Reading Rolling Stone’s much-hyped interview with Barack Obama, I couldn’t help but think of Evan Marc Katz. Whom you might know, if you know him at all, as the “e-Cyrano,” or, perhaps, as “your personal trainer for love,” or, perhaps, as the guy who’s “helped thousands of people rebrand and market themselves successfully online.” The e-dating guru has found both fame and fortune in teaching would-be Match.com-ers how to write The Ideal Online Dating Profile (or, “how to make your personal ad more personal”). When writing said profile, advises Katz:
- Use specifics
- Be sincere and honest
- Show your personality
- Figure out what makes you different from everyone else, and use it to your advantage
- Stay consistently positive and confident without seeming annoying and arrogant
- Don’t give anyone a reason to say no to you
Thanks, e-Cyrano. That is good advice—and it applies just as readily to presidential candidates wanting to win our hearts and our votes in the epic matchmaking game that is electoral politics. There’s a dual nature, after all, to each tidbit revealed in a profile, whether presidential or plebeian: it’s meant both to inform and to intrigue, to be both subtle and bold; it says, on the one hand, this is who I am, take it or leave it, and, on the other, um, please take it.
When it comes to the Music section of the profile—often, now, shorthanded as “What’s On Your iPod?”—it’s all about creating a carefully cultivated list that suggests, overall, Effortless Awesomeness. You’ve got to seem, e-Cyrano says, alluring, yet mysterious (Miles Davis is good choice for conveying this). Sensitive, yet fun (Stevie Wonder). Laid-back (The Grateful Dead), yet serious (Charlie Parker). Smart, but not obnoxiously so (Bob Dylan). Playfully ironic (Elton John). Effortlessly witty (The Rolling Stones). Up-to-the-minute (Jay-Z), yet respectful of tradition (Yo-Yo Ma). Down-to-earth (Bruce Springsteen), yet whimsical (John Coltrane).
So, Rolling Stone, what does Barack, you know, rock to? With what tunes is he wooing us on his profile—what will be on potential-President Obama’s iPod One? Well Miles Davis! And Stevie Wonder! And The Grateful Dead! And Charlie Parker! And Bob Dylan! And Elton John! And the Rolling Stones! And Jay-Z! And Yo-Yo Ma! And Springsteen! And Coltrane!
(Wow, intriguing profile, YesWeCan2008! We are so gonna wink at you.)
And lest the “oPod” playlist seem overly curated: Obama also mentions (read: cops to) liking Sheryl Crow and, for that extra stamp of no-communications-strategist-or-online-profile- advisor-would-ever-tell-him-to-say-this authenticity, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee reveals his love for the sublimely campy uber-group Earth, Wind, and Fire.
Politicians “revealing” themselves through their music choices (and journalists finding meaning in the revelations) are nothing new. Presidents, both practicing and potential—and politicians in general (not to mention every B-list celebrity who has ever created a “celebrity playlist” for iTunes)—have a long, proud tradition of carefully cultivating personal quirks in the service of political charisma; and of doing so, in particular, through an exhibition of their musical tastes.
Politicians’ musical playlists—or, rather, the playlists those politicians publicize, which aren’t necessarily the same thing—generally emphasize empathy over authenticity. They’re almost always populated by artists and songs that seem hand-picked to appeal to a specific demographic or contingent of voters. (George Bush enjoys Joni Mitchell, Alan Jackson, and, somewhat controversially, The Knack; New York senator Chuck Schumer grooves to the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong and the Counting Crows; Condi Rice admires Mozart and U2 and Cream and Aretha Franklin; John McCain—charming idiosyncrasy alert!—loves ABBA.)
And, hey, maybe those pols really do enjoy the music they list in their playlists. But it’s worth wondering why we place so much emphasis on the lists in the first place, and why we continue to revere and revel in them as jingly little vehicles for Profound Revelations About the Self. Those revelations, after all, often serve to frame the pols in question as something they fundamentally are not: ordinary. See, they suggest, I’m just like you, average Joe! I, like you, Average Jane, have tons of time to groove to the tunes on my iPod. I, like you, love music. I like you, love John Lennon. I, like you, imagine all the people, living for today (ooh, ooh). You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one Because you, dear voter, are one, too.