Roundtable: Merchandise Follows Obama-Mania The historic election of Barack Obama has helped fuel the blogosphere like no other event in recent history. Plus, from ice cream to cognac, the President-elect has inspired an industry of Obama merchandise. Tony Cox talks with Harry Allen, Patrice Yursik, and Robert Redding.
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Roundtable: Merchandise Follows Obama-Mania

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Roundtable: Merchandise Follows Obama-Mania

Roundtable: Merchandise Follows Obama-Mania

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TONY COX, host:

Now on to our Bloggers' Roundtable. As millions descend on Washington D.C. for Barack Obama's inauguration, folks in the blogosphere are buzzing about this momentous occasion. And from ice cream to cognac, the president-elect has inspired an industry of Obama merchandise. What else is on sale online? Here to tell us what the blogs are saying about tomorrow's inauguration is Harry Allen, who blogs - who maintains the blog Media Assassin at HarryAllen.info, Patrice Yursik, who blogs at Afrobella.com, and Robert Redding, the publisher of ReddingNewsReview.com. Hey, everybody.

Mr. HARRY ALLEN (Blogger, Media Assassin): Hi, Tony.

Ms. PATRICE YURSIK (Blogger, Afrobella.com): Hi, Tony.

Mr. ROBERT REDDING (Publisher, ReddingNewsReview.com): Hi, Tony.

COX: Nice to have you. Let's start with this one. The whole country, OK, seems to be engaged in the inauguration, and that includes the blogosphere. So starting with you, Robert, how would you describe what you're reading and seeing online? Is it the most hyped up you've ever seen?

Mr. REDDING: It is. It's one of those has been connected to, of course, Martin Luther King's birthday. The hype around inauguration is always big, but not as big as what we've seen with this president. I've been talking to lots of people on the ground. Lots of people are excited and energized. There's lots of energy in the streets and on the Web as well. And I am just amazed at what we're seeing, and the amount of news that we're seeing.

COX: You know Patrice, everywhere you go, it's just, Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama. And then you turn the page and it's, Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama. It's crazy.

Ms. YURSIK: It is pretty crazy. I have - I mean - on my own blog, you know, I'm getting a lot of comments about - from people who are there. And I'm also - I'm on Twitter which, you know, the micro-blogging and people who are there like the energy that they feel. You know, it's a palpable thing. It's a beautiful moment that we're experiencing.

COX: Absolutely. You know, Harry, one thing that we've noticed here at News & Notes is the number of items bearing the likeness of the new president, everything from soup to nuts. Some of the more clever marketing tributes include things like Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream which is putting out a new flavor called, Yes Pecan. And Hennessey has created a special edition bottle of cognac called 44 in honor of the 44th president. I mean, the list is endless. What have you been seeing for sale online?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, on Media Assassin, I think the most outrageous item that we posted on was the Obama Dildo.

COX: Mm hmm.

Ms. YURSIK: Yeah.

COX: My mouth just fell off. And I don't know what to say...

Ms. YURSIK: Crickets.

COX: But that's pretty - well, let's just move on. What else have you - let's see?

Mr. ALLEN: It runs a gambit(ph). I mean - I think, but to me in terms of using Obama's face to sell a product. I think that the most outrageous thing is the news itself. And by that I mean, the way that his ascension to the position of 44th president is being used to sell ad time and to sell a very if you will - comforting and passive story of the changing of the guard.

COX: Well, you know. What's interesting about that from my prospective, Robert is that - I wonder whether or not the Obama victory is being trivialized by this kind of merchandising. It's one thing to be excited about the first African-American president of the United States. We all get that. But is there a line that should be drawn when making dedications to the president, do you think?

Mr. REDDING: Yes and I think it should start with Hennessey. I was a little - taken aback until the whole dildo when by the Hennessey 44. You know, it's being marketed in black cities. It's, you know, this is definitely pimping the legacy, the short legacy that Barack Obama has. I mean, Barack Obama stands for something other than being a rapper, a drug dealer, a basketball player, a football player, being an intellect. And Hennessey is not promoting that through their product. That's the problem that I have. So, yes I think there's definitely - I guess a true realization of what Barack Obama is talking about. Even as an independent, I give him some I guess, as they would say dab for what he's talking about, the substance to meet that he's talking about bringing to the table.

