Barack and Michelle Obama team up with Netflix to deliver the animated civics lesson nobody asked for
Barack and Michelle Obama have previewed their latest political project: an animated music series to teach the virtues of American civics to kids.
Hitting Netflix next month, ‘We The People’ is a 10-part series that, according to Netflix, “combines music and animation to educate a new generation of young Americans about the power of the people.”
Developed by the Obamas’ own production company, Higher Ground, the series features upbeat songs from the likes of Adam Lambert, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Janelle Monáe. Crooning and rapping, the artists guide kids through a range of subjects, including citizenship, voting, taxes and activism.
Michelle and I are excited to share our latest show from Higher Ground: We The People. Some of our favorite artists got together with amazing animators to remix civics—and the result is a lot better than what we had in school. Check it out on @Netflix this July 4. pic.twitter.com/PlsSyq5pgk— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 2, 2021
Accompanying the soulful tunes are visuals that combine psychedelic meltdown with the insipid flat design beloved by corporations and marketers. Think artsy shots of cut-out hipsters extolling the virtues of same-sex marriage, and purple-haired baristas raising a fist for Black Lives Matter.
We The People combines music & animation to educate young people about basic civics. Featuring performances by H.E.R., Janelle Monáe, Cordae, Amanda Gorman, and EP'd by Barack and Michelle Obama. Drops July 4 pic.twitter.com/4nHDl6C4oX— Netflix Naija (@NetflixNaija) June 2, 2021
It’s a love letter to the politics and themes Obama espoused on the campaign trail in ‘08: people power, diversity, and a belief in the core goodness of America’s institutions. Needless to say, the show likely won’t feature a drone pilot bombing a Yemeni wedding, and definitely won’t explain the ins and outs of politically-motivated wiretapping or cross-border gun-walking through the medium of rap. Some defining moments of the Obama presidency will be omitted from this civics lesson.
That aside, it is uncertain how well the Obamas’ message will resonate in 2021. Just as the 2008 financial crisis killed off Obama’s slogan of ‘Hope’ in the eyes of many voters, the Trump presidency – and the Democrat reaction to it – has permanently changed American politics.
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The trailer promises an episode on ‘checks and balances,’ featuring red and blue characters soaring atop an eagle together, and the sage justices of the Supreme Court literally handing power down to the people. Though young viewers may be fooled, adults in the room will likely experience some cognitive dissonance between the wholesome images on screen, and a reality in which Republicans obstruct court appointments for their own political aims, and Democrats are busy attempting to shred the checks and balances preventing them from ramming legislation through Congress with the slimmest of majorities.
Likewise, an episode on activism features plucky characters marching against a line of dour figures in suits. Reconciling that with a reality in which some ‘activists’ spent the last year looting and burning cities and on one occasion shooting a political opponent dead, will take some mental gymnastics.
The show will likely be received well by Obama’s friends in the liberal media, and panned by conservatives. Such a split reaction is par for the course in an America riven by political and cultural warfare – a country in which the civic-mindedness and cooperation portrayed in ‘We The People’ has long since departed.
It’s not the only project Higher Ground has in the works too. Obama’s company is also developing a ‘comedy’ series “loosely inspired” by the book ‘The Fifth Risk’ by Michael Lewis, which charted the chaotic transition between Obama’s administration and Trump’s. The word ‘comedy,’ critics have already noted, is open to interpretation.
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