Celebrities

We are going to start this post off with a disclaimer: We love Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Dwayne “Do we still call him the Rock?” Johnson, and all other celebrities. You are great people, great entertainers, and -by all accounts- kind and amazing human beings… or also Mark Zuckerberg. So, please know that we say this with the utmost respect and love: DO NOT RUN FOR PRESIDENT. Please, please do not run for President. If name recognition was all it took to be a good leader, than right now you would think America should be living in a utopia. Yet, we are currently suffering under a populist ego-maniacal  reality star with delusions of… well, everything, because -surprise, surprise- being rich and popular are not exactly the best qualifiers for being leader of a country.

A Golden Globe Age
You have to hand it to America, there is one thing we still do better than the rest of the world, and that is fawn over celebrities. America is practically a celebrity factory. Are you a marginally good singer? Actor? Are you rich? Are you the son/daughter of someone who is rich? Have you made a sex tape? Well, congratulations you might just become America’s next big “thing.” And, that is great. Enjoy your time in the spotlight and having your face plastered on magazines and paparazzi following your every move. We do not deny you your right to be popular and beloved, but what we do care about is when you think it is time to use that fame to transition to power.

Oprah Winfrey, is the most recent name to be floated and dissected as a possible Presidential candidate, but giving out cars to your audience members on your talk show does not make you qualified to work with Congress or negotiate with NATO. We like to think of celebrities as viable candidates because we know them, and in some instances we trust them. We have watched them on the big and small screens. They feel like people we care about, or people who could be our friends, or just people we want to harass over Twitter. Sometimes they even seem to be responsible and in control, but we have to understand that is what we are supposed to think. There are teams around celebrities to make them appear as who they are. Oprah hosted a heck of a show, -that also questionable medical advice- but it was completely designed to make it look like she was the person we think she is. How does that qualify her to make decisions that affect the entire world? Will Smith is often portrayed as a responsible, intelligent, hero who really doesn’t have time for you nonsense. Those sound like great attributes for a President, but stop and think. Would you be electing Will Smith the person, or the person he plays in movies?

Replacing one amateur President with another -even if this time they are on your side of the political spectrum- gets us less than nothing. What will become of America if we start electing Presidents the same way we used to elect the class president in high school? Popularity does not lend itself to leadership, and neither we nor the world need another President whose best attribute is name recognition. Our political capital on the international stage is already taking a beating, and if continue to elect a string of celebrities as our leaders, than what does that say about us as a society? Have we become so lost in our own pop culture that we can no longer distinguish fame from power, or celebrities from politicians? Is America doomed to be led by one famous person after another?

The Post Trump America
A constant revolving door of celebrities in the Oval Office may sound like a far fetched notion, but we have already committed the first sin. We have elected a reality TV star to the Presidency, instead of a career woman politician. In many way, we broke the wrong glass ceiling. Now, in the world of Trump, we have begun to see every inspirational speech, not so much as a call to action, but a call to the voting booth. By all accounts Oprah gave a moving speech addressing a real problem in Hollywood and America, -the widespread sexual misconduct toward women- but that was not what we took away from it. Instead of remaining focused on her message, we zeroed in on her possible political ambitions, but maybe in a world where the guy from The Apprentice and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York City, now sits in the White House, how could we think otherwise?

The line between celebrities and presidents is growing blurrier and that is worrisome. Essentially, we are making the President not just a celebrity, but a source of entertainment. We are taking the highest office in the land and turning it into a four year long television show. Oprah can recommended what books we should read from behind the Resolute Desk. She could give away tax breaks as she once gave away prizes on her show. We would feel warm and happy, as if our favorite neighbor had everything in control, but then what next? Maybe an action star for times of war? Maybe a comedian to help us laugh through our troubles? Why not? After all, Trump is running the country like the most riveting reality show out there.

We cannot allow the highest office in the land to become nothing more than fodder for every Tom, Dick, and Harry Connick Jr. out there who are starting to think that the next step after winning an Oscar is winning the Democratic nomination. We cried during Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day, but we would cry during President Bill Pullman’s inauguration speech, for completely different reasons. Playing the President in a movie where aliens invade Earth does not qualify a person to be the President, even if aliens were to actually invade Earth.