COX: Well let's not make any further reference to that one particular product. But let's talk about whether or not it does cross the line as Robert has suggested. Patrice, what's your thought?

Ms. YURSIK: I think the one ray of sunshine with the Hennessey story is that you know, a percentage of their proceeds is going to be donated to the Thurgood Marshall College fund. But other than that, it really underscores a kind of cross commercialism that I'm sure makes Barack Obama very uncomfortable. I mean, he's not going to be cracking that bottle.

You know, this is something that's being made for the people who are celebrating around him. You know, the people who are in D.C. right now and going to parties isn't that kind of thing. And I like that he counteracted it by hosting this, you know, day of giving back to the community. And I think that's - he really wants a kind of underscore that part of his legacy more than the celebration and the t-shirts and the coins that, you know, people are hocking on TV.

COX: Well, you know, there are other ways of celebration. And here's one coming up now, songs about the president. Nothing new there certainly except some of the songs about Barack Obama are coming from corners not usually associated with this kind of creative music. Here's an example of an oldie being turned into a beaty.

Ms. ASHFORD & Mr. SIMPSON: (Singing) And for love sake, he decided to make a promise to us all. And when he wrote "The Audacity of Hope" we could make a change. Here's for a higher plane. We'll build it up, and build it up, and build it up. And now we're solid. Solid as Barack, a strong foundation.

COX: Well, that of course is the husband and wife singing songwriting duo Ashford and Simpson with a remake of their long ago hit "Solid as a Rock." Have you folks have been hearing other songs online? Robert?

Ms. YURSIK: Oh yeah.

Mr. REDDING: Oh yes.

COX: Yeah?

Mr. REDDING: Oh absolutely. We've been playing one on the radio show for sometime now. That's the one by Young Jeezy along with Naz, "The First Black President" in tribute to Barack Obama. And they talked about how they have been inspired by Barack Obama. I think it's beautiful when artists are inspired versus corporations that are inspired to make money.

Ms. YURSIK: Mm hmm.

COX: Really? Now what do you say about that, Robert? I mean, some of these songs, they're intended to make money too. Aren't they?

Mr. REDDING: Well, I think that yes they are definitely intended to make money. But we're seeing with young people especially I think with the Jeezy record along with Naz. We're seeing as that blacks, - young people are seeing - even rappers themselves are seeing something other than of themselves as a standard for black people to emulate. And if rappers themselves start saying, hey, you know what? He's worth paying attention to. Maybe our young people say that as well.

In addition to that, my attorney told me, he attended an event last night with (unintelligible) manager where they were talking about eradicating the N-word for a day on the 20th within rap music itself. So that kind of thing is where I look for things to go, because my N-word, you said - at this point - is something that I don't use not even as a term of endearment. And I don't think anyone else should.

COX: You know, I'm sorry I said, Robert. I meant to go to you, Harry, to get your answer. But what I'm going ask you all to do because we're coming up on a break. Is just to sit tight and we're going to continue this discussion talking not only about the music surrounding the celebration of the inauguration of Barack Obama, but we're going to talk about a number of other items as well, and whether or not - think about this, whether or not people are little too casual about our new president. So standby and we'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to News & Notes from NPR News.

I'm Tony Cox, and this is News & Notes. We're back now with our blogger's Roundtable. We're joined by Harry Allen who maintains the blog, "Media Assassin" at harryallen.info, Patrice Yursik who blogs at afrobella.com, and Robert Redding, the publisher of reddingnewsreview.com.

Before the break, we were talking about music and whether or not celebrations in music have more integrity shall we say than celebrations on t-shirts and coffee mugs and things of that sort. And Harry I was trying to get to you. I went back to Robert by mistake. What's your thought on this?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I don't if it's a silly thing that they have more if you will, honesty or integrity. I think that, you know, as we were saying earlier that some of these products that blazing themselves with Barack Obama's name or his face are contemptible. But I think the "Solid as a Rock" remake is a kind of contemptible as well. I think the original record was much better and probably served the purpose. But I, you know, Ashford & Simpson are creative people and certainly entitled to say what they want or make the kind of music they want about the president.

