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April 29, 2008

Summary of My Discontent: All eyes (almost) on Derby 2.0

Now that we’ve got the snow, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes out of the way, we’re almost ready to focus on the world’s greatest horse race. But before we can watch Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton cross the finish line, we’ve got the Kentucky Derby to contend with and/or enjoy. Because the presidential primary campaigns have descended upon us during Derby season, the nation’s eyes are upon Kentuckiana. Technically, the nation’s gaze is fixed a few degrees below us. It would aim directly at us, but — thanks to the gadgetization of America — all eyes are instead trained on cell phones, iPods, Crackberries, blogs, Twitter feeds, comment flameouts, StalkerSpace, Skype, Gizmondos, PlayStations, cameras, iPhones, PMPs, MP3s, Blueteeth and AccuJack 3000s instead.Every activity in America is now mandatory audience-participation. Nobody really experiences anything anymore — instead, we experience ourselves experiencing things. I can already overhear the thousands of fascinating and mission-critical conversations inside Churchill Downs: “I’m going in now. I’m in now. I’m here. I can see you. Can you see me? I’m waving! See me?! I see you!, etc.” And the instant reporting online will be invaluable: “… just standing in line waiting to pee and thought I would share my inner thoughts about this very special Kentucky Derby moment …” As the horses come down the stretch in Derby 2.0, I will be disappointed if the jockeys aren’t shooting videos of themselves and uploading them to YouTube while playing RockBand online and texting flame wars to the comments section of their horses’ MySpace blogs, all at full gallop. But the nation’s eyes are almost on us, so we are all busy picking up our litter, sucking in our guts and trimming our lawns and nose hairs and waxing our cars and other unmentionables. NBC announcer Bob Costas even had some low-rider jeans custom made to show off his “Talk Derby To Me” tramp stamp.While Louisville prepared for Derby, Sen. John McCain brought his “Bomb Iran” tour to Inez (which is an ancient Greek word meaning “bitterly clinging to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them as a way to explain their frustrations”). In Inez, McCain blamed Americans for expecting too much of their government, saying, “Government can’t create good and lasting jobs … can’t send your kids to college.” Which is a good point. It’s not like America is Europe or California. He then angrily shook several Inezians by their lapels and shouted, “And supper’s not going to shoot itself, people!”Meanwhile, Southern Indiana got visits from Barack Obama and Chelsea Clinton, both of whom looked like a Barnstable at a Cracker Barrel. Obama offered a message of hope in a “town hall” meeting in New Albany, where he promised throngs of well wishers that he would remain handsome and non-threatening during his tenure as president. “I will be thinking about you the entire time I am in the White House,” he told the crowd at Indiana University Southeast, stopping short of promising to send everyone a “Wish You Were Here” e-greeting and poke them on Facebook.Also seeking the highly prized New Albanian vote was Chelsea Clinton, who flashed her trademark smile and tried to disguise her thought balloon, which said, “Please stop and think about who my parents are and how screwed up inside that makes me before you crack that next joke.” The Clinton campaign says Chelsea will attend the Derby but Hillary won’t be coming, which seems like a wasted opportunity. What better place to talk about her initiatives to rein in managed care expenditures and expand early-intervention programs for at-risk youth than while tossing back some boilermakers with her fellow barflies? But the Derby always has a few last-minute, unannounced celebrity guests. It would be sweet if Obama and Clinton both showed up on Millionaire’s Row (which, along with “Skid” is one of the only two rows left in America). Not only could they take a break from politics to experience some good old-fashioned Kentucky hospitality,* but they could wager their entire campaigns on the Derby, winner take all. It’s not like the voters can decide anyway.  * Such as rubbing elbows with Justin Timberlake.Contact the writer at jimwelp@gmail.com