Reagan Did It
Now, you might say, “Look at Ronald Reagan,” and we will respond, “Yes, but…” Ronald Reagan was active in politics since the 1960’s. He led the Screen Actors Guild through labor disputes and the McCarthy hearings. He was elected Governor of California in 1967. He lost his Presidential bid in 1976, before being elected in 1980. Reagan was an actor, but he had governmental experience. He ran the state of California for eight years, and had serious political ambitions and thoughts. He will be long remembered as a President before being thought of as a “celebrity.” Now, we are not saying that there is not another Reagan hiding out there, -Governor Schwarzenegger is a good example- but for a celebrity to jump right to the Presidency without former civil or military service is unheard of… or at least it used to be.

In a way we have to blame John F. Kennedy. He was the first President to really have a celebrity look. He hung out with celebrities, -and let things hang out while he was around certain celebrities, if you know what we mean- and he was the first President to win a televised debate almost on handsomeness alone. After, that it was a slow fall toward image and popularity becoming more important than substance and issues. Presidential elections became more of a spectacle with each passing year, and in a way that has culminated in our current climate. We are responsible for creating an atmosphere where celebrities can become Presidents, and we are paying the price.

We have no doubt that a Trump/Oprah debate will get the higher ratings than America’s Got Talent, but is that what we really want, more spectacle? No serious Democrat will run against Oprah. The media attention she will get alone will snuff out their chances. Admittedly, we could be wrong and she might make a great President, but the damage will already be done. Celebrity and power will be forever affixed in the minds of Americans, and a singer’s next big music video could very easily double as their campaign announcement, or suddenly all the celebrities in Hollywood will be clamoring to play movie Presidents, if only to appear more Presidential.

Oh well, at least in 2032 we will finally get to vote for the Swift, Efron ticket.

Resolute Desk

It’s the Fourth of July and while many of you may be thinking about fireworks, or barbecues, or Bill Pullman speeches, we here at The NYRD have been doing a lot of thinking about desks. -Yes, we are the kind of people who spend our vacations thinking about office furniture- However, we’re not talking about just ANY desk, we’re talking about the Resolute Desk. It is a desk you know and admire, even if you have never heard the name before or seen a terrible Nicholas Cage movie. So, sit right back, grab a hot dog, light a sparkler, and let us learn you some history.

A Three Hour Tour
Our story begins with the HMS Resolute, a British arctic ship in service to Queen Victoria in the 19th century. We know… stay with us. The Resolute was dispatched as part of a five-ship expedition in April 1852 to search for Sir John Franklin. You see, Franklin had left Britain in 1845 looking for the fabled -and non-existent- Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic, and after 8 years his cable bills had started piling up. So the British Royal Navy decided that maybe it was time to go looking for him. The expedition was met with mixed results, in that they never found Franklin and the commander, Edward Belcher, abandoned four out the five ships. The Queen wasn’t too happy about that last part, so Belcher was nearly court-martialed and never received another naval commission again.

Our story doesn’t end there. The HMS Resolute continued to drift in the ice where she was encased. In 1855, she was discovered by an American whaler named James Buddington and his whaling ship the George Henry. -Now, whaling is not necessarily a worthy profession, but we’ll look the other way on this one- Buddington and his crew freed the Resolute -because: free ship- and sailed her back to Connecticut. Upon learning of the Resolute’s recovery and return to non-frozen land the British government called the whole thing a wash and relinquished all rights and ownership over the vessel.

In the early to middle 19th century America and Britain had a tense relationship. Even after the War of 1812, where they sort-of, kind-of, burned down our White House- tensions continued to flare for the next several decades. They were never crazy about the Monroe Doctrine. We also, inadvertently got tangled up in a Canadian Rebellion, there was some dispute over borders in Maine, more disputes over borders in Oregon, and an assorted other problems that made relations between the two Atlantic countries a bit problematic. It was so bad that Congress even talked about going to war… again with the United Kingdom. However, that all changed with the Resolute. Congress voted to set aside $40,000 to refit the Resolute and sail her back to London. In 1856, a United States Navy Captain presented the refurbished ship to Queen Victoria as a gesture of peace and a way to ease tension between the two countries. The gesture worked… at least for a little while, and the relationship between the UK and the US improved.

