After hrs of searching conversation around America and the human being soul, the previous president the the United claims reiterated his brand identity. “Here’s what provides me positive … because, friend know, ns the expect guy,” Barack Obama said Bruce Springsteen in a chat recorded last year for their podcast, Renegades: Born in the USA. Transcripts of the conversation have now been adapted into a publication with the same title that also features reproductions that Obama’s speeches, snatches of Springsteen’s lyrics, and also hundreds that photographs.

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In 2008, Obama became the “hope guy” by promising nationwide unity after ~ the rough George W. Bush years. Marketed by street-art posters and celebrity sing-alongs, deploying a dynamic oratorical style and an inspiring personal story, the would-be very first Black chairman pitched himself as a change figure—and pitched America ~ above the story of progress it might tell itself if it elected him.

From the January/February 2017 issue: my president was Black

Today, American positive outlook is tougher come rouse. Obama’s presidency was followed by the election of an open up racist—and an open cynic—whose pendant seem ever more hostile come democracy with each happen week. In the Renegades conversation, Obama acknowledges that the nation has gone into a perilous state since Donald Trump take it office. However what offers him hope currently are today’s young people. Americans under 35 “overwhelmingly … carry out not believe in discriminating” or a “grossly unequal” financial system, that says. Together he tells Springsteen, “Your songs and also my speeches or books, or this conversation … i think their objective is to let that next generation know, ‘You’re on the ideal track.’”

That explanation is both helpful and worrying for anyone who wondering why maybe the most popular politician in America is spending his time producing coffee-table publications with rock stars. Since leaving office, Obama has actually repositioned himself together a cultural influencer—because he shares the national misapprehension that contents will save us.

If Obama is hope to encourage young voters, Renegades is definitely a roundabout way to do it. The generation that invented cheugy no seem like the target audience for a heavy publication whose cover features the indigenous DREAMS—MYTHS—MUSIC on a black-and-white photograph of two chortling baby Boomers. No doubt the $40-a-piece Renegades is yes, really aimed in ~ the dads and also granddads the America, just in time because that the vacation gift-giving season.

The effort is component of Obama’s more comprehensive bid to develop an infotainment empire. In 2018, he and Michelle Obama formed higher Ground, a production company that has actually signed deals with Netflix and Spotify. Therefore far, that offerings include The Michelle Obama Podcast and the Oscar-winning documentary American Factory; the pipeline consists of filmed adaptations of books by Michael Lewis and also Mohsin Hamid. “We expect to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, an innovative voices who are able to promote better empathy and also understanding in between peoples,” check out a statement native Barack Obama in 2018.

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The two voices curated by Renegades—Obama’s and Springsteen’s—hardly require elevation, and the project could seem like simply a lark, a retirement perk for the president. Dig into the conversation together it is gift in the book, though, and also it comes to feel anything but incidental: Here, essentially, is the blueprint because that post–White residence Obama-ism. That’s no just since it entails two über-Americans pointing out America—money, music, race, gender, and also John Wayne. The project’s deeper subject is influence: What shapes us? exactly how do we form others?

Everywhere, Obama emphasizes narrative, conversations, and also art. That seeks, he claims in the book’s introduction, to develop “a more unifying story that starts come close the gap in between America’s ideals and its reality.” Springsteen admits that he make the efforts to readjust people’s lives every time he goes onstage. The two guys banter around the influence that john Ford, Woody Guthrie, and also news coverage the the moon landing had on even their most personal life decisions. When he chose to walk into neighborhood organizing in the ’80s, Obama says, “I was swimming backward to a various idea the America,” contrasted with his profit-seeking peers, that were aligned through the movie Wall Street.

Obama’s public interest in the arts is committed and also long-running, covering at the very least from his 1995 memoir, Dreams From mine Father, come his current habit of release playlists. Renegades reminds readers how, as president, that turned the White residence into a social center: A multipage spread out lists musicians he had play concerts there. In ~ one point, Springsteen shares the story of how the seed of his Broadway present were planted throughout a presidential performance (making because that the 2nd Tony-winning sensation, after ~ Hamilton, that Obama can take part credit for).

Anyone that cares deeply about art should be heartened to see a man who has actually wielded tough power giving far-ranging consideration come softer develops of influence. The is correct that society often maps come the worths that educate political decisions, and he is smart to traction illustrations from his very own life. After all, his rhetoric and also his presidency might well have added to the ideas of the younger generation that he now says will rebuild America.

Still, the concern of whether our entertain shows us who we space or makes us who we are have to be treated through humility: We will never know the answer, and also it varies from human being to person, and also from occupational to work. Obama seems nearly tragically fixated ~ above the idea that poetry, podcasting, or TV programming deserve to heal our nationwide wounds—even despite the story that he himself keeps telling show that that is no so simple.

