Becoming a little bored: review of Michelle Obama’s book tour

I went to see Michelle Obama talk last night (#IAmBecoming), along with my wife, and a stadium full of other folks, about 80% women and all the skin colours: Vancouver’s visible minorities were out in force! The less visible ones too, I am sure.

The show was structured as a “conversation” with an “interviewer” prompting her to tell stories about her life, excerpted from her autobiography, Becoming. I’ve read about a third of it so far, and it is well-written and interesting, and hearing Michelle tell some of those stories “live” was fun — if you can call it “live” when someone is speaking into a microphone 300m away, and the only possible way you can actually see her is to look up at a giant screen. (Disclaimer: I am not a huge fan of live events. )

She has a lovely sense of humour. I laughed out loud several times. That was roughly as good as it got for me.

Before I start to gripe here, let me be clear: I really like the Obamas. But I didn’t particularly like Michelle’s “show” last night.

The presentation and content didn’t do much for me: a lot of repetitive platitudes about human potential. The whole thing could be unflatteringly summed up as a couple hours of “never give up on your dreams!” Which is fine as far as it goes. I guess. More substance and nuance would have been nice — even for just that theme! But it was the elementary punchline to just about everything she said, and there wasn’t really anything else.

Let’s put it this way: if it had been an anonymous motivational speaker, I would have left after twenty minutes.

But it was Michelle Obama, so I stuck it out, and became a little bored. Of course, it wasn’t really meant for me. I am a middle-aged white male. If I’d been a 16-year-old black lesbian, I probably would have been pretty fired up. And that’s great.

I didn’t expect a lot of politics and current events, but literally anything would have been nice. Instead all we got was a couple of exasperated insinuations about the current tenants of the White House, which got the obligatory wild cheers. It was like throwing raw meat to hungry lions: that audience was waiting to cheer for the slightest insult directed towards He Who Cannot Be Named).

I didn’t expect a lot of Canadian content, either, but I was hoping for something more than the reflexive “what a beautiful city you have.” She referred to “this country” at least a dozen times, obviously not meaning Canada, and that grated on my nerves a bit. I know Canada-blindness is epidemic in Americans, who tend to think of us like a 52nd state that’s just in denial. But still.

I also would have been interested in even the slightest seasoning of personal current events — what are you doing lately, Michelle, other than a book tour? What’s Barak up to this week? How are the girls doing? Two minutes of small talk to make it feel a little more actually “live.” But nope: even though the individual sentences seemed to be improvised, she was sticking assiduously to an excerpts-from-the-book script.

And then, of course, there was the inevitable tedious bus ride home: long wait for the bus, packed bus the entire way home, and all way past my bedtime. My bedtime has gotten quite rigid and ritualistic in the last three months as I’ve finally, gotten serious about the consistency of my sleeping schedule, better years late than never. So that’s official: I’m definitely an old man now.