Monday, August 17, 2009

Is The Obama Inauguration The New Woodstock?

Tonight, I watched a documentary called Woodstock: Now and Then which aired on The History Channel. It was directed and produced by documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple (who is best known for her 1976 documentary Harlan County U.S.A.)

The executive producer was Woodstock organizer Michael Lang. Last month, I saw Lang give a talk about his book The Road to Woodstock. It was during this public appearance where I had the opportunity to ask Lang about Max Yasgur and his comments appeared in my column about Yasgur.

Most of the film was stuff familiar to me (i.e. the musicians, the songs, the organizers, the logistical difficulties, etc.) But there were some nice touches. Attendees were given a chance to talk about their experiences at Woodstock including Nick and Bobbi Ercoline. If their names aren't familiar their images should be. They are the couple who are lock in an embraced covered by a pink blanket on the Woodstock album cover. The Ercolines were married in 1971 and are still together. So there is certainly something to be said for that.

Towards the end of the film there is an attempt to link Woodstock with the inauguration of President Obama. I can't say I'm totally surprised at the linkage. Lang alluded to it briefly during his talk last month although he didn't dwell on it at length. However, he does elaborate further in an interview he did with The History Channel:

I think that when Woodstock came along it was like suddenly this amazing moment of hope, where this tremendously large group of people got together and had this amazingly peaceful experience and became this community that set an example for everybody. It really demonstrated in a practical way that there was a better way for us to live together. I think that's why it was remembered so much. It was this moment of hope in a very dark time. I like to compare it to [President Barack] Obama's inauguration, which came also at a pretty dark time for America and the world. We had gotten to a place where we were kind of headed over a cliff, and we're heading for another four years of that and suddenly—I think this is one of the best qualities that Americans have is to realize something and change the direction to do the right thing. The inauguration felt like another moment of hope in a very desperate time. The spirit of the crowd in the inauguration in 20-degree weather was just a sense of joy and hope that was phenomenal.

This sentiment was echoed in the film by New York Times columnist Gail Collins who, in fact, wrote a column about Obama's inauguration titled, "Woodstock Without The Mud." However, Collins made a point of stating there was an important difference:

The big difference was in the national reaction. The only people who felt unified during Woodstock were those who were there — everybody else was horrified or jealous. But the inauguration left the whole country glued together emotionally, one big American ball of hope.

I don't doubt Obama's inauguration meant something to people especially African-Americans whose grandparents and, in some cases, parents could not vote. But I don't think Obama's inauguration represented "one big American ball of hope" nor do I think "we had gotten to a place where we were headed over a cliff" before the election of Obama magically "saved" us.

That ball of hope certainly isn't there now especially with the Obamacare debacle and continuing economic uncertainty. That doesn't, of course, guarantee he's a one term President. But whether one can properly compare three days of fun and music to four years of Obama remains to be seen. His legacy isn't about getting to the White House. It's about what he does once he's inside. At this point, the jury is still out on him while the verdict came in on Woodstock once the festival had concluded. By the time the 2012 elections come about America might not be in such a festive mood when it comes to President Obama.

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