Monday, November 3, 2008
It's already November 4 in China, and the CNN countdown on the satellite TV shows 21 hours and 18 minutes until the last poll of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections close. Capital letters, indeed. Historic. Epochal. Landmark. Transformative. Unprecedented. Transcendent. Once-in-a-Lifetime. Shakespearean. Internettian. 21st century. American.
Of course I have my preference. It has to do with the heart, old-fashioned decency, face, and the American English language. But no matter the outcome, this election has invigorated democracy anyway you cut it, a chance for citizens to interpret the character of the U.S. and articulate, if not grow their own, along with it. The internet has springboarded the 1st Amendment and fundraising towards new and exponential heights. Money is the main dialect, as it always is with capitalism, and usually money talks, because the talk has delighted or spun the right image for the money. The President of the United States is the ultimate salesman, spirit along with product.
From afar, as my friends have written me and as the media writes the drama, the Dems have been anxious, on pins and needles, worried about their lead, like a beaten dog hearing master's footsteps approaching--don't know what's gonna happen once he/she comes through the door. It has been 8 years of the current President's whim, hasn't it? And as the 90's partying prosperity was duly doused with an ice-cold bucket of fear, the rules of the game changed. Fairness exploded, legerdemain snuck elitist agenda onto the main table and American neo-conmen elasticized the Constitution, where the waistband got pulled back and the country got snapped right in the gut--over and over again. As the HBO movie Recount reminded, (it played here on international satellite as well, last minute), the 2000 election was basically decided by 1 vote. (Wouldn't nationalizing voting method unite the states without threatening state's rights?) But in the lasting epochs, the exploiters' rules eventually expire, and the good-hearted, the decent will have clean air to breathe again (right Christians?). Shake me some speare!
If we are Americans that expect dignity, then each citizen gets one vote and that vote is counted in the big tally, once. Speaking about voting here causes a glaze over the eyes, a polite smile, an extraterrestrial quality to my explanation. I mention to my students about the 'outside forces' that tampered with the election of 2000--it's like they don't have the software to download the information. On a similar yet less abstract notion of dignity for the Chinese, it's like getting dressed up nicely for National Day to go and celebrate with family and friends. You smell nice, you wear your nice stiletto sandals, you have your best outfit on, ironed and pleated, your imitation Chanel purse looks new, your disposition is airy as you have the day off; and then you have to squeeze onto a crowded bus, get pushed into the innards just to get the doors closed, the sudden stops get your toes stepped on, the drunk stuck up next to you is breathing down your neck, the stench of someone's tobacco'd sigh fans up your nicely powdered nostril, not to mention the driver's death defying bus tricks of chicken and honk-the-shit-out-of-cyclists-and -pedestrians the minute the bus lurches from being stalled in traffic with the fumatorium of exhaust that fills the cabin. You just want to get to your destination nice, same as how you left the house.
As much as I choose freedom in my own life, I am loyal to a worthy leader. Someone who has a vision and can explain the mind behind a world view in complete English sentences (metaphorical flair an inspiring plus). One of the hesitancies of my taking my current teaching post in China was not being in the States for this election. Viewed from afar with new objectivity, I told myself, and with the internet it has furthered my 21st century experience.
I'm still American in personality, though. I am a privileged inhabitant here in Shanghai, with an American passport, that allows me comfortable lodgings, a good income, a shield from the life outside (until I need something, want something.) The satellite TV had never worked in my apartment--I think I subconsciously did not want the possibility of TV to entice me out of my quiet monkesque existence. During National Day, I had a beast feast of cable-TV-watching and thought I would book a room for Election Night and get transported into Americaville for the festivities. I did book a hotel room through my cousin Roberto, but then the new Nursing teacher Ann arrived, and the cable got fixed (she's Filipina and doesn't speak Chinese so our Philippines cable network is important to have up and running for her sanity.) Cool, CNN in my own apartment--I don't gotta go nowhere (and I save a stack of money).
So I cancel the hotel and I'm set with the news and all the trash and movies and tagalog programs that go along with it. I'm even feeling a lil less homesick, there's Ellen, and Oprah, and E! News and Tyra and TMZ and even Jimmy Kimmel. Come Friday afternoon, I've held off watching TV so I can get writing done first, all that, and when I go to turn my TV on, it has no picture. Satellite works but no TV. I call the office, they can't get anyone to look at it until Monday. I really really really need to have TV for the elections. OK, remind me on Monday, I get told.
I want what I want when I want it. Why does everything in China have to cause me such stress? I'm in a bad mood already because I'm homesick. I'm not gonna book another hotel room. They better give me another TV if this one doesn't get fixed. I need all of the pre-election buildup. That's the thing about these third-world countries--stuff happens when it happens, not when you want it. You have to just let it go, your ego has to let it go. But I want it. I don't want much. The one American thing that is important to me while I'm here, I'm not gonna get. Why? I'm really working myself into a frenzy.
And this, I realize is a teachable moment: Why go McCain, when you can go Obama? So what if you don't get caught up in the races? in the press coverage? in the intense viewing of numbers? in the projections of the projections about the projections? There is still the internet, it can be watched from the blogosphere, which is becoming more valid as the pulse of the people. It will be Keno-style, like any good casino. Active reading, instead of just lulling in front of the TV. Brechtian awareness, always engaged in the form and not swept by content. But weirdly, as an American, I want to be swept by the narrative, I want to feel the emotional expansion, I want it in moving pictures and not just a buffer-pause performance, where the bandwidth is narrow and I can literally only here sound bites like some perforated line.
I decide to leave it to the fates. And temper my want, taper my petulance. If it gets fixed, I will get the United Drug of America, and watch the event like my fellow citizens, see what I'd see if I were in the homeland. If it doesn't, I'll go Brechtian, live it from the intellect. Read from the internet, write about what it means to me, what's ahead, what the possibilities of the country will be. I've always thought that if McCain pulls it out, or the 20th century shenanigans still work in the 21st century, that Obama will still have made his impact (though he will put up a fight--Gore acted like a VP and rolled over--Obama won't and I don't think the people will let it happen again). These past two years have been a huge test, and all the griping about no experience is out the window, cuz he has gotten his experience now. He's bloomed right before our eyes. And like the best of dramatic heroes, he has weathered all storms at all times. Discipline has been key. Teachable moments have steered towards a more mature course of awareness. For the audience who is open to hear, the soul of the U.S. has been stirred. His performance, both message and promulgation, has been superb.
I know that as a writer, I will feel more connected to my country, to the U.S. culture, more inspired toward cultural production, subconsciously more organically accepted with a President Obama. I have no illusions that a politician is still a politician, but on a metaphorical and international level, the United States of America will feel proactively entered into the 21st century instead of forced into it with an act of terrorism. We mean it. We mean for the new to preside. We mean for a compassionate man of gravity to lead.
And to add onto Obama's already Shakespearean rise, his grandmother has passed, the day before the election. Obama delivering words with tears in his eyes. He's got one more vote in the ether.
Good luck, USA!