Memorializing with memorabilia
By Monica Hesse,
The road to the White House is paved with tote bags. Also champagne flutes, cotton throw blankets, baby onesies, toddler tees, grown-up tees and a blue-and-gold golf divot tool, retailing for the entirely manageable price of $15. (“Be prepared for 18 holes with this divot tool featuring the inaugural seal. Made in the USA.”)
America, it is time to commemorate. On Thursday, the Presidential Inaugural Committee launched the 57th Presidential Inauguration Commemorative Collection, which is the official online retail outlet for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. A brick-and-mortar store will follow later this month, down at the corner of 11th and F. But for now, the merchandise can be perused online.
A $25 motorcade mug? Click! Some $15 Obama tube socks? Click! A $7,500 medallion set? Cli — Whoa, no. Best not, although the medallions are “official,” come in gold, silver and bronze, and include a decorative display box.
A news release explains it all. “The memorabilia will reflect the PIC’s official theme for the 57th Presidential Inauguration: ‘Our People. Our Future,’ which expresses the belief that this inauguration is not just a celebration of a president, it’s a celebration of the American people.”
Celebrate, America. Celebrate by throwing caution to the wind and purchasing the entire Button Collectors set, which, for $30, includes the entire line of 14 inaugural buttons: Barack. Michelle. Barack and Michelle. Joe. Bo. The inaugural seal.
America loves commemoration, almost as much as it loves nostalgia. Both involve a fuzzy, soft-focus kind of emotion — the idea that our lives are waiting to be wrapped up in acid-free paper and tucked into hope chests. America is built on the dried corsage, the dry-cleaned wedding dress, the souvenir T-shirt (always scratchy; never the right size). Built on the optimistic assumption that when our 401(k)s crumble, we can ride out retirement on the statistics side of limited-edition baseball cards.
Politically speaking, we have loved commemorations ever since George Washington’s inauguration, when 26 known varieties of buttons were produced for public purchasing, and since 1893, when Grover Cleveland’s bust topped a silver inauguration spoon, and since 1981 and ’85, when people celebrated Ronald Reagan’s inauguration with key chains and swizzle sticks.
(In 1889, Benjamin Harrison re-commemorated the 100th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration by offering a commemorative anniversary ax. It was 13 inches long and featured a cut-out profile of George Washington in the middle of the blade.)
The official Commemorative Collection is only the beginning of the ways in which citizens will memorialize with memorabilia.
Soon the street vendors will start up, down on the Mall, with all their two-for-10s and three-for-12s, their Bo Obama bobblehead bugaboo, selling 2008 for half price and couching the inventory as “retro.”
Soon the party stores will stock their front windows with inaugural-themed napkins, which will come only in packs of 200, which we will be forced to trot out at every party — first ironically, then desperately — until we die.
The proceeds of the PIC’s sales will go to support a weekend’s worth of inaugural events, including the National Day of Service.
“Whether it’s a t-shirt, coffee mug or commemorative poster, the goal of this official memorabilia is to help Americans across the country share in this historic event,” writes Addie Whisenant, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
To boot, she adds, every item is made in the U.S.A.