A Desk Made for a President
Lady Franklin -Sir John Franklin’s wife- wanted to use the Resolute to go searching for her husband, who at that point had been missing for 11 years. Queen Victoria refused, as he was almost certainly dead, and she feared that any damage done to the Resolute would also damage American-British relations. So the HMS Resolute was kept in safe harbor until she was broken up in 1879. From her timbers, Queen Victoria had four desks made, A lady’s desk, two small writing table, and the Resolute Desk. The first three desks have found their way to museums, and the Resolute Desk was presented by Victoria to president Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. -Little know fact: The B is for Bigalow-

The Resolute Desk was seen as another gesture of peace, and as such the desk has been used by every President since 1880, except Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. It started its tenure in the second floor office of the White House, but in 1902 it was moved to the newly constructed West Wing. -Back when it still have that new Martin Sheen to it- Yet, it still remained in the second-floor residence as a personal desk for use by Presidents. In 1952 Truman moved the desk to the new broadcast room, which is kind of like an ancient form of a podcast room. He used it when making radio and television broadcasts. When President Kennedy was elected he moved the desk into the Oval Office in 1961. After he “left” office, Johnson selected another desk to use in the Oval, and the Resolute Desk spent  a year in a Kennedy Library traveling show before being moved to the Smithsonian in 1966. That is where it would have stayed if President Carter hadn’t requested it be placed back in the Oval Office in 1977. Every modern President, except for George H. W. Bush, has since used the Resolute in the Oval Office.

The desk was modified twice in its lifetime. The first modification was requested by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He wanted a privacy panel created for the front, because he was a little sensitive about people seeing his legs… for some reason. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see the modification completed and had to suffice with putting a trash can in front of the desk to hide his lower-regions from view. The panel that was put on the front of the desk was created with the Presidential Seal at the time, which means it’s one of the last existing seals to show the eagle’s head pointing toward the gripped arrows instead of the olive branch, indicating war over peace. Truman was the one who changed the seal to move the eagle’s head to point at the olive branch, at the end of World War II. The second modification was to create a base for the desk to raise it up… because people nowadays are taller.

The inscription on the desk’s plaque reads: H.M.S. ‘Resolute’, forming part of the expedition sent in search of Sir John Franklin in 1852, was abandoned in Latitude 74º 41′ N. Longitude 101º 22′ W. on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855, in Latitude 67º N. by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler ‘George Henry’. The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England, as a gift to Her Majesty Queen Victoria by the President and People of the United States, as a token of goodwill & friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the Queen of Great Britain & Ireland, to the President of the United States, as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the “Resolute’.

It is also worth noting, that despite what conspiracy websites and terrible Nicholas Cage movies tell you, there is no twin Resolute desk sitting in Buckingham Palace or any other British Royal Residences.

Legacy of the Resolute
The HMS Resolute is a legacy of peace. The ship itself was given as a gift of peace and the Resolute Desk was then given as another gift of peace. Since it’s arrival in the US, the Resolute Desk has become a symbol synonymous with the power and office of the President, and that is important. It is a symbol of peace -despite that the seal on it indicating war- and it should be a reminder to anyone who sits behind it that the United States always works better when it is making allies instead of enemies. -Also, it once made for that cute JFK picture, but we’re getting off-track. That symbolism of peaceful relations is something worth remembering, and it should be something that every occupant of that desk takes into consideration.

After all, the President of the United States does not sit on a throne. The symbol of his power is not a giant golden chair located in the center of some great hall where he issues decrees and proclamation with absolute authority. He is not a king. No, this symbol of the American Presidency is, a desk, an object meant for work. A desk is a place where people sit, and write, and read, and make compromises. It is a place that a dedicated professional uses to accomplish an important task. It is the place of an American President, not the throne of an American King, and that is something we should all keep in mind as we celebrate this patriotic holiday.