The alienating spectacle that is the Democratic convention

“I think it’s lousy,” I whisper during Michelle Obama’s appearance Tuesday night to a colleague who’s sitting rapt before his monitor obviously thinking just the opposite. When I get no response, I elaborate, expand. “She’s overacting. Two gestures for every word. I don’t like all the family nostalgia either: the ‘we were so poor and in debt’ stuff. It’s corny. Patronizing. She’s trying to do some hypnotic regression thing, too, where we all fall in love with the old ‘08 Obama again and block out everything that’s happened since.” …

But I’m in the minority on this. What strikes me as melodramatic posturing strikes those around me, judging by their comments, as either immaculate political showmanship or genuine passion, which I find preposterous. Still, they predict with assurance that the speech will be deemed a success, and I guess they ought to know because they’re the ones who will start the deeming process. Which, in fact, has already begun. And which, in fact, turns out just the way they said it would, which I learn when I finally get back to my room and turn on cable TV. What I thought I was seeing clearly, through my own eyes—a wandering, vaporous, contrived display of middle-brow sentimentality and word-goo—I entirely misinterpreted, apparently. Or everyone else misinterpreted it, perhaps, which comes to the same thing.

To disagree with the conventional wisdom even as it’s being born around you—and even as you’re trying with all your might to anticipate and even shape it—is a profoundly disorienting experience. It makes you wonder if you were there at all, or if there even exists a there to be at. Ideally, a convention would be a ground zero of factuality, an objective reality in a shifting universe of spin and opinion and second-order commentary. But the further you get inside one, I’m discovering, the more deliriously lost you feel, particularly to the self that you came in with. How does one both enter the group mind and stay inside one’s own mind? It’s a challenge.