Sometimes you have to wonder how Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. The disdain of his opponents and detractors is intense, withering.
Right now, it's as if he didn't exist. The theatre of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the U.S. Congress – a foreign leader attacking the American administration – was followed by an even more bizarre event. A posse of 47 Republican senators wrote a letter to Iran's leaders warning that any nuclear deal they sign with the Obama administration won't last after he leaves office. While the Netanyahu speech was a stunt, a screw-you spectacle, that letter borders on treasonous undermining of a sitting president.
In the final portion of his administration, Obama does what he's always done when under concerted attack. He goes on TV. Not to make a speech, mind you.
Thursday, the 44th President of the United States is a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC, 11:35 p.m., Comedy Network, midnight). He is no stranger to late-night TV, having appeared multiple times on NBC's The Tonight Show and CBS's Late Show. He made a hilarious appearance on The Colbert Report in December, when, looking tired, he managed to appear utterly at ease on a satiric news program.
He has appeared on The Daily Show five times, before and during his presidency. When he appeared just before the midterm elections in 2010, Jon Stewart got away with calling him "dude" in a conversation about the U.S. economy.
What Obama does on TV is deftly diminish and counter the demonizing of his politics, his person and administration. He's very good at it.
Me, I'm reminded of a segment on Fox News in 2008 in which pundits gnawed on the topic, "Why Do People Go Batty for Barack?" Mainly, they reacted in bewilderment to footage of what people on the street were saying when asked that question. One man said, "He's probably a great kisser." A woman said, "He's witty and he's smart." Everybody had the air of people being asked a redundant question.
Back then, I noted that Obama was cool in the sense that Marshall McLuhan described TV as a cool medium. The audience projects onto the person. In the necessary participation by the viewer there is recognition of his confidence, admiration of his unruffled, relaxed and self-deprecating manner. His opponents can attack and rant, but he seems fully at peace with himself. Watch Obama closely on TV and you intuit how to be good at it.
Mind you, these TV appearances offer ammunition to his opponents. They accuse him of demeaning the office of president. Never was this accusation more strident than in July, 2010, when he was the first sitting president to appear on a daytime chat show – ABC's The View, to talk about "stuff" with Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and the other hosts.
He talked about being a dad and a husband and was rueful about the preoccupations and enthusiasms of his daughters. Attempting to test him on his folksiness, the hosts canvassed his opinion on Lindsay Lohan's troubles, about which he was knowledgeable. He did, however, claim to be unaware of Nicole Elizabeth (Snooki) LaValle, the breakout star of MTV's reality hit Jersey Shore.
A few days later while in LA at the TV Critics press tour, I had occasion to talk to the tiny dynamo that is Snooki. Asked what she thought about the President saying he didn't know who she is, Snooki rolled her eyes, smiled mischievously and said, "Ooooh, he knoooows!" I believed her.
Snooki is no longer a TV star. But Barack Obama was elected again, is still President and one reason is that he's expert at being on TV. It helped make him president twice and his detractors can undermine a lot, but not his gift for television. Which is why he's on Jimmy Kimmel's show tonight.
Also airing Thursday
Deluged by Data (CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) is Josh Freed's entertaining and cautionary journey into the contemporary version of "information overload." One of the interesting points to emerge is a reminder that the term "information overload" was coined by Alvin Toffler in 1970. Yes, 1970! The program suggests we are all data addicts today. We need a data diet. Certainly some people seen here need it. We meet a young woman who is obsessed with taking selfies and she talks about "narcissism," but doesn't seem to understand what that means. We meet a professional "digital organizer" who charges a fee to help you sort out those 12,000 photos you may have in your devices. We're told that we're stressed because we know too much. But, what happens if you try to disconnect from all your devices? That's the best segment of this doc that will make you wonder about humanity.