I share this post by Jon in full:
“National election campaigns are media events. Media run them. Media pump ratings. They produce the soap opera. They construct the illusion. Many people hate hearing this, because they prefer to believe the few candidates who can actually win are real. No one with that much face time on national television is real.” (The Underground, Jon Rappoport)
I’ve just completed a flurry of articles on how elections work as media events in the US (archived here, under “elections”). But why leave out other countries, where the process is essentially the same?
You have to look at these major election seasons as television series produced by the major networks.
Then it begins to make sense.
The casting of characters tends to follow the same pattern, over and over. You have two major candidates (for president, premier, prime minister). Writing their parts is a bit of a challenge, because any intelligent person can see there is really not much to choose between them.
That’s a ratings killer. The networks need opposition and sharp differences. So while both of these “leaders,” behind the scenes, are Globalists and favor huge corporations and huge government bureaucracies, “free trade,” sending jobs overseas where workers will toil for virtually no pay in execrable conditions, etc., the networks will find issues on which they disagree.
Then you have a cast of minor characters running for the top office in the land. A couple of them are fiery and feisty, more “radical” or “radically conservative” in their views. They’ll never make it, but hope springs eternal, and a significant proportion of the population is drawn to them—for a while.
The television networks, as usual, adopt the horse race mode of reporting. Because, when all is said and done, that’s the main theme: who is going to win? Who really cares about exploring the issues in depth? There’s no juice or excitement there.
But watching two creatures gallop along a track toward the finish line moves the adrenaline.
And the networks, day after day, can point to what the candidates are doing or wearing or saying that is affecting their position in the race.
Did candidate A just utter a possibly politically incorrect phrase? Let’s interview three experts and find out.
Did candidate B once have dinner with a financier who cheated investors out of their life savings? No? It was lunch? A brief breakfast? Hmm. A professor of statistics explains how long a brief breakfast averages out to be.
Why has candidate A shifted from wearing blue to red?
To bolster all this, we have the polls, which seem to be taking place three times a day. Numbers to report. Breakdowns of the numbers in key voter areas of the country.
Meanwhile, the networks keep searching out differences between candidates A and B. A’s wet dream is wholescale bombing missions. B prefers thousands of drone strikes. Of course, this difference isn’t presented that way. B is a “peace candidate.” A is a “hawk.”
A wants the “free market.” B wants government to create millions of new jobs. On closer inspection, they’re both pushing the dominance of mega-corporations. But there is no closer inspection in the television series called Election.
At the root of all this insanity is the fact that television networks produce the series. As long as the viewing audience tunes in, as long as the ratings are respectable, the illusion continues.
The viewer, the voter, projects his hopes and dreams on to the television image of a candidate. It never occurs to him that a) he is now a fan of a soap opera and b) his adored candidate is part of an immense political system in which only minor deviations from the norm are permitted.
Entering that system and participating in it is like walking into a tailor’s shop where, by magic, the customer (participant, candidate) automatically shrinks to half his former size in an instant. And from there it only gets worse.
Television is there to obscure the actual size of the political system and its culture. The soap opera highlights the two major characters (candidates), as if they alone can work great changes in the direction the oil tanker called Politics takes.
Television relies on the fact that a majority of the population favors watching competition— rather than learning about the collaboration, behind the scenes, between characters who seem to be on opposing sides.
The election IS television.
Why is that not understood?
Perhaps for the same reason people can sit in a dark movie theater and look up at a large screen and forget, for a few moments, that they are sitting in a movie theater.
They are captured by the story and the images and the characters. And they want to be captured and taken away.
They want to believe, in the case of elections, that they are participating in something important simply by watching television.
You might say election campaigns are the original reality-shows. They’re soap opera, but the main characters are not actors. (Of course, they are actors.)
Perhaps you remember the 1972 American film, The Candidate, starring Robert Redford. The key moment occurs as Redford, who is running for a seat in the US Senate, watches a commercial he claims to favor, one that expresses his real convictions. Within moments he realizes it’s a dud. He comes across as a stammering lightweight. No, from now on, he’ll have to accept ads in which he appears authoritative (but vague), on top of his game, and handsome. The die is cast. He is now an artifact of television.
And then there is the best film ever made about television: Network (1976), written by Paddy Chayefsky. The embittered, half-mad, disintegrating news anchor, Howard Beale, assaults his viewing audience:
“We deal in illusions, man…We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. In God’s name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion.”
Unfortunately, the television audience is insulted if someone tells them the characters they’re watching are synthetic and artificial.
Something strange is happening here. It’s more than the flicker of the images or the frequency or the brain wave-states television induces. It’s a counterpart to what people dream when they’re asleep.
The story lines of dreams, the vividness, the intimate proximity to characters.
At the extreme edge, it’s what makes people who watch candidates on television write them adoring fan letters (just as they write letters to convicted killers in prison). It’s what makes people dress up at night to sit in front of their sets and watch late-night talk-show hosts—as if the hosts could see them in their living rooms.
Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is more compelling.
The whole television exhibition called Election is, in every moment, a living rolling artifice of melodrama. Staged from end to end.
Consider this exchange, in the 1997 film, Wag the Dog, between movie producer, Stanley Motss, and the shadowy White House agent, Conrad Brean:
Motss: What do you think about lining the President up for the Peace Prize?
Brean: Our job’s over come election day.
Motss: Yeah, but c’mon…
Brean: What, just for the symmetry of the thing? [Motss nods] Well, if Kissinger can win the Peace Prize, I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up and found I’d won the Preakness.
Motss: Yeah, but our guy did bring peace.
Brean: There was never a war.
Motss: All the greater accomplishment.
The believable political face of the candidate is turned toward the camera, and television records it and sends it out to the millions. The other face, the secret face, is never shown on television; or if it is, the audience misses it, because they are trained to think only good political intentions are displayed on the screen. And they believe these intentions are the substance of election campaigns; the things worth voting for; the things the winners will try to bring into being in the world.
The audience believes television is democratic. Therefore, how could it deceive? Democracy is the only fair system ever devised.
Such illusions pile up and up.
When one fades, another takes its place.
Most citizens prefer to fight out elections inside the system ruled by television. They prefer to attack and defend the images on the screen.
And they prefer to imagine that the entire political landscape will make room for their hero, this one time, after which he will transform it.
Midway through my 1994 campaign for a seat in the US Congress, I woke up from my hallucination and realized that, if I won, my job ought to be exposing the corrupt system in the best way I could.
My job wouldn’t be battling for better legislation or more money for my constituents. It would solely consist of:
Renting large trucks we would drive slowly through the traffic-crowded streets of Washington DC, every day. Those trucks would sport huge posters on their sides:
“Corrupt Congressman of the Week” would be the headline, underneath which a photo of the man in question would float; and then: a list of bills he had voted on, and the money he’d received from the special interests to vote that way.
Every week, more trucks, new posters, new revelations, in the streets of the capital.
Biting the hand that feeds, biting the hand that takes.
Making it personal. Not abstract.
The television series called Election is dedicated to making candidates appear forward-looking. “Yes, mistakes have been made, but now things will be better.”
That delusion needs to be shattered. The system is so corrupt that attacking it and exposing it to extreme embarrassment is the only reasonable strategy.
It’s possible to get on television with that message, but only after forcing television to take notice and after staging a different kind of show.
Hence, the trucks. For starters.
Crack the delusion. Crack the egg.