Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Looking Back Can Be Helpful to Understand the Present

Sometimes it is good to look back at what "came before". Here is a glance back at the political process that yielded our current president. It is an insightful young voice

Celebrity Politics: Is Pop Culture Destroying the Electoral Processs
By Brett McCracken

I was watching something on Fox this past week and was struck by some of the ads I saw for the Super Bowl. The ads were advertising that a full day of coverage on Super Sunday would begin with a morning of Fox News political coverage on “the other big contest” going on: the 2008 presidential election. Following the political coverage would be the main event: the Patriots vs. the Giants. The TV ad seemed to suggest that together it was a day of utter and extreme Americanisms: our “two favorite pastimes: sports and politics.” Pull up a chair, get some soda and pizza, and revel in the spectacles of debate and conflict, fighting and smash-‘em-up democracy!

There are many things wrong with this framing discourse of “Super Sunday,” but the thing that most disturbs me is this equivocation of our electoral process with something as airy and insignificant and superfluous as the Super Bowl. Are we seriously trying to say that the current presidential election is mass entertainment? Has it been reduced to a spectacle?
Unfortunately, this is not really a new trend. For decades now, American media has been turning politics into a spectacle—a three-ring circus of strategy, intrigue, danger, rousing victories and epic defeats. Turn on cable news on any given night and you’ll get some top-notch melodrama posing as political discourse.

Exhibit A of the spectacle-ization of American politics happened last Thursday night in the very appropriate location of Hollywood. It was the Democratic debate on CNN, live from the Kodak theater: home of the Oscars and the nexus of all that Hollywood represents.

Did anyone watch this debate? Should we even call it a debate? Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were as chummy as any two competing politicians have ever been. They were cordial to one another, and while each candidate did an admirable job focusing on their own campaign, there was very little actual debate—and even less clarification for the voters. In an effort to play nice, Obama and Clinton succeeded in muddling what is currently at stake: a clear picture of who (at least between the two of them) is prepared to lead America politically in the coming years.

But it was compelling TV! It was a spectacle! And boy, did the stars turn out in force to drive home that point. Every time the camera panned to the debate’s audience it focused on another celebrity’s face. Liberal stalwarts Steven Spielberg and Rob Reiner were there, along with familiar faces like Diane Keaton, Stevie Wonder (who stood up and cheered a lot) and Pierce Brosnan (wait—can he even vote? Isn’t he British?). Better yet, what can explain the presence of yesteryear musician Brandy? Or actor Topher Grace? Or the guy who plays Andy on The Office? What were they doing there? Did CNN need more of the glitz and glamor that Anderson Cooper and Angelina Jolie have tried so hard to achieve? Have we bastardized American politics to the extent of relying on the support and recognition of A-list celebrities, in hopes that party platforms are heard? It appears so.

Of course, one could argue that celebrities ought to use their voice for those things that they are passionate about. World hunger, fair trade and the exploitation of children are important issues that have been brought to the frontlines, thanks to celebrity activism; politics should be no exception. However, the perversion occurs when the public begins to look to celebrities for advice and reason behind their decisions, as opposed to questioning and figuring out personal convictions. We must question if celebrities should be a part of a debate audience—and if they are, should the camera continue to focus on their facial expressions and attitudes once said candidate makes a point?

In any case, it was funny (sad?) to watch the reaction shots of various celebrities whenever Obama or Clinton said something about how ridiculously awful George W. Bush’s term has been. It’s almost a Pavlovian instinct for many of the stars. “Bush ruins everything” learnedly draws a clap and a cheer, because who wants to cheer for boring and complex solutions to issues like health care and social security? It’s much more fun and gleefully vague to “cheer for change!” This is not an attempt at reinstating the successes (or the pitfalls) of the Bush administration, but rather a plea to take an honest look at the current state of political discourse. Is there where we want to be?

If America continues down the road of celebrity-driven politics, it will only be a matter of time before our elections become a reality show. Ryan Seacrest would host, and every night millions of viewers would call in and vote on how well each candidate looked and performed during whatever debate or speech had just happened. It would be a ratings hit for whatever channel it was on, and a doubtless way for more people to get “excited” about our electoral process (as long as we could text in our vote). Perhaps one day ads during Super Tuesday will sell for just as much as on Super Sunday, to bring home A Super Week of pop politics! Totally win-win.

No candidate is perfect, and whoever is inaugurated come January 2009 will not automatically be blessed with 20/20 vision and impeccable judgment. They will, however, have the opportunity to set new precedent. With that, may our next president make a valiant attempt at elevating political discourse rather than bury the bar. May our next president re-evaluate celebrity intrigue and refocus on America’s people–not mass entertainment.

Author: Brett McCracken Brett is a grad student at UCLA's Film School and has recently started a blog at stillsearching.wordpress.com.

My comment:
All that said, pray for President Obama, that God would give him both wisdom and the boldness to do what is right.


Anonymous said...

You know, for eight years, I was told to, "get over it"when I would try to discuss the 2000 and 2004 elections. Now I find it comical that those on the right who were"watching Fox" this weekend are decrying the results of the last election.
It must be celebrity
It must be Voodoo
It must be socialism
It must be Fascism

Anything but the truth. After 8 years of the worst president in my lifetime, and possibly all of American History, the country elected an intelligent man who actually has walked the walk as achristian rather than just use his rligion as a prop.

My advice to Bret and the rest of the whiners is this Read a book.

anon2 said...

I don't know if reading a book will help, anon 1. But instead of criticizing EITHER president (Bush or Obama), we should be PRAYING for them!!!!!!

ChosenRebel said...

Prayer for our Presidents is always warranted. It's a tough job, especially when no one wants to wait for history to play out who was effective and who wasn't.