They May Be May Be Meaningless Performative Speech Acts, But They’re Our Meaningless Performative Speech Acts: UPDATED

by anna on January 21, 2009

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Like many people, I spent Tuesday morning watching the Presidential Inauguration. I believe this is the first time in my life I’ve done so. And with good reason: Inauguration ceremonies are boring. This one was exciting for its symbolic importance, of course, and this is probably why I watched. Also, there was the fact that Aretha Franklin said the C-word on national television.

What was interesting to me, beyond all the historical significance and the-country-has-come-so-far reflection is that we have this thing we do in formal ceremonies like this, where somebody says something, and “pronounces” that you are something. The Chief Justice–whom Obama didn’t vote for, and who is a lower ranking government official anyway, gets to “pronounce” that Obama is President. And it’s a big deal I guess because until this “pronouncement” is made, he’s not officially President.

Except he is. Because he became President officially at noon, even the absence of the oath–it’s written into the Constitution to do it that way, who knows why, maybe from back in the day where the President had to actually fight in wars while in office or something? And so if they didn’t get around to swearing him in, it would be OK, he’d still be on the payroll, because the Constitution says that’s OK. What if, after it turned noon, Obama just got up and said, “Well, it’s lunchtime,” and left the podium? He would still be Presdient, right? By law.

So what is the oath for, then?

And this goes way beyond the Inauguration. You’re not telling the truth in court until you are compelled to do so by an oath sworn on the Bible. You’re not married until some official pronounces you to be so. You’re not even dead until a doctor looks at a clock, dramatically throws down his surgical gloves, and calls it. Explorers back in the day would come to a new land, stick a flag in the ground and, announce “I claim this land for Spain.” And everybody around them is like, “OK. Seems reasonable.” Is this a practice invented by toddlers?

But let me get to my beef. My beef today is with Starbucks. Oh yes.

Because on Tuesday (in honor of the Inauguration) you could get a free small coffee at Starbucks, if you were willing to orally “pledge” to do five hours of community service. Let’s not dwell on what a colossally bum deal that is, because DUH. No, no, the point is this: what about the sanctity of the meaningless performative speech act, Starbucks?! Are you mocking America? Because isn’t this stupid pledge scheme just an elaborate ruse aimed at getting people to come in, ask for a free coffee, and then lie? To take a meaningless pledge that they have no intention of fulfilling, and that you have no intention of enforcing? Why are you raining on America’s charade parade, Starbucks? Why do you hate freedom?

Because, let’s be honest, somebody who is willing to do community service at $0.40 per hour is probably willing to do it for free, is my guess. I think somebody willing to take that kind of deal is probably in it for the long haul, you know? They’re probably not in it for all the swag View definition in a new window that comes with a glamorous career in community service. In fact, I bet they would probably just forgo the free fucking coffee, you know, rather than be insulted by your dumbass oath. In fact, they’d probably splurge and get a venti–since they’ve been working so hard, for free–they’d figure they deserve it, is my guess.

Which means, Starbucks, that anyone who claims your stupid promo is probably just a super cheap liar, in all likelihood. Exactly the kind of thing we want to encourage, eh?

Listen, I know the oaths are ultimately meaningless. You know they are ultimately meaningless. But we Americans like our ceremonies, our pomp and circumstance. We might not have any real faith in the performative speech act, and we might even mock the tradition of it in our blogs and political satire television programming. But there has to be a line drawn somewhere, Starbucks. Asking us to take a fraudulent oath in the name of a Tall drip is just too far. You could at least have offered a venti skinny latte, with an extra shot. Oh, and ten packets of Splenda.

UPDATE: See, these speech acts are so important that they even made Obama take ANOTHER useless oath today, since the one yesterday was said out of order. @@

{ 6 comments }

anna January 21, 2009 at 10:30 am

Is it the ten Splendas? Was that too much?

anna January 21, 2009 at 10:39 am

Or, defacing the American Flag with a Starbucks logo? offensive?

J. January 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I think it would have been really funny had Barack simply left after noon and went to the Oval office to make a couple of calls. But then, everybody would have been sooo disappointed. And I don’t need Starbuck’s to make me a liar, I can do that all on my own.

J.´s last blog post..Soundtrack To My Mother’s Death

anna January 21, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Yes. Exactly.

But why is nobody commenting on the fact that Aretha said the C-word on CNN?

Kerry January 22, 2009 at 6:02 am

I went upstairs to fill a sippy cup when Aretha was on, and I didn’t bother to pause and rewind. I would have if I’d known she was going to say the c-word.

rebecca January 23, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Warning: Nerdy Comment Underway

Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution states:
Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States; and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend, the Constitution of the United States.”

So, before he takes power, the President-elect must take the oath. I don’t suppose the he would have to swear on a Bible. He can “affirm” on good faith, maybe? Additionally, the President isn’t over the Chief Justice. The three branches were set up so that power wouldn’t be centralized and checks and balances can be achieved. I’m thinking that if a President-elect didn’t take that oath and any member of the citizenry objected, the winning candidate could be rejected by the Supreme Court because Constitutionally the President isn’t the President unless he took the oath. Until things were resolved the VP, assuming he or she did take the oath, would be the acting President.

Aren’t I a smarty? I have a third grader who just studied this process. Uh, this post was about Starbucks though. Nevermind. I’ll push up my glasses and resume my lurking status now.

rebecca´s last blog post..Because It’s All About Me

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