Friday, September 26, 2008

Politics, culture war and "reality TV"

Gary Kamiya recently wrote in The culture war: It's back! Salon 09/15/08:

Resentment explains some of this. So does a widespread lack of respect for government itself, and ignorance about what it is and what it requires. Most insidious, perhaps, is the fact that more and more Americans seem to see politics as just another reality TV show. You vote for [Sarah] Palin the same way you vote for a designer on "Project Runway." As Katharine Mieszkowski reported for Salon, Palin's rapturous supporters embrace her because "she represents me." It's the politics of sheer narcissism. [my emphasis]
I don't know if this is based on any actual polling data. But it "rings true" as they say, at least in the sense that I can find it credible that some people look at politics this way.

Kamiya's mention of "reality" TV reminded me of my experience on a jury in a civil case in 2007. I wasn't thrilled about the outcome. It was a 10-2 vote in favor of the plaintiff; a unanimous verdict wasn't required. But I understood why it came out like that. Both the plaintiff and the defendant talked too much on the stand for their own good. And at one point, the defendant got flustered and admitted that he had lied on a key document. And it was a document the defense was using for a key point. So it's understandable that it went that way.


But after the trial was done, as we were leaving, a juror who had been convinced right away that the plaintiff was right and seemed to be in a hurry to get things over with walked up to the plaintiff's attorney as we were leaving and shook his hand and said, "Good job!"

It's normal in a case like that for the attorneys to request the jurors to talk about the decision with them, which I also did. But it just struck me as inappropriate for a juror to go congratulate one of the attorneys as though it were simply a competitive event rather than a legal decision.

And I though to myself when he did that, that this was probably a "reality TV" effect. This guy didn't really care what was the right thing to do. He was just grading the contestants over which was more entertaining.

I can't help but believe that one of the effects of the dysfunction we now see from our celebrity press corps is that many voters are processing political campaigns as "reality TV". Politics has always been part entertainment. But in recent years, we've gone into a qualitative new level of celebrity politics.

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