Everyone takes their lunch break at the same time to watch the speech on the TV screens in the lobby. The roomful of employees has as wide a range of ethnicities and age
groups of 2009 America. Everyone is silent, except for a couple of smirks and whispers when the music performers are announced. People clap their hands when Biden is sworn in, laugh when Roberts screws up the oath, and clap and cheer when Obama is sworn in after all. Then everyone immediately breaks to the cafeteria.
Thousands of Columbia students and staff gather alongside Morningside Heights residents to watch the inauguration on the Jumbotron. Snowflakes drift down to the largely silent crowd.
An empty tripod takes up prime viewing real estate above the crowd. "When my cameraman comes back you'll have to get down, maam," threatens the owner to any passerby tempted by the vacant spot behind it.
As soon as the poet starts speaking nearly everyone scrambles.
As the Presidents past and present and their wives walk down the steps a protracted discussion emerges about the fashion of Michelle and Laura.
"Michelle should be more modern."
"She doesn't seem like herself today."
"She is no Jackie."
"I love her hair."
"I think it could be updated a bit."
"I think that is updated from her afro at school."
"I think Obama should rock a full fledged afro."
"My mom is concerned about Laura Bush's ability to walk down the stairs gracefully."
Speculation now emerges about whether Bush will take up drinking again. Persistent irony in the discussion. My mom struggles against this tide of rising sarcasm, evokes the sixties, Robert Kennedy, etc. The Canadian takes the bait. Starts talking about Marshall Ganz. Leadership. Citizenship.
Then more discussion of the fashion.
A party of five now watching the inauguration. Three are Loeb Fellows at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, one of them a Canadian. The Canadian wants to work for the Obama administration on sustainability policy. The other two are my mother and a doctorate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who is from Germany.
Lunch of Kale and Kielbasa soup. Cheese. Clementines. The German is concerned about the nationalistic rhetoric. She maintains that the "America is leader of the world model is outdated." The Canadian says, "You have to speak to your audience." No comments as the speech turns to patriotism.
"[January the 20th] is a scheme to replicate the great British documentation/ethnography project of the '30s, mass observation. I don't know who's launched this remake but it's a great opportunity to build up a picture of the actual America--not Bill Kristol's, not Jon Meacham's, not MSM's. Teachers, put your students to work! Journos, tell everybody!"
-Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University
King George VI
Please note that though we have taken inspiration from their original concept, we are not officially associated with the Mass Observation Archive. They can be found at http://www.massobs.org.uk