Saturday, January 21, 2012

A New Sitcom?

David Horsey has done it again. He has captured the sense of what the interminable series of debates for the GOP presidential nomination are, both visually and intellectually.

These "debates" are not really debates, but what they really are kept eluding me until Horsey's blog post. He has convinced me that they actually are television shows, scripted by the producer, moderator, and even the candidates. The last debate makes more sense seen in that light.

The appeal of the debates to a surprisingly large audience has to do with far more than civic engagement. They have all the elements of a successful television show: colorful characters, high stakes and comforting familiarity.

For characters, no TV writer could do better than Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain for zaniness. Gingrich himself is a wonderfully pompous know-it-all (haven’t we seen his type on "Downton Abbey"?). And Mitt Romney could walk on to the set of "Mad Men" as a stunt double for Jon Hamm.

Each debate episode has offered the likelihood that one of the characters will be voted off the island. As the losers have been culled, the tension has grown and the remaining actors have gotten better at their game. As was evident Thursday night, each of the four survivors has shown he can steal a scene and command the stage. ...

And the show went on with each person playing his part -- Gingrich, deeply offended that his infidelities were the first topic of discussion (come on, Newt, it's TV!); Ron Paul, like Kramer crashing through Jerry's door, the character who dependably sends the plot in unexpected directions; Rick Santorum, the street fighter in this fight for the South; and Romney, projecting equal portions of Ward Cleaver and Don Draper with just a trace of Gordon Gekko thrown in.

Why, yes. That nails it. Even though the genre is a hodge-podge of all the other currently popular genres, the debates are clearly "made-for-tv." Unfortunately for the voters who take their role seriously, reality tv and the real world are two different things, and this blurring of the lines doesn't really serve the democracy, something Horsey acknowledges left-handedly in his conclusion:

It may be a crazy way to pick a president, but this is must-see TV.



Blogger Charles said...

I haven't been able to watch the debates, and am at the point of turning off Keith and Rachel because they dwell on every twist and turn of the primaries rather than other news.

Reality TV? There has to be another name for it.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Ah. It looks like The Guardian substantiates the hypothesis:

The (nominal) nomination race in the Republican party is a sublime and ridiculous example. It is being covered like a very bad earthquake or a very good war, despite a cast of extremely dubious characters and an absolutely foregone conclusion. Why? Because it's fun. It's perversely, deliciously fun.
Those researchers have found that the US press has devoted attention to the Republican primaries out of proportion to the public's interest.

On Thursday, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism quantified that conclusion, ...

"Coverage of the campaign has only gained steam since," Thursday's Pew report observes. "Thus far in 2012, the campaign has accounted for nearly half, 46%, of the newshole."

2:22 PM  

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