Thursday, April 24, 2008

Out of the Bag again and behind the curtain

After last week's ABC Democratic primary debate, the Bag posted a great series of TV frames as a visual recap to the debate. In my earlier post I wrote;

This is by far the most succinct summary of last night’s debacle of a debate TV show hosted produced by ABC News Disney Entertainment. This captures the essence of what is, “the postmodern condition” of US politics.

I selected this image as the most telling frame of the set.

Tuesday was Earth Day btw, but most wouldn't have known if not for Google's always clever way of "holiday theming" their logo. Al Gore has recently launched a $300 million environmental ad campaign to increase awareness and apply political pressure. Likewise, some of the other major environmental organizations have also launched public advocacy campaigns like the Sierra Club's Power 2 Change. The environment is one of the top issues among Democratic voters but it wasn't discussed during the debate or in any meaningful way since.

But Tuesday was also Pennsylvania Primary Day, which dominated the news cycle. So fitting the severity and importance of the major issues at hand, the three remaining presidential candidates recorded statements on Monday, not to address global warming, poverty, the war in Iraq, or the economy but addressed fans of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) for the popular program, "Monday Night Raw."

McCain, I would presume, won the verbal "smack down", with a subtle mispronunciation of Obama's first name and a not so subtle gender bias, "If you wanna be the man, you have to beat the man." Remember Bush Sr. used to deliberately mispronounce Sadam Hussein's first name in a similar fashion leading up to the first Gulf War. The right wing has repeatedly injected Obama's middle name, Hussein, at every turn.

Jeez, when will Democrats learn to stop playing in territory which give Republicans distinct advantages? Clinton as "Hill-Rod" was more on cue than Obama's inauthentic, "do you smell what Barack is cookin'?" Did the campaigns provide their own scripts or were the candidates scripted by the WWE? I initially associated "cookin" with "soul food" and the wrestling character who played Obama in the ring that night was fitted with grossly exaggerated "ape like" ears. But the cooking line could also just be a reference to one of wrestling's biggest stars, The Rock.

McCain's,"...and whatcha gonna do when John McCain and all his McCainiacs run wild on you?" was just disturbing. McCain with his own private paramilitary special force of brown shirt goons comes to mind. Obamabots and Hillbots seem to be the most common derogatory slang for their respective supporters. In 2004, Howard Dean's partisans were referred to as deaniancs. But coming from McCain's mouth, who's running a distinctly militarized campaign the personal "run wild on you" feels all the more threating. Of course, this is all just entertainment right? Corporate sponsored entertainment, which is what the Bag so aptly crystallized.

So here's where this post comes out of the Bag again and looks behind the curtain. President Bush, who now has the lowest approval rating of any president since Taft, appeared on the NBC game show program, Deal or No Deal to address one the contestants, a three tour Iraqi War veteran. See the video here.

There are far too many points to address here in this blog post. Many important ones have been raised at the Bag, not the least of which is the Bush administration's use of soldiers as political props. But I was most interested in how these three utterly bizarre media episodes might relate to each other.

During the last decade, TV programming has become notably dominated by "reality TV." For me, these three episodes; the debate, the WWE, and Deal or No Deal, all occurring within a week, signify a continued media commodification of the political public sphere into a realm which ceases to even attempt to recreate or reproduce reality. In it's place the entertainment industry creates "hyper-real TV" in essential Baudrillardian fashion.

My initial reaction to the Bush megatron appearance was not Orwell's 1984, which came next, but the Wizard of Oz.

It's become commonplace today to compare America's stumbling economy and increasingly economically stratified society to the Gilded Age. This was afterall the backdrop of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was first published in 1900.

While many scholars have read the Wizard of Oz as, "a parable of the Populists", does the story have any narrative power as an allegory today?[1] Annie Leibovitz's (stunning) December 2005 "Oz" inspired photo shoot for Vogue may be instructive. Like the first image in this post suggests, who is wagging the dog behind the curtain?

[1] Henry Littlefield was probably the first to critically analyze the Wizard of Oz as an economic parable in his 1964 essay which was published in American Quarterly, "The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism". (subscription required)