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I Watched President Obama in My TV History Class -- Where Were You?
January 20, 2009  | By David Bianculli

Purely by coincidence, the opening-day class of my Tuesday "TV History & Appreciation 2" class at Rowan University began at 10:50 a.m. -- the perfect time of day to make Barack Obama's inauguration part of the curriculum. How cool...

First day of class, usually, is a brief affair. Explain the course, describe the syllabus, take roll, give a mini-lecture, show something fun and fast, and get out of Dodge. But this was different.

I prepared a brief montage of clips enumerating previous Inaugural speech home runs (FDR's "...fear itself," JFK's "Ask not..."), memorable Lincoln Memorial appearances (including King's "I have a dream..."), and a history of the Mall in Washington, D.C.

Then, to lighten things up and set the stage, two clips from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: one from the day in 2007 Obama announced his candidacy, and one from the day in Philadelphia when Obama gave his speech on race. Both Daily Show programs featured "senior black correspondent" Larry Wilmore, and both were brilliant.


Then it was time to turn to live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony. My order to students was to have them take notes if any lines from Obama's speech leapt out -- if a "fear itself" home run was hidden in there somewhere. Then we watched -- on CBS, for the record -- as Aretha Franklin sang, Rick Warren prayed, Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman played, and Obama spoke.

Afterward, a half-dozen students offered possible suggestions, but the overall consensus was that it was the tone and message of the speech, rather than one particular phrase, that stood out. And several students, I'm proud to say, savored Obama's grammar and sentence structure.

I told the students that it wasn't television that made this event important - but that the event itself was hugely historic, and TV made it easily accessible. Even in a college classroom, on a giant screen, as part of the opening salvo of a course very aptly titled "TV History & Appreciation."

Obama's speech afforded a little of each.

So where were you, and what was YOUR reaction?




Sarah said:

Where was I? Home. What I thought? That's even better. In college I majored in history but my other passions are film and television and was lucky enough to sneak in a TV production class here and there with a minor in film studies, so to me this was the best of both worlds (also as a "former" history and TV student it sounded like your first day of classes would have been my favorite, TDS with Jon Stewart is good). I think that both the speech and the event itself were amazing. Not to mention hearing his words and seeing all those people made me proud. I sat and watch all day (It's almost 10 pm and I am still watching). It was the first time I was able to watch an entire inauguration and it didn't disappoint.

Comment posted on January 20, 2009 10:04 PM

Sally W. said:

We pretty much paused at work to watch from the tv in the boss' office. I was amazed by the sight of the sea of humanity; amazed by the feeling of watching history! I still preferred from watching tv rather than on-line (people had trouble accessing, I guess because of the over-loaded bandwidth). Watching from tv really brought people together.

I agree that the tone was really key. I think I've watched a number of Obama speeches, enough to say that he made more soaring speeches in the past; but his call for responsibility and work was needed for such times. I especially liked Obama's line about choosing hope over fear and the poignant reference to his father and America's history.

Just being part of the viewing was just great - I loved seeing clips on the local NYC news of how people paused to watch from the big screens at Times Square, Wall Street, and Harlem. Just great stuff!

Comment posted on January 21, 2009 12:39 AM

Becky said:

My Husband and I were watching from our home in the very red state of Wyoming. I found HOPE in our new President's speech. Hope, replacing the fear and hate of the last eight years. The pure dignity, well spoken calmness of this man amazes me. It is so nice to have intelligence back in leadership.

Honestly, "Yes we can" dare to dream again.

Comment posted on January 21, 2009 1:10 AM

Penny said:

I was in my Art class room located in a elementary k-8th grade school in Phoenix, Arizona watching the inauguration. Granted yesterday was my day to have special education kids in the room but I had it on anyway, actually it was easier to watch with that group because adult assistants accompany them. What I was able to see (I'll watch the TIVOed version later) I was very impressed with, particularly Obama's speech. Got to go..... coffee's ready.

Comment posted on January 21, 2009 8:37 AM

Cathy said:

I felt the same as other posters. I was really impressed with the pageantry, Obama's spare, but smart address and the turnout for this historic event.

Off topic a bit, but it would've completed my day to see the expressions of Bush and Cheney during the address. I wonder if any broadcast network had one camera fixed on them. Most would probably say that it wouldn't have been appropriate. Call me crazy, but it would've been interesting.

Comment posted on January 21, 2009 10:09 AM

Patrick said:

Our labs all gathered in the library's filled auditorium. Being filled with grad/med students, researchers, and doctors, you can imagine his commitment to science line getting the most applause.

Comment posted on January 21, 2009 12:10 PM

Tom said:

I watched from my work cafeteria. The place was never so crowded or quiet.

Glad to hear you are at Rowan. I attended 20 years ago when it was still known as Glassboro State. Not sure if my old broadcasting professor is still there but give my best to Mr Mickey if he is. (If Mr. Mickey is Mike Donovan, he's one of the guys with whom I'm teaching TV History and Appreciation 1. Great guy -- and terrific teacher. And yes, he's been around forever, teaching as long as I've been a TV critic. So it's probably the same professor, and I'll tell him you said hi -- But all I've got is your first name, Tom. -- David B.)

Comment posted on January 23, 2009 1:32 PM

Marlark said:

I was running a sales meeting in Orlando (50 degrees outside, brr) and right before our lunch break we rolled in a TV and watched the inauguration -- alongside the dormant PowerPoint slides of account plans and emarketing campaigns.

Somehow, our strategies for a successful 2009 were dwarfed by responsibilities and clear-minded sense of purpose demonstrated by this new world leader.

For those of us in the room -- even our sales reps from overseas -- we made sure this was TV Worth Watching.

Comment posted on January 25, 2009 1:39 AM

Ivan said:

I was in a TV History class too, jotting down notes and looking for "fears themselves" and "asking nots." Listening to the speech, it leapt out as a call to action, not to hide, but to persevere. It reminded me a bit of Lincoln, very plainspoken, but very rousing.

Comment posted on February 3, 2009 4:01 PM
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