Tuesday, December 9th, 2003
I don’t know quite how to categorize this post but it’s essentially about politics and participation. I caught the last few minutes of the ABC News & WMUR-TV sponsored “debate” on C-Span tonight and pretty much liked what I saw. In typical C-Span style, there was no commentary or explanation and the display just happened and went wherever it went. I’m a Kucinich supporter myself.
After the “debate” (the definition of this word has changed over the years apparently) I heard Paul Begala of CNN start to bad mouth the candidates as a paid political entertainer. I was in another room but it went something like, “grrr grrrr grrrr grrr.”
Before my antennae stopped working on my car radio, I used to listen to NPR as a matter of course, and for some years (about 17) I’ve noticed a trend in commentary journalism to speak about political subjects and politicians with an attitude of cynical remove, advancing opinions about, say, partisan strategies with language such as “The democrats are concerned with . . .” or whatever candidate “is trying to appeal to their base . . .” or so and so is “tailoring their message to minorities.” Here democrat, base, and minority are being treated as if they’re asleep; they’re present, maybe, but referred to in the third person, as if they have no true presence. Everyone is basically reified.
Then we have the political entertainment concerns: CNN, Fox, and the Sunday talk on channel _____. Crossfire, Hannity and Colmes–I watch some of these the way I listen to talk radio (or used to before . . . well) for a few minutes before slipping in a CD or clicking around the channels for something on carnivorous plants.
What’s the matter with this? The reification and the entertainment approach in my opinion reveal something about media trends that turn American politics and government (two different things) into programmed subjects that don’t exist beyond newsroom decisions and have no vigorous reality. Media loves to talk about strategy, the horse race of elections, personality, and then more strategy, attempting to tell me why so and so is shaping his or her message to “minorities.”
The ubiquity of mediated discussion shapes how we view ideas and issues, of course. Politics is associated with programming. Political entertainment isn’t politics yet it seems to give it a roisterous, unreal context, as if political decisions have nothing to do with the commentators or the entertainers other than as subjects to manage and chunk up into slots and as an excuse to say the same thing over and over. Change the names and play the broadcasts from a year back and perhaps we wouldn’t hear the difference: the president and the office have become mere subject matter, employment opportunity, disconsolate amusement.
What do we need? Do we need the industry of commentators and entertainers? Is this a necessity? How does it shape our concept of journalism and history and our ability to make decisions about life concerns? The promo for CNN’s Dec. 10th American Morning claims this: “Tomorrow, we’ll have a recap and reaction to the final Democratic presidential debate of the year.” Pinch me.