Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I have read with both fascination and trepidation Chris Jones’ recent series of blog posts subtitled Politics As Theater, in which he analyzed three major speeches from the past few weeks’ Democratic and Republican conventions. I don’t agree with him on a number of his points, but since I don’t always agree with his criticism of theater as theater, that’s neither here nor there.
I agree that all politics is fundamentally showmanship, whether it is occurring at the Invesco Field level or in a quiet room between two people and a handshake. It’s not always about putting one’s best face forward (which is not showmanship, per se, as much as it is pageantry), it’s about putting one’s most effective face forward. I doubt Sarah Palin is constantly in “Barracuda” mode, but it was determined by the team that this face was what the Republicans needed–banking on McCain to be the affable, dignified village elder, they needed to show the party that backing him up was a fire-breathing bully capable of doing the business of disparaging liberals as dangerously weak-kneed traitors. It’s an interesting tightrope act, to be sure, as McCain’s own temper explosions over his career have been well-documented but are viewed as a negative, to be carefully kept under wraps. You could see similar work being done around Obama and Biden in the previous week’s convention, albeit with a different tenor. The messages are different but the same: Obama claimed that he was a better choice for President because McCain is fundamentally mistaken about America’s needs; McCain claimed that he was a better candidate because Obama hasn’t had his life experience.
It’s all very sexy, compelling stuff. Drama, I was once told, is about the most important moments in the life of a person or persons, and certainly the attempt to scale Mt. President qualifies as one of those events.
But I think we as a culture have grown addicted to the drama…we’ve become accustomed to not asking for details, but asking for details that interest us. Information is not information unless it is also entertainment. We’re a people who created what we called “reality television” and then proceeded to twist and bleed it until it lost almost all semblance of reality. We’re a people who demand twenty-four hours of news coverage so we can always be the first to know which former Mousketeer-turned-pop-star canoodled in public with Colin Farrell’s former bodyguard and without her underwear.
And I think, consequently, we too often confuse political acumen for leadership ability.
Again, I won’t deny that Chris has the right to talk about the conventions for the spectacles they were. But it’s not just the theater critic who’s doing it, it’s the entire media, it’s the so-called “serious” political correspondents and the well-paid analysts as well, talking about how Greco-Roman columns that you can find on almost any American civic building are a mark of “elitism.”
I do think the ability to produce good political theater is important to our process, but in the same way that I think a good radio single is designed to make you buy the whole album. People who say they’re a hardcore fan of Rock Legend X but who only own the Greatest Hits album are the equivalent of people who vote based only on what they see at a convention…the rest of us, the ones who own Rock Legend X’s early work and who made the time to see them in concert appreciate that you like the music, but we know there’s something you’re not quite getting about the artist.
I mean this for both Obama and McCain voters. People who claim that either side has no platform to speak of are simply being lazy or being told that by their entertainment.
They both have very comprehensive opinions, viewpoints, and ideas. They’re right out there in the open and very few people seem to look at them. Because honestly, no matter how well you design the website, it’s still boring as hell.
My question is, why is there something so wrong about that?