Extreme irony watch: Paul and Barack sing Hey Jude together

I’ve long thought of Barack Obama as the fifth Beatle, but I wonder what, exactly, the below video means. Does it represent the cultural triumph of the 1960s (America’s first black president singing “Hey Jude” with Paul McCartney in the White House), or is there something unsettling about this: a taming and appropriation of Dionysian energies to a new status quo (not terribly different from the old status quo)?

At one level, I find the video life affirming: who would have thought—in the 1960s—that in less than 50 years there would be an affirmation of counter-cultural music and racial harmony at the very heart-center of American power? 

But still, there’s a tension here between Apollonian imperial order and Dionysian energies (turned to nostalgia) that makes the video a tad hard to watch. Actually, it makes me want to wince a bit.

Barack Obama, of course, has been surfing this difficult syncretistic wave of “straight culture/counter culture” all of his political career.


I can’t help but ask this: would the very, very wealthy crowd, dressed “to the nines” at the White House, have been quite so glib and comfortable singing together, under the gaze of cameras recording, Lady Madonna? Or would that have simply been too much (as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm  too much)?

On the other hand, President Obama worked hard for—and achieved—historic health care legislation to help “Lady Madonnas.” And so to begrudge President Obama a night “out” with his family, enjoying Beatles music, is hardly generous. The pure is often the enemy of the good.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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1 Response to Extreme irony watch: Paul and Barack sing Hey Jude together

  1. andrewclunn says:

    When the counter culture becomes the culture, then it’s judged by a higher standard. When in the 60s the baby boomers were rebelling against their parents, they sought to fix what they saw as broken. They’ve been in power for most of my lifetime (I’m 25 now.) Now they are the culture. Have they done better? Have they made the United States or world safer, kinder, gentler, more fair, peaceful or welcoming? From the vantage of myself and many people my age and younger, this is the close-minded archaic culture that needs to be overthrown.

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