As if picking a school and a puppy weren’t enough—oh, yes, and fixing the economy and dealing with two wars—Barack Obama now has to decide whether to let his daughters appear on one of their favorite TV shows, Hannah Montana.
I do not know Barack Obama. I can only guess, as a father, what his reaction (not to mention Michelle’s) probably is: Hell, no. Followed by a faint feeling of dread at having to tell them that.
It’s nothing against Hannah Montana. But I would have to imagine a parent is going to be anxious about the kids suddenly entering a life where the doors to the candy store suddenly burst open, with every Billy Ray Cyrus tossing out unsolicited tribute. You want a guest shot on your favorite show? It’s yours! Want the Jonas Brothers to come to your house? Name the date!
But whether they appear on the show or not, their parents will still have to deal with the fact that their girls have already been drafted as media stars. And on top of all that, they will do that as the first black First Family, which means that they have also been drafted collectively as media symbols. Fairly or not, every move they make will be a counterweight to every image of African Americans in the media to date. Every shot of the kids going to school, of Michelle making an appearance, of the President meeting with a world leader will be counterpoised, consciously or not, with a history of movie and TV images of dropouts, welfare moms and black men as problems. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about the Obamas’ image in his Atlantic blog, “I don’t think a lot of folks understand how hard black people take their portrayal in mainstream media. We probably spend more time bemoaning the latest R. Kelley affair, than bemoaning racism.”
Obama didn’t run against R. Kelly. He ran to be President, not a symbol, and his family didn’t run for anything at all. But the symbolism comes with the house keys. It’s not fair, of course, but neither is the whole having-to-fix-the-economy business. That said, I expect the Obamas will want to pull back on their kids’ media stardom where they can—which may, sadly for Sasha and Malia, include Disney Channel appearances. But at least they can still count on the puppy.