COX: Well, Patrice I want to talk about another topic with you to begin it with you. And it's about the perception of Barack Obama that besides skin color seems to set him apart from previous presidents. George Bush even Bill Clinton seen as regular guys to a large extent as they went into office. But do you find that Barack Obama is what we might call informal in a way that we have never seen before. And does he need to be presidential looking and acting in a way others have to maintain that perception of power?

Ms. YURSIK: I think he's kind of towing a very careful line right now. And I think - I mean to me I like the fact that he seems relatable. I'd like the fact that he's going to places in D.C. and getting hotdogs, and he's, you know, known as a basketball player and a kind of a person that you can relate to. But I don't know if I think that he has crossed the line into being too accessible or too informal. You know,and I it's - he's conducting himself in a very careful way so that, you know, the people who have supported him all along can identify with him. But at the same time, I can still respect where, you know, he's going to be presidential.

COX: What's your take, Robert?

Mr. REDDING: Well, I think that Barack is definitely conducting himself in a very professional manner. I'm not sure how that resonates with the rest of America, black versus white. I know that he definitely is the epitome of I guess learned and skilled and entrained that we see in D.C., we see in New York, in Atlanta for black people. But I'm not sure how that actually connects with white people. I know that a lot of the issues that he talks about connects with white people. But I'm not sure the basketball court in the White House if that's your question. Will relate to most white people. Maybe some white people in Indiana, but not the rest of the country.,

COX: Well, you know, Harry Allen, The New York Times run a poll yesterday saying that 91 percent of Americans approve of Obama right now. How long do you think America's love affair with him is going to last?

Mr. ALLEN: I think it's going to be short. And I think the question you're asking about the over familiarity with him is a really good one. And I think it's something that we're going to see take place as race really starts to make its appearance in terms of how Obama is talked about. And what happens in his administration. Much of that is going to really depend on how successful he is in terms of carrying out the goals he set for himself and for the nation. But I think that we're going to see - I think we're going to see something wholly new here, and wholly old as well. And I think that familiarity is part of it.

COX: Are any of you still in disbelief? And I'm assuming you were and admitting that I was that America elected a man of color to be president of the United States. And if you are still in disbelief, you think that's going to change once you see Obama actually sworn in, Patrice?

Ms. YURSIK: I'm not in disbelief at all. I mean - I just - just it's incredible. You know, I mean it's something you grow up watching movies and TV shows where they feature a black president sometimes as kind of a comical advantage thing. You know, you never really believed you would see and you - I grew up believing that America was too racially polarized for this to happen. But it's just it's just - it's really inspiring. And it's - I mean I can't get over it. It fills me with hope and inspiration, and all kinds of emotions I can't even quite put into words.

COX: Are you in disbelief, Robert, or you believe in it now?

Mr. REDDING: This is in no way to diminish Barack Obama's accomplishment or his vast amount of education and preparation for this day. But - and whites have been accused for saying this already, and we're accused of being racist, but I want to say that I don't think America had another choice. I don't think we could take four more years of the same. And I think he was right in that he positioned himself the way he needed to and yeah, I'm still in a little disbelief about it, and I hope that he can stay allowed to do some of the things that he wants to do because that is a concern.

COX: Well our time is out. Harry, unfortunately I can't get the last word to you. We'll have to save you for the next conversation on this topic which you know, all of you know, we will be revisiting. Harry Allen maintains the blog mediaassassin@harryallen.info. He joined us from NPR studios in New York, Patrice Yersick(ph) blogs at afrobella.com. She joined us from the studios of The Miami Herald, and Robert Redding publishes Reddingnewsreview.com. He joined us from Louisiana. Everybody, thank you very much.

Mr. REDDING: Thank you.

Mr. ALLEN: Thank you so much, Tony.

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