Take, because that example, the way Obama and also Springsteen want to rewrite the story the American masculinity. Springsteen and Obama both prospered up with fathers who were distant from their sons for different reasons—and castle note exactly how that distance seemed to amplify the strong-and-silent stereotypes collection by Hollywood’s male heroes. “The post American society sends come boys around what it means to be a man … there is no really changed all the much since we were kids,” Obama writes in one thing introduction, adding that “narrow, distorted ideas of masculinity added to so plenty of damaging patterns we proceed to view in the country.”

How specifically to reform the American man? Springsteen recalls emotion alienated indigenous the opportunity of love and commitment until, in his 30s, he started seeing a therapist. He and also Obama likewise bond over the means that your wives assisted them evolve. This is fascinating material, yet with its an individual specificity, it’s not exactly a how-to guide for American guys. Rather, you gain the sense that your conversation itself—the spectacle of two strong men sharing in their vulnerability and also introspection—is expected to be a version that urges the reader’s own soul-searching.

Perhaps few of the Springsteen pan who receive this publication as a gift will discover themselves relocated to better sensitivity and self-awareness. However Obama expresses one-of-a-kind concern about the message young men receive from the media (he doesn’t have to say the name of his Spotify-podcasting partner Joe Rogan for readers to get the gist), and also the concern of just how to transition those details messages remains unaddressed. As soon as I to be listening to the Renegades podcast, i texted a young dad I recognize to ask whether he’d be interested in listening. That shot back that he can not imagine inviting yet an ext advice from Boomers about how to live his life.

Indeed, plenty of of the human being Obama wants to reach room the ones that systematically prevent him for factors of culture, politics, or both. In Renegades, Obama demonstrates the toxic effects of Fox News through recalling one anecdote from so late in his White house tenure. He had actually gone to visit a ar college in a red state, and also the locals tuning in come his decided from a nearby bar asked, “Is this exactly how Obama commonly sounds?” come a reporter who was there with them. Plainly they had actually been getting their news from resources that seldom broadcast the commander in chief speak uninterrupted. (This shows up to it is in Obama’s recollection the a 2015 Washington Post story.)

“Now, keep in mind, in ~ that suggest I had probably to be president for the last five or 6 years,” Obama says to Springsteen. “The filter to be so thick that I, as president the the unified States, can not with those males unless ns actually visited their town.” Obama climate starts come muse around how come pierce such bubbles, yet doesn’t obtain much more than mourning the monoculture once exemplified by The Ed Sullivan Show, i beg your pardon went off the air 50 years ago.

If we carry out have any kind of monoculture left, it possibly lies in the extensive consensus roughly the idea very first articulated through the conservative pundit Andrew Breitbart: “Politics is downstream from culture.” The concept that what entertains us shapes exactly how we vote has actually gone indigenous a hazy supposition come a strategy maxim throughout the ideological spectrum, providing rise come a security truism: as soon as everyone agrees that national politics is downstream indigenous culture, culture becomes downstream indigenous politics. To i think that any type of given HBO series or popular music album in 2021 isn’t trying come get across some social message is to it is in naive.

The eerie point is just how clear it has end up being that politics works together entertainment. Viewers really perform enjoy dogma-driven diversion. Watching Fox News is an addictive pastime for millions, and so is digesting kind conversations in between progressive celebrities. However these commodities rarely exist to an obstacle their consumers—they exist to reinforce what they already think. The paradox is that the arts-and-politics nexus dilutes its very own power at a particular point. People become primed come steer far from functions that they doubt to be the various other side’s propaganda.

Obama is contributing to this tailspin, rather plainly, with Renegades, though probably for good reason. The revenue it brings in might well fund more cunning initiatives by greater Ground to reduced through our cultural feedback loops. Thinking that the target audience for this product has currently internalized every one of its ideas is more than likely too cynical. Absolutely no one is harmed by, say, revisiting the bracing rhetoric the Obama offered in his eulogy for john Lewis or the Springsteen used in his text for “American Skin (41 Shots)” (both of i beg your pardon are among the functions reprinted in the book, featuring your creator’s handwriting). The is additionally worth noting that Obama continues to perform the an ext traditional job-related of a politician—speechifying, fundraising.

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Yet the irony the Renegades, i beg your pardon is likely destined to bounce about the exact same echo chambers that its writer bemoan, is that it only emphasizes the limits of politics-as-culture. The Biden era has actually already noted a clinic in the seriousness of those limits: here is a president, prefer Obama prior to him, backed by Hollywood and also enjoying a popular-vote majority—yet still unable to pass his agenda as result of intractable political obstacles. Would any type of amount of conscientious conversation nix the filibuster or guide Joe Manchin? Money, demographics, institutions, and pure power still rule, and many of the stories we tell recently in really hopes of shifting that reality just finish up distracting from it.