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From the floor

The bloggers’ credentials allow us to go onto the floor only if we get an hour’s special dispensation from the media papal office. So, yesterday I did a tour just as the post-dinner speakers began at 6:50.

My view was skewed by the fact that, as a visitor, I had nowhere to sit, although I did ease my aching dogs for a few minutes by perching in the press galleries that flank the main stage. The galleries have about ten vertical rows of blue-marble formica desks that look out over the floor. Surprisingly, the section to the left of the stage has no view onto the stage and there are no video monitors. I watched the press people sitting there as Jesse Jackson spoke; they might as well be listening to it on their car radios. They do have an excellent view, however, of the glitzy signs hung by the major media, marking their elevated press booths: NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, PBS News Hour…the stadium is ringed by these brightly lit re-programmed lite beer signs.

I looked up to the 7th floor Blogger Boulevard. You know how when painters depict a crowd scene, you can see every whisker and wrinkle on the people in the front, but the further back you go, a daub of paint suffices for the eyes, and then for entire faces? Well, we bloggers were where the artist loads a brush with a bluish color and does a hundred people with each jab.

Meanwhile, on the floor, delegates sat in their designated seats. A minority are wearing outfits selected to increase the odds that they’ll be shown on tv…cheese hats, red white and blue pants, hats with entire dioramas on them. And, of course it works. TV cameras are everywhere, bending over the delegates like herons fishing for fish either too slow or plump to ignore. We civilians are there to serve.

Every open pore is filled with people who have no seats but are not allowed simply to stand. We are required to keep moving by the guards stationed so that one will always be within prodding distance. Rather than falling into the brownian motion characteristic of parties, we form shuffling streams. First we walk north, then we walk south. Tiny step, tiny step, maintaining the requisite two-inch Margin of Personal Comfort. Pause to take a picture or, God forbid, think, and a Stream Keeper will stick his paddle into the waters. “Keep moving, sir. We can’t have you standing still.” No no. That’d be a security risk because it’s well known that terrorism begins with stillness.

Jesse Jackson spoke and the delegates cheered, waved and stood with the spontaneity of people bursting into song when the lights go out and a birthday cake is brought in: We know what’s required of us. Likewise, when Wyclef Jean sang a dreadful, rejiggered version of a popular song, delegates stood and did the shoulder-dance the middle-aged do to embarrass their children.

It’s hard to convey the hyper-unreality of it. It’s a roundelay of media, by the media and for the media with as many overlays of social complexity as a high school reunion where everyone has to dress up as how they think people saw them. One’s attention has no place to wander except into cynicism. Yet, the delegates are here playing the media game because they’ve worked damn hard and care so much. Union people, teachers, local organizers, veterans…the event may be calculated down to the fonts used in the electronic displays, but the delegates are here participating in the media event because they are believers and heroes.

We don’t have the vocabulary to assess a single cheer during the Jesse Jackson speech. Cheering for Jesse, cheering for the TV, cheering for being together cheering. How do we apply terms like “sincere,” “authentic” or “manipulated”? Whitman’s barbaric yawp now has four orders of abstraction layered on top of it, and sixteen more reserved for the analysts.

The studied, impassive and total silence of the press bleachers as Jesse tells us “Hope is on the way, hope is on the way” is no less complex.

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