Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The (Un)Civil War: Now Playing!

Note: Devil Incarnate, Douglas Wood, has abused his conjugal privileges and has already posted a rebuttal to my post. You can read it at http://www.douglaswood.net.

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 discord.

Debates as blood sport...

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!

Better yet, let's make debates into musicals! It worked for Hairspray...

Now, don’t get me wrong: there are serious issues at stake 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?

Debate #4: Thunderdome! We all know Mel Gibson's 
a Romney man, so does that make Obama Master Blaster?

This tribal drumbeat is further compounded all of our social 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.

Now, this is theatricality used to great effect, 
employing conflict and narrative... with a twist ending! Soylent Green is people!

How is this impasse going to change? I have no earthly idea. I may decry partisan behavior but I'm out there sharing and liking with the rest of my brothers-in-arms. Can one have passion without devolving into bitter enmity? In a couple of weeks the Most Important Election of Our Times will be over, and 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. 

Okay, let the comments begin!


  1. Hello, James! Since you gave me a personal invite, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to comment so...here goes:

    I agree with you. Well, not entirely, but mostly. Here's my secret confession- I didn't watch the debates either. Not a single one. Not in real time, at least. I watched snippets afterwards, but I somehow managed to be "busy" during each one of the debates. Why?

    Because they ARE theatre. High stakes, winner-take-all theatre that reduces our politics to the level of Thunderdome. Obama lost the first debate because he didn't go after Romney and had no "zingers." Last night, Obama wiped the floor with Romney because he had a quiver full of them. And what do people remember about the debate? Not the discussion of whether or not we should arm the Syrian rebels. They remember "horses and bayonets." Obama wins!

    Of course, that's the problem. We should be having nice, boring policy discussions but who the fuck wants THAT? We want fireworks and rainbows and ponies and smart-alecky comments! We want...spectacle.

    That's why it is unlikely you'll see men who look like Nixon or Eisenhower or Johnson elected president ever again. This is American Idol for the political set and we need pretty candidates, not old men.

    But the thing is: the stakes ARE high. We need to win. Not Democrats. I mean SANE PEOPLE. Because I'll tell ya: the other side is nuts. They didn't used to be, but they are now. They've careened so far to the right as to be unreconizable to my father's generation of Republicans. They used to be pro-small government. Now they are anti-government. They want to run an organization they are against. Loons. They're a bunch of loons.

    And I know, that makes me sound as partisan crazy as them. Think I care? I know I'm right and fuck them. Sounds like their philosophy, doesn't it? Am I as guilty of them as mindlessly demonizing the other side? Bet your ass I am. But the difference between me and them is:

    I'm right.

  2. I am really considering a third party at this point, whether it be Jill or Gary, not sure yet. This other stuff is ludicrous.
    Love you though.

  3. Kevin Theis is a Chicago- based actor extraordinaire, director, author of a best-selling book (Confessions of a Transylvanian: get it) and my new choice for President.

  4. Yes.Yes. And Yes.
    And, yet...
    (I have no answers, though.)It is blood sport, and it makes me sick because it is too important for it to be a game. But, I no longer know HOW to engage the other side.

  5. Third party candidates would be a good idea, Deb, but don't let yourself be fooled. The Green Party or Libertarians are not able to compete with Republicans and Democrats on a national stage, partly because of money, but not only that. The third party candidates might be great on the environment, say, but they have absolutely no foreign policy experience or economic experience. Good intentions are not enough.

    A presidential ticket needs to have practical, hands-on experience creating tax policy or negotiating a nuclear treaty, not just policy papers. Without a robust national party behind them, the third parties just don't have the depth of experience for the job. Not yet anyway. People deserve to know what a candidate for president has already accomplished and in addition, to knowing their vision for the future.

    The best solution I can come up with is to vote for Barack because he agrees with me on major issues (economy policy, gay rights, end the war, healthcare, reproductive choice, etc.) and hold his feet to the fire on the issues that I find him lagging in (environment, drone strikes, gay marriage, single-payer health care, immigration reform, etc.).

    No politician is going to agree with me all the time. Hell, even James doesn't agree with me all the time.