«The best conversations also possess a timeless quality: they transport us back into the realm of memories and propel us forward to the hopes and dreams we have. By revealing the stories we have and by listening to the stories of others, they remind us that we are not alone; and maybe they help us understand each other a little better.» If these stories are « simply fantastic to recount «, then the storytelling game gains power. To the point of becoming literature. To the point of becoming «History».

The discussions between Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen, which were recorded in 2020 and were published yesterday worldwide simultaneously, are not just a book deal. They’re much more. They reveal the open and progressive face of a country still deeply divided, they are an attempt to mend with words the torn fabric of red and blue America, the America of the conservatives fiercely opposed to that of the liberals. It is not a bible of progressive thinking, however; neither is it a treaty of tolerant pedagogy. Rather, a practical example of how to debate. And of how useful dialogue is. «You won’t find answers,« Springsteen tells readers, « but rather two people committed to research, doing their best to find better questions.»

«We wanted to offer, with some humility, a sense that there is a common American story that is capable of overcoming the bias, the division, the anger and bitterness fueled during the last few years,« said Obama in an interview with CBS. «Perhaps it is naive to think that it is possible to reconstruct this common story. But I would prefer it to the cynicism of those who say there is no chance of doing so.»

Born in the USA

Within the pages of «Renegades. Born in the USA» there are a lot of words and also scores and scores of pictures, sheets of notes, documents. An album of memories. At the same time, it is a trip through the hectic - and sometimes difficult to understand - transformations of a complicated country.

The United States serves as a common thread. «Maybe one thing that Bruce and I share - his music and my politics - is the conviction that people are not static. And I think America is proof that things are not static,« the former president explains.

«We are both creatures with the ‘Born in the USA’ label. There is no other nation that could have put together the mix of traits that make up a Barack Obama or a Bruce Springsteen,« the singer says in turn. Born in the USA, sure, but able to speak to the world. One with music. The other through politics.

«They can do it because they are both great stars, two legends - says the media historian Peppino Ortoleva, theorist of the « communicating society» and acute observer of «Rites, habits and mythologies» of mass media - and because Obama is a pop icon, he speaks like a preacher and therefore is fascinating; the «Boss» is, in turn, a symbol of rock music and has an enthralling force». The significance of the book does not lie, however, «simply in the conversational content, the weight of which remains decisive,« Ortoleva says. «What is celebrated is especially the encounter, the exchange between the two; along with what they have in common, what unites the singer with a clear political imprint and the first black president of the United States. Springsteen and Obama epitomize a large piece of the United States,« but not the entirety of the country. «There is in fact an equally popular part of America that has gone elsewhere and is unwilling to listen to them.»

Maybe also for this reason, the message’s medium is simple, easily accessible: first of all, one-click conversations on the Internet; and now a richly illustrated book. Giampietro Mazzoleni, a former professor of political communication at the State University of Milan and a scholar of the «pop» dimension of politics, a topic to which he dedicated an interesting anthology a few years ago, in collaboration with Anna Sfardini.

«The pop vein is successful if it is used appropriately and wisely, taking advantage of its pleasurable dimension,« Mazzoleni says. «Entertainment helps to convey messages, even complicated ones: it increases the chances of getting listened to. Unlike other politicians who are more compassionate and serious, such as Trump himself or current President Joe Biden, Barack Obama has always been witty and self-deprecating, and therefore able to entertain while being entertaining. For Springsteen, on the other hand, it’s all easier: he’s a real «celebrity», as the Americans say, and has always been engaged in struggles marked by political dimensions and reflexes». This system of «pop» communication, in vogue above all in liberal democracies, is also gaining ground in countries where politics maintains a sacred aura.

It is obvious that a certain type of message cannot be conveyed solely through entertainment,« Mazzoleni adds. «However, if you want to reach everyone, you have to use different methods, without forgetting that political language will never be as effective as an ironic message.»

Let the excluded speak

In a recent interview ahead of the book’s release, Obama and Springsteen made the point: «We’ve asked ourselves so many questions in our lives,« the former U.S. president said, «asking ourselves so many questions, not feeling comfortable with the status quo, that’ s what defines me. I was not able to be within a tribe, I needed a community. I’m all about getting more people to participate. Making the voices of the marginalized count.»

«My father was out of work,« Springsteen added, «A man who never really found a place; it was excruciating to be part of that reality, to share the pain of being unheard. That’s why I started writing. Mine is the story of someone trying to provide a voice for those who have never been heard: I made those stories my life’s work, and it still is.»

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