Monday, May 23, 2011

Politics as celebrity star fest

"Without the trust of the people, politics degenerates into mere spectacle; and democracy declines, leaving demagoguery and cynicism to fill the void." - Gov. Jerry Brown 01/03/2011

Politics as spectacle is deadly to democracy. And one of the most blatant example of politics as spectacle, of celebrating politics as spectacle, is the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, aka, the Nerd Prom. The President gets to play comedian and treat the issues of the day with all the seriousness of a Saturday Live Skit. Here is Obama at this year's love-feast for politics as spectacle and celebrity:

It has also become a celebration for one of the more concrete manifestations of the decay of American democracy, the near-erasure of even the pretence of an adversary relationship between the White House and the grandees of the Establishment press.

Stephen Colbert actually showed the Dinner up for what it is in his presentation at the 2006 version of the event.

The audience, including President Bush, was not terribly amused. Both the President and the correspondents who are supposed to be covering his Administration as professional journalists are there to celebrate each other and the press' cozy relationship to power. The cozy relationship that gave us the Iraq War.

Bush did his own comedy routine at the 2004 dinner, a video in which he searched the White House for Iraq's missing "weapons of mass destruction." The audience seemed to enjoy that joke about the lies that were used to justify an unnecessary and illegal war much more than they did Colbert's routine a few years later. This version doesn't have the best video, but its grim mockery dramatizes what was so obviously wrong with Bush's worse-than tasteless joke:

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian has it right in The White House correspondents' dinner: an unseemly schmoozefest Guardian 05/03/2011:

The celebrities sitting at almost every table of the Washington Hilton gave the distinct impression that both journalism and politics are now wholly beholden to the whims of the entertainment-industrial complex. That the entire evening's discourse revolved around Donald Trump's birther-babble only confirmed this.

It has always been common for nightclubs to pay bright young things for making appearances. Today, newspapers and magazines pick up the tab, flaunting glamorous contributors – Tina Fey, Bono, James Franco
– while downsizing their newsrooms.

Seeing Rahm Emmanuel rub shoulders with writers, producers and editors would suggest to any reasonable viewer that the press and this particularly photogenic administration enjoy a relationship that is cozier than it is critical. The hoards of people outside the after-parties hosted by DC's rich and powerful are proof that afflicting the comfortable has become much less cool than having drinks with them. Last spring, writer Michael Hastings responded to criticisms of his Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal by saying many other journalists resort to writing "puff pieces" in order to gain crucial access to key government officials. This dinner, with its assortment of eye candy and Kit-Kat pyramids, is the ultimate puff piece.
In fact, this Administration has shown great enthusiasm for secrecy, making claims for Executive secrecy authority that go beyond any ever claimed before, including by the Cheney-Bush Administration. Just this year, there was a scandal over the Pentagon's torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning, who was accused but not convicted of leaking classified materials to Wikileaks. Maybe there's no connection between the press' general defense of the US government's claims against Wikileaks and the fact that senior media figures expect to be part of a celebrity elite that, among other things, parties at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.

But as Abrahamian observes:

Fewer and fewer Americans trust the press; the polarisation of news coverage is a testament to how ill-at-ease people feel about the information they're being sold. To send the message via C-span that the Capitol, the Fourth Estate and Hollywood are all in it together, if only for one night, hardly helps accusations of elitism.
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