is a tradition in film, as Spike Lee and, frankly, I, have pointed out. The tradition of the Magical Negro.

Often called the "Numinous Negro."

The Numinous Negro is not really a character. He's not really a person, not even in the fictive world of the film. He is simply a walking Symbol of hopes about racial conciliation, or black achievement, or, especially, redemption for White Sin.

Chris Matthews has never seen Obama as anything except a Numinous Negro. Nothing except a Symbol. Nothing except a Dramatic Plot Contrivance to advance the world's script ahead a few scenes. Nothing except a stand-in for additional Meaning.

When Jack Walsh gives Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukis his watch at the end of Midnight Run, of course, he's not just giving him a watch. The watch is triple symbol for more important matters. (I won't bore you listing them -- if you've seen the film, you know what they are. If you haven't, this is irrelevant.)

To Chris Matthews, Barack Obama has never been anything but that symbolic watch passed from a white guy to a black guy, nothing but a token indicating a Redemptive Act.

And the problem is, of course, Barack Obama is not that, and never was that. He is a human being, with all the usual flaws -- and some very unusual and dangerous ones -- and furthermore he was not being elected to the office of Symbol in Chief of the United States of America, but to a position where he'd have to do things beyond merely Signifying.

Oh, he's awesome as a Signifier. One can say he is the best Signifier of any politician we've ever elected.

Trouble is, the president has many responsibilities beyond executing the power of Signification. In fact, one could say Signification and/or Reification is rather low on his list of responsibilities.

So -- for one hour, for precisely one hour, Chris Matthews finally forgot Obama was black, finally forgot he wasn't just a Numinous Negro, not just a Symbol, not just a Signifier, not just a walking breathing Metaphor for the Closure of (Also Metaphorical) Racial Wounds From the Bull Connor days, and realized -- Shit, this guy is President, he does things besides serve as quasi-literary plot device for redeeming my own racial sins and the racial sins of my father and grandfathers.

For one hour.

I'd like to go on record as noting that 99% of conservatives saw him this way -- as a person, as a candidate, and then as a president -- for, like, ever.

So good on you, Chris Matthews. After two years, and for one single hour, you actually managed to evolve past Numinous Negroes and Symbols into appreciating that Barack Obama is a human being and currently holding the most important office in the world.

After two years, and for one single hour, you managed to become every bit as advanced in your thinking and enlightened as any conservative you might bump into in the street.

Kudos. Good work.



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posted by Ace at 03:14 PM

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