Did you watch the last couple presidential debates? If so, did you ask yourself why? Most of us tune in to these debates for the same reasons we watch NASCAR races. The candidates go round and round the track, stating their policies and philosophies over and over again. By now we know exactly how each candidate handles turns; we know they will be doing circular laps. In other words, any one who has not been camping in some cave at Crystal Cove for the past six months already knows where the candidates stand on big issues. We don’t watch the debates to be informed of anything. We keep watching the debates to see the big crashes. This election reaches us as a form of entertainment. Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? I don’t know, but it vaguely churns my stomach.
Granted, some people may have waited for the last minute to start paying any amount of attention, so they actually are hearing for the first time what the candidates have to say. But I find that hard to imagine since every time I get on the internet to check e-mail, the latest headline about who said what pops up in front of my face. When I go to work or school I will almost certainly overhear conversations about the candidates’ policies. When I go to the gym, to a restaurant, the gas station, any where there are televisions posted up, which is pretty much everywhere, I see a headline about the election. We are bombarded with this information.
So why do we need to watch another debate? Well, they are (very purposefully) entertaining. They have to be performances because they are on television. This is all the American audience wants-to be entertained. The candidates get their stage makeup on, and the set is made aesthetically pleasing. The candidates are given two minutes to state their position. What can really be discussed in a two minute window? There is no discussion, there are sound bites-the same ones over and over again: “Wall Street vs. Main Street,” “Our best days are ahead of us,” “Look at my record,” etc.
In the last debate we watched Obama and McCain simulate a town hall meeting in which they played the parts of Mayor Obama and Mayor McCain. The “townspeople” that asked them questions were as intentionally chosen as the Survivor cast (though not as diverse): white man with southern accent, black man, white woman with southern accent, black woman, white woman, white man, white woman, white man.
The order in which the candidates spoke was determined by a coin toss, like a football game. In fact, most people that watched the debate at home may as well have been watching a football game since most of them have decided who they will vote for and are now simply rooting for their team. Tom Brokaw, the mediator, said, “the audience here has agreed to be polite and attentive, no cheering or outbursts. Those of you at home, though, are not so constrained.” Surely those of us at home got excited each time the candidates made little jabs at each other. For example, “I’ve got to correct a bit of Sen. McCain’s history, not surprisingly,” said Obama. Ouch. McCain pointed to Obama as he said, “you know who voted for it? That one!” Nice. Of course the camera people were sure to capture one candidate’s reaction as the other mocked his policies.
I suppose there is no reason why the presidential election would be immune to our media frenzy habit. So long as we are bored with our nine to five jobs and our daily lives in general, we will look to the screens for entertainment, for simulated joy.