Michelle Obama says it was “absolutely not surprising” to her that her satellite appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony provoked a national conversation about whether it was appropriate, after some conservative critics accused her of selfishly crashing the event in an attempt to upstage it.
She attributed the chatter to a culture shift that has spawned legions of bloggers, tweeters, and others who talk about anything and everything all the time.
“Shoot, my bangs set off a national conversation. My shoes can set off a national conversation. That’s just sort of where we are. We’ve got a lot of talking going on,” the first lady said only somewhat jokingly Thursday before an appearance in Chicago, her hometown. “It’s like everybody’s kitchen-table conversation is now accessible to everybody else so there’s a national conversation about anything.”
In what was not the first-ever Oscar appearance by a first lady, Mrs. Obama was beamed live from the White House into Sunday’s ceremony in Los Angeles to unseal the envelope and announce that the night’s final award, for Best Picture, would go to Argo. In 2002, Laura Bush appeared at the ceremony on videotape.
Americans have long been fascinated by their first ladies, scrutinizing everything from their clothes and hair to the issues they promote and how they raise their children. Mrs. Obama acknowledged that she and President Barack Obama have added appeal, and perhaps sometimes are subject to extra scrutiny, because they are the first black family in the White House but also a young couple (she turned 49 last month; he’s 51) with young children (daughters Sasha, 11, and Malia, 14).
She said she doesn’t give a second thought to critical comments about what she does as first lady.
Her strategy, she said, is to do things that further her larger goals and Oscar night fit with her support for the arts. She recently invited the director and cast members from the Oscar-nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild to the White House to participate in a question-and-answer session with students from Washington and New Orleans who had seen the film at the executive mansion.
“I just don’t think about that stuff,” said Mrs. Obama, who was asked for her reaction to the criticism during an interview with a small group of reporters who were invited to accompany her on a three-city tour marking the third anniversary of her “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity.
She said she was astounded by the buzz about cutting her hair to add bangs, which she unveiled on her birthday, just before inauguration weekend.
Asked if she was surprised that the bangs made the news, Mrs. Obama said: “I was, I have to say. I’m like, ‘it’s a haircut.'”
In the interview, Mrs. Obama also revealed that she used a lot of salty language as a 10-year-old, which she said she didn’t realize until the year it cost her the title of “best camper” at the day camp she and her brother, Craig, attended every summer. The experience taught her a lesson, she said.
“I was going through my cursing stage,” she said. “I didn’t realize until my camp counselor at the end came up and said, `You know, you would have been best camper in your age group but you curse so much.’ And I was thinking, ‘Really. Was it that noticeable? And I thought I was being cool. Little did I know I lost `best camper.’ I didn’t curse again.”
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