I must admit: I didn’t watch the debate Monday Night. I didn’t watch
the one on the Thursday either. I saw none of them, in fact. Unconcerned?
Uninterested? Not at all. I’m intensely invested in who wins this year’s
election. It’s only that the debates, and the endless prognostications leading
up to, and equally endless recaps following, these slugfests, have a specific
purpose, and one that I find increasingly disquieting: to churn the waters of
The theatre of politics has taken center stage in this
election, produced by the media (both left-and right-leaning varieties), sold
by the campaigns of both parties and snapped up eagerly by the electorate like opening
night tickets to “Iron Man 3.” The debates have much less to do
with substance and all to do with narrative
and conflict. Swooping storylines of
defeat and resurgence, villainy and heroism, writ large and with the subtlety
worthy of Michael Bay. There’s no room for complexity, or nuance; our candidate
must be golden like Rocky Balboa, thrown against the ropes but coming up
swinging; the Other Guy must possess a hulking maleficence worthy of the Soviet
Drago. That’s what sells the tickets!
here, ones worth fighting for and promoting. And yes, I understand the intent:
to fill campaign coffers and goad a sleepy, nose-picking electorate to the
voting booth. It’s just the emotional hyperbole that leaves me anxious and exhausted. We
want bipartisanship, but how is that possible when we also demand blood and
fear apocalypse? The first election I remember was between McGovern and Nixon
(am I dating myself here?). In school we held our own elections and discussed
positions. Now, my seven-year-old niece comes home in tears, distraught because it was a fact that if
the other guy won there would be the absolute certainty of war. How can fight our way
back to the center from that?
a Romney man, so does that make Obama Master Blaster?
media, the barrage of constant political updates that ping from our little
screens, Liliputian cries of repudiation and outrage, often more interesting in
scoring points off of verbal mis-steps and tactical errors than the actual
issues. We delight in the crude (but pretty funny) characterization of our Opponent
while castigating the Other Side for doing the same thing to Our Man. Behind a
thicket of like-minded friends, we more than vilify the opposition;
increasingly we cannot even fathom
them. The other day a friend on Facebook “liked” the other side; I stared at
the post in disbelief. How could he be my friend if he liked that monster? How
was he so colossally misinformed? The fact that he, too, was thinking the same
thing about me (that is, if he had not already turned off my feed) does not
diminish my incomprehension.
employing conflict and narrative… with a twist ending! Soylent Green is people!
maybe things will calm down. I doubt this. I’m sure the storyboards
are already being prepped for the Most Important Election of Our Times—Part 2!
We dearly love a sequel. Unfortunately, that means four more years of partisan
roadblocks and government stagnation (remember the whole “house divided” trope?). Maybe, just maybe, we could try curbing our taste for explosions and shoot-outs
and get in line for something quieter, something with a little more dialogue. You
know, like those grown-up movies.