Thursday, December 17, 2015

Modern Politics: It's a Clown Show

This week we experienced the fifth in a series of GOP presidential debates and though I generally attempt to avoid getting into political quandaries, a friend's Facebook post triggered a set of impressions, so I decided to briefly touch on the topic. Dan wrote:

At this stage I have no political opinions or views to express. It's a giant circus from where I sit. Yet it's a failed circus. We need a new idea. I think a real traveling circus show might provide more structure and coherence as a political party. We should elect academically trained clowns for office. The Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp in Buffalo Minnesota might be a good start for aspiring young statesmen in the midwest. Their slogan is "You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm!" This is more than just a slogan to me; it's a vision statement. This is the type of direction, leadership, and will to power attitude required to restore this once great nation back to its former glory.

Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp is a 6-day intensive clown school designed to meet the needs of people who want to learn to be “real” clowns. America needs YOU. Sign up.

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I found it strange, yet perhaps not really so strange in the context of our modern political landscape, that the substantially cynical Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) of House of Cards made an appearance during the debates in a Netflix commercial. If you've never seen it House of Cards is the epitome of cynicism, depicting politicians as greedy buffoons. Though I've watched portions of the series I've never noticed that Frank Underwood's initials were F.U. until I saw in this spot that his campaign slogan is FU '16 along with a website.

This naturally led me to think about Marshall McLuhan's take on the impact of media on the times we live in. It was McLuhan who famously observed that mass media and communication technologies are not neutral inventions but actually change the way we are. The last half century of presidential politics has demonstrated this vividly. The first hint of it came with the Nixon-Kennedy debates during the 1960 election. Twenty years later a "great communicator" was installed in the Oval Office, a man who grew up in Hollywood and knew how to project ideas to the masses.

When one looks at this year's batch of Republican hopefuls one has to wonder, who are these people? Is the media a hall of mirrors that distorts everything? What are these people really like? How can you tell?

I think the 1960 campaign altered the terrain. Elections today are essentially manipulations by handlers. And maybe Dan is right, the best way to prepare for office is to sign up for clown camp.

It reminds me of the heart-wrenching tone in which the Broadway musical presents its poignant hit Send in the Clowns.

What's it all about, Alfie?

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