16 August 2011

The Elvis Presley memorial post on what Presidents should know

While I begrudge no one a good laugh at Rep. Bachmann's expense following her latest gaffe today, let's put this episode in perspective. I do not expect our political leaders to have extensive knowledge of the lives and deaths of pop celebrities. As culturally literate people they should know who Elvis Presley was. They should have some idea of his cultural relevance, but they shouldn't be expected, much less required, to display that knowledge in public. You wouldn't want them to be caught wondering "Who is this Alvin Priestly, exactly?" but it shouldn't be snobbery to suggest that the details of Presley's career should be beneath a politician's notice. I wouldn't expect Woodrow Wilson or Theodore Roosevelt or Eugene Debs to speak knowledgeably about the vaudevillians, ballplayers or early movie stars of their day. Being no populist, I wouldn't take it as any sign of damning aloofness or elitism if any of today's politicians confessed ignorance of the pop singers of today or fifty years ago. By that standard, it should not be a big deal if Bachmann confused Presley's birthday with the day of his death. August 16 may matter to millions of people, but it doesn't have to matter to all of us.

On the other hand, she's the one who brought up the subject. For that reason, this story's moral is: If you're going to pander to pop culture, you need to remember that in trivia, unlike in politics, everyone agrees on the facts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, everyone except the E.O.P.s that believe he's still alive.