The Associated Press
Associated Press
President Barack Obama waves after delivering his Inaugural address at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Ted Anthony, AP's editor-at-large and frequent writer about American culture, looks at the meaning of today's inauguration.


A half-century ago, Daniel J. Boorstin, one of the country's most famous historians, coined the term "pseudo-event" — an event that happens for the sole purpose of being watched. "The celebration is held, photographs are taken, the occasion is widely reported," he wrote.

That was today's presidential inauguration — right down to the letter.

So much of politics is a scripted affair already. Much of what is done by politicians and those who govern is designed to be "on message," to "play to the base" or "stick to the talking points." Speeches are written by five, 10, 20 people and then emerge from the mouth of one. It's hard to determine precisely what is accomplished and what is, for lack of a better term, "accomplished."

Even in the realm of scripted affairs, though, this was noteworthy: It was the scripted version of a scripted version. A pseudo-pseudo-event. The actual inauguration took place Sunday in the relative privacy of the White House because the actual Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday. Today's public version contained thousands of people, lots of dressed-up dignitaries on stage, Supreme Court justices — and an oath of office that, from a legal standpoint, meant nothing.

When it comes to the American identity, of course, we need and savor these events. They invoke national themes and foster pride. They tell us: Continuity exists, the nation goes on. They give the president an opportunity to deliver a real message amid all the careful calibration.

But as Americans consider this day, it's worth considering how very American, too, is the scripted event that took place in front of their capitol and on their television, video and smartphone screens. And you might ask: In the end, which one was the real event?

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://twitter.com/anthonyted


Inauguration Watch follows the events of President Barack Obama's second inaugural. Look for short items and photos throughout the day.