OPEN-SOURCE INAUGURATION SPEECH

It would hardly seem like he needs the help, but Slate magazine (together with a company called MixedInk) is giving us all the chance to write Barack Obama's Inaugural Address. In an experiment that must make James Surowiecki smile (and a certain 27-year-old grimace), readers are invited to "write, edit & remix each other's words--along with those of the past years' presidents--to create an inaugural that reflects your collective viewpoint." The top-rated version will then be published on January 20th--inauguration day--on Slate.

The idea seems to be to generate enthusiasm for some historic speechifying. It is an intriguing conceit for our first YouTube president--a new spin on "Yes we can", with the help of some nifty software. And it toys with some interesting ideas about authorship that have been percolating in the margins--that we all borrow and appropriate and take what's familiar and make it new. Indeed it is this very constant--and even subconscious--give and take that drives some of the finest art and culture, music and writing. Often this case is made in regards to intellectual property and copywrights, such as this elegant essay on the subject by Jonathan Lethem in Harper's.

But this Slate/MixedInk diversion seems to belittle the art of speechcraft, which is rarely about plunging a hand into a grab-bag of tired phrases (with all sorts of other hands in the mix). Also, it appears to overestimate all the fun that's had with collaborative writing, which in my experience has been less about synergy and more about pulling hair and sometimes teeth, often with questionable results. Perhaps it's easier when one's collaborators are virtual, and include Franklin Roosevelt? ~ EMILY BOBROW

Picture credit: ANGELOUX (via Flickr)