Barack Obama is in Canada today. This is quite newsworthy of course, a very popular American president makes his first official international visit and comes to our country. It's a good story. I like Obama, I don't agree with him completely on every issue(gay marriage for example), I think we as Canadians need to pay attention closely and be diligent in making sure his policies don't adversely affect our country, but he's a smart, admirable man, highly capable and the best option the American people had in the last election to lead them out of Iraq and out of this economic mess.
What I found myself fascinated by though, to my surprise, was not Barack Obama but the complete and utter fervor with which the media and many of my fellow Canadians follow this man. They are not supporters, but avid followers, fans, even. He has a certain star power that is absolutely remarkable and impossible to define. I get it. I haven't fallen into it. But I get it. The man has a magnetic personality. If you like a good looking man, he's it. If you admire a sharp mind with the ability to think in a big-picture way, he's your guy. If you are a person who admires a charming smile, a debonair and gentlemanly demeanor, look no further, he's the quintessential gentleman with layers of charm and personality. He has humour. He's quite likable. Yeah, I see what people see and I can see what people like. Yet it's more than that, something I can't quite put my finger on it. I guess he has that 'je ne sais quoi' quality the french talk about.
Busloads of people are heading to Ottawa. When Princess Dianna visited Canada in 1983 I was a the waterfront in St. John's to see her. There was a certain similar allure with her although I'm not sure anyone would have travelled 6-10 hours to see her had they not been guaranteed to catch at least a glimpse. We knew there would be a walkabout and indeed there was.
But she was at least peripherally a part of the Canadian monarchy. She was a beautiful, intriguing curiosity but I don't think she even remotely garnered the fascination that Barack Obama has right now. And he's not even ours.
I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what does it. What makes one person able to inspire crowds to come. Even further, what causes a person to become fanatic about another human being or group of human beings. Beatlemania anyone? I'm baffled.
It's not youth, I had my Great Big Sea phase in my thirties(thirty-odd shows in a couple of years) and for me then, it was an intense love of the music, a love for the live show(you ain't seen a live show until you've seen a GBS show). Certainly Alan Doyle has a certain brand of charisma. And even though I've actually been that fanatic, I still struggle to explain it. It really is seemingly indefinable.
Those of you a little older than me probably remember the Trudeau mania years. Oh yeah, women fainted, the crowds came out in throngs, I have cousin named Pierre born in 1968 and you know that's not a common Newfoundland name. Obama mania seems to be similar to that phenomenon. Pierre Trudeau was smart, charismatic and charming and had that undefinable "it" that Obama has. I saw young Justin Trudeau speak a couple of years ago at a local high school. Consider yourself forewarned, Trudeau mania is still here, lurking in the Papineau riding in Quebec and when it comes prepare yourself for classrooms of the future to have multiple Justins (well maybe they already do, but there will be more ok) at its desks. He's simply got the sparkle.
The negative side to this is that there is a particular group of people who have trouble with nuanced thought, who think in terms of either black or white who would presume that anyone who even remotely likes Barack Obama is an "Obama maniac". I've heard the terms "cult" and "drank the kool-aid" and "fanatic" applied to people who simply agree with the man, who preferred the man over John McCain, who just didn't want Sarah Palin's limited knowledge base that close to the nuclear codes(now there's a subject for another post) and a myriad of other reasons. That particular group don't seem to want to take into account that there are people who might just agree with the man, his message, his politics, his ideals. That some supporters have read his books, listened to his speeches, researched his record in the senate and decided that he was their choice. That group of people don't seem to believe that someone could simply have a different opinion than they have. That group of people seem to have simply imbibed a different flavour of koolaid.
And of course there is the media. Fox News' Sean Hannity was almost apoplectic the other day at the rest of American mainstream media's fascination with Obama. They(Fox) don't like him(Obama) because, well, there are differences in principles, and furthermore, as much as the right accuses the left of liking Obama "just because" they are equally guilty of disliking him for the same reason. As for Fox News, it's no secret that they are the right-leaning American media, heavily biased in favour of the Republicans. I will go further and say not only do they not like the president, Fox News pretty much doesn't like people that do. Poor guy, I thought he would hurt himself in his effort to belittle those members of the media who report Obama stories in an unbiased, and even, heaven forbid, a positive way. His efforts are based upon his erroneous belief that the people of America only like Obama because the media is telling them to. Mr. Hannity, don't worry about that, you and your colleagues in the media, don't have all that much clout, and you likely will have to face it, you're on Fox News. Your own ilk are the only watchers, you're preaching to your own choir. Take a deep breath Hannity, your desperation is showing.
So Obama mania has come to Canada. It's still a mystery to me what makes someone worthy of "mania". It's a fascinating phenomenon indeed. I'll keep watching the news. But I'm not watching to catch a glimpse of Obama, I'm watching to see what the crowd does when they catch a glimpse of Obama. Strange days indeed.