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Daniel Carlin Headshot

Is the President Real?

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In elementary school, I caught a glimpse of the person who exchanged the baby tooth underneath my pillow for a present. I was never a true believer of the tooth fairy, but I stuck with the concept so that I could reap the benefits. Regardless, it was startling to discover that people promote the existence of a completely fictitious character.

This past week, President Barack Obama spoke at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor about increasing federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. I understand how privileged (and #blessed) I am to attend a university that can host someone like the President of the United States on a random week in April. And as someone who has never seen a sitting president in the flesh, this was an exciting opportunity.

From the moment his aura entered the building, students and attendees exerted sounds and movements that are typically reserved for rock stars. At first, I bought into the moment. There was something electrifying about seeing the oh-so-suave POTUS gracefully dash towards the podium, which was immaculately situated in front of a painted wall that read: "Michigan." I was proud (go blue!).

However, President Obama was really just an afternoon snack of fruit leather. At first, he comes across fresh and fun. And, I get it -- his presence is alluring. It's pretty cool to hear the Leader of the Free World warm-up with remarks on March Madness and his recent experience at the beloved local eatery Zingerman's Deli. It sounds approachable and relevant. And yeah, like the rest of America, I would definitely be down to grab a beer with him.

But as he continued to talk, I got restless. I couldn't decipher what was so irksome, but I got bored. There, I said it. Somewhere between the transitions from Nik Stauskas to job creation to minimum wage, President Obama lost me. Cluttered with too many buzzwords, it was like listening to a bad cover letter. For instance, he said the word "job" 31 times. To be fair, the audience consisted of a gymnasium filled with many educated young adults looking for jobs -- myself included. But it became clear that the President made statements where he was simply preaching to the choir. And even though his remarks were simply a vehicle to rally for support, there was nothing particularly enlightening about them. So, naturally, like fruit leather, he became unsatisfying and bland.

I'll even go so far to say that I felt like I was at a taping of David Letterman. Within his 33 minute and 30 second speech, President Barack Obama held for 70 applauses, 29 laughs and 2 boos. Interestingly, a number of these interactions were actually the product of mocking toward the Republican Party. With the two-party system greatly preventing "change" and the ability to move "forward," it felt counterproductive to repeatedly villainize one of the parties. And the 2 boos that Obama received were actually directed at the Republican Party.

President Obama: In fact, some want to just scrap the minimum wage. One House Republican said, "It's outlived its usefulness."
Audience: Booo --
President Obama: No, that's what he said.
Audience: Booo --
President Obama: Don't boo -- organize.
Audience: Applause

Evidently, President Obama is charismatic -- but to a fault. While this whole "don't boo -- organize" scene was supposed to seem improvised (firm yet playful), it felt aggressively manufactured. Unfortunately, these artificial moments contribute to my lack of confidence in the political system.

With this tremendous frustration, it makes it easier to turn towards entertainment. Perhaps this explains the recent upsurge of political dramas on television -- House of Cards, Scandal, The Good Wife, Veep, and even Homeland. And since we are busy streaming these shows, it is difficult to statistically demonstrate their popularity amongst millennials. (Sorry, Nielsen.) But, let me tell you, we love them. Personally, it's because I have been deceived by politics. As seen this week, the President demonstrated that the real feels unreal; yet as seen by protagonist Olivia Pope on Scandal this week, the unreal feels real. These shows give people an outlet into the mystifying world of politics. More importantly, they provide an opportunity to buy into a context without having to buy into a system. While I would love "hope," I'll take Pope.

While watching President Obama speak, very few things felt authentic. Although his dress shirt's flawlessly rolled up sleeves were meant to be perceived as normalcy, the act was purely a fabrication -- both physically and metaphorically. This man is the President of the United States, and yet he looked like a phony. This is not a blow towards President Barack Obama, but rather recognition that he's simply a character within a cast called "society." He's a show pony. Now, who plays the role of the tooth fairy?