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Our fascination with the creation and destruction of celebrities is at once deeply disturbing and strangely understandable.

So it makes sense that we see our president in terms of his celebrity. Sure, he’s got other gigs going on — commander in chief, director of foreign policy, occasional walker of Bo — but to undergrads, the most important role Barack Obama has is the one he plays in our collective imagination. Obama the Awesome, who de-stresses with pickup basketball games, talks race relations over a couple of beers and is married to a woman who shops at J. Crew.

Nationally, Obama’s approval rating has dipped below 50 percent. At Penn, however, it feels like much of the student body is still infatuated with our audaciously hopeful president. According to a November 2008 Daily Pennsylvanian article, 84 percent of students who voted on or near campus checked the Obama box. Are we so enamored with him that we’ve started to fail as responsible citizens? Have we stopped questioning him because we like him too much?

This is not to say that we should loathe the president just because he’s an authority figure. Reactionary hatred of the establishment is for hippies, juvenile delinquents and teens stuck in the middle of that Catcher in the Rye phase. Yet we all know from personal experience how difficult it is to honestly criticize and challenge a person we like.

“Clearly there are many people that have not been distracted at all by his ‘celebrity’ status and have been more critical because of it,” said College junior Brian Hwang. “But I also [feel] here at Penn especially, there are people who aren’t political gurus who support the president a lot more because of his celebrity status.”

“I like to think that he’s popular … because he seems to embody what a lot of us want to be,” said Wharton junior Alice Lee.

For those who felt the Bush Administration was about as stellar as spring break at Guantanamo Bay, Obama’s election was a relief. But if we keep treating him like a celebrity, his crash course of fame to infamy is inevitable. He’s got at least three more years in the White House. We can’t afford to be that dismissive.

Obama’s campaign was loaded with language about hope, change and other intangibles. People won’t stop believing that any of those things exist (see also: religion, love, hell) just because of a lack of immediate physical proof. You either hold tight to your convictions or, burned by what you interpret as betrayal, discard the beliefs entirely.

“During the election,” said College junior Hannah Connor, “people wanted hope, as cliche as it is to say that now. They wanted something to cling on to. So after the fact, people are reacting in both directions: some are still clinging, and some are totally rejecting it.”

Celebrities aren’t just people we love; they’re people we hate. Plenty of students are ready to willfully ignore any of Obama’s missteps, but others are eager to watch him fall from his great height. They focus solely on his screw-ups.

“He’s most definitely likeable, [but some] people are critical just because he hasn’t been able to follow through and meet people’s expectations,” said former Penn Democrats President, College junior and former Daily Pennsylvanian advertising representative Jordan Levine.

The way to prevent both idol worship and blind hate is, obvious as it sounds, increased awareness about what exactly Obama is doing.

“There is a lot of literature out there that provides abundant criticism of the President, and it’s very easy to find,” Hwang said.

Expecting every student to watch CNN 24/7 is hardly realistic, (although with Anderson Cooper’s all-star, child-saving reporting from Haiti, CNN’s coverage has never been better) but there’s no such thing as a legitimate excuse for being uninformed in the age of information. Jessica Goldstein is a College junior from Berkeley Heights, N.J. Her e-mail address is Say Anything appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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