It doesn’t attempt the kind of analysis I try with the State of the Union addresses, but chir.ag has a great visual tool that builds tag clouds for hundreds of important presidential speeches and texts, all the way back to the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s State of the Union speeches.
The site has a slider, allowing you to dynamically scroll through the clouds, seeing at a glance what words stick out during what time periods. In the late sixties, “Vietnam” is very bold, indicating it was used quite frequently in presidential speeches. The word “economic” dominates the seventies.
Here’s one surprise: during the eight Reagan years one prominent word is “God.” And that’s one word that doesn’t often appear in G.W. Bush’s speeches, even though he is far more evangelical and beholden to the Christian Right than Reagan ever was.
One thing that would make chir.ag’s dynamic tag cloud even more functional would be an “anchor” feature, in which you could select a specific word, and that word would be highlighted all the way through the hundreds of clouds, whenever it appeared. It’d be fascinating to take an unlikely word (for example, “healing”–which was one of the top 100 words in Gerald Ford’s first address to Congress on August 12, 1974) and see who else uses that word and in what contexts.
In honor of Memorial Day, I’m taking a break from my Danger in Suburbia series, and am digging into the archives for this Memorial Day-related post.
Twenty years ago, on May 23, 1985, the LA Times ran this article, reporting on President Reagan’s plans for Memorial Day. The headline reads “President to Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney World.” This paratactical pairing–Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney–is surely one of the greatest juxtapositions to ever occur, ironically or not, in newsprint in the free world.
Yet somehow, it’s very fitting, very Reaganesque.
Both the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery and Disney World theme park in Orlando are products of the same cultural impulses: ritualized nostalgia and the allure of fantastic (an anonymous soldier who dies so that we may live, whose death, because it is no single, identifiable soldier’s sacrifice, memorializes all soldiers’ deaths…how different is that from the idea of a Magic Kingdom whose monorail whisks individuals away from their lives in the parking lots into a world of talking mice and space mountains?
Well, okay, quite a bit different…but I still think both concepts represent two key cultural phenomenon which define America. And Reagan, as always, embodies both at once. War and entertainment, patriotism and consumerism, memory and fiction.
Today I discovered that I am two people away from knowing Jodie Foster, which, technically, because of John Hinckley, Jr., puts me ever closer to Ronald Reagan. A friend in Philadelphia studied for a time under John Douglas, the former FBI profiler who was a consultant for Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs. Douglas gave Foster tips on how exactly one gets into the mind of a serial killer. The tips worked. Jodie Foster even thanked Douglas in her acceptance speech for the 1992 Best Actress Academy Award.
Incidentally, Douglas told my friend that the morning Hinckley shot Reagan in 1981 he (Hinckley) woke up with two plans in his head. The first plan was to assassinate Reagan in order to impress Foster, then a student at Yale University. The alternative plan was to head to National Airport (ironically, now known as Reagan National), hijack a plane, land it on the green at Yale and exchange all his hostages for Jodie. Then they’d fly off into the sunset. Hinckley was weighing both plans equally, but finally chose the first plan, simply because it was more convenient.