Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Big Bangs, A Medieval Hat, and Other Controversies: The Dangers of Social Media During the Inauguration (Op-Ed)

While President Obama was being sworn in for second term on Monday, also Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day, the American people were focused more on the seated audience members than the man standing behind the podium.Many eyes were on the lovely dressed First Lady Michelle Obama and her new fringe-style bangs, as well as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s mystery hat.

Eric Wilson’s article in The New York Times, Mrs. Obama’s Inaugural Wardrobe by Many Designers, highlights the fact that Mrs. Obama chose to wear many designers on the day of the inauguration:

Mrs. Obama gave credit to a large cast of designers in her inaugural wardrobe, beginning with Thom Browne, who made the elegantly tailored coat and dress in a navy silk jacquard that she wore during the day. Her earrings were by Cathy Waterman, and her shoes, at least in the morning, were from J. Crew.

She later changed into boots and a cardigan by Reed Krakoff and added to the outfit a sparkly belt from J. Crew, which served no apparent purpose beyond a plug for the retailer, or to remind us that belts are one of her signatures.

Mrs. Obama wore a custom red Jason Wu evening gown to the inaugural ball.

While Mrs. Obama had a very pleasing appearance, Scalia’s hat was quite an eyesore. Of all days, why did he wear that hat?

New York Daily News described it as “a velvety cap that looked like a beret on steroids.”

The Washingston Post speculates that it has religious significance. Scalia’s hat, a conversative, may have been a stand for faith against politics, but there are many other explanations. Maybe he had no other relatively warm headgear and decided to don this one because he had no other choice. 

I am doubtful of the latter explanation, but who knows. The hat was such a hot topic during the inaugural ceremony that it even had its own hastag on Twitter.

Kevin C. Walsh of University of Richmond School of Law explained on his blog that the Thomas More Society of Richmond had given it to Scalia in November 2010 “as a memento of his participation in our 27th annual Red Mass and dinner.” The hat was made by Camille Parham in Richmond, Virginia and was “a replica of the hat depicted in Holbein’s famous portrait of St. Thomas More.”

As much as I love fashion and poking fun at politics, the media coverage emphasized details that should be considered minute in comparison to President Obama’s inaugural speech.  The focus was taken away from bringing up the big issues in America that the White House plans to address over the next four years and given to more vain pursuits.

Since Monday, there has also been a controversy that Beyonce had lip-synched the national anthem. Kelly Clarkson is not believed to have lip-synched her performance.

I’m certainly not saying that there should be no coverage on Mrs. Obama’s promotion of independent designers or humorous remarks–that’s why there are fashion magazines and bloggers–but I don’t think it was the responsibility of major news networks to obscure the importance of the president’s words.

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