The Tyrant in Your Television
Like most of you, I was too busy looking for something else to do to listen to Barack Obama's State of the Union address. I figured I could check out the president's unofficial blog, www.peoplesworld.org, for anything I had missed. As it happens, my perusal of People's World proved that there had been no surprises: the speech won high praise from that unofficial Obama newsletter (not to be confused with his unofficial newspaper, the New York Times) for focusing on the need for quick action on establishing a global dictatorship to solve the problem of superstorms (sorry, that's "Superstorms," capital "S") produced by Anthropogenic Global Warming. (The root cause of this settled science, which a unanimous 36 percent of scientists have chosen to have faith in, is apparently the unnatural level of White House gases in the atmosphere after a State of the Union address.)
At any rate, as I later learned, and as I am sure you already know, the big story of that night was not President Obama's historic world record for the longest speech by a Marxist head of state outside of the communist bloc countries. No, that feat was unfortunately upstaged by the complete unraveling of the American conservative movement, as it was revealed on live television that Senator Marco Rubio is actually a giant lizard from Mars; well, not that, but perhaps even worse -- he has a drinking problem.
When I first began seeing headlines about Rubio's "Watergate" moment -- how lightly the socialist press now tosses around the name that used to signify its greatest triumph, and Hillary Clinton's first attempt to break the law -- I wondered what could possibly have happened. Had he interrupted his SOTU response to engage in shameless product placement? ("Excuse me while I enjoy some refreshing Poland Spring water!") Had he used the water to make gurgling sounds as a demonstration of the current state of the U.S. economy?
No, as it turns out, he had done something much more serious: he had broken faith with the media-produced model of politics as TV show, by engaging in an unscripted act. And as Rubio has begun to distinguish himself as a frontrunner for this year's Scott Brown Award (given to the Tea Party senator voted most likely to dance the Bipartisan Shuffle across the aisle), his humiliating sip heard round the world ought to be regarded as an object lesson for all aspiring politicos.
Hadn't anyone informed Rubio that those big cups bearing the network logo that talk shows invariably put in front of the hosts and guests are not to be used? They are props, carefully placed by set designers to help create the illusion among the little people that the rich and famous celebrities over whose every word they swoon could be sitting around those little people's own kitchen tables.
As Rubio should have known, when you are explaining how your political opponent is undoing a republic, bankrupting an economy, and selling a nation's children into impoverished servitude, the most important consideration is whether you are able to make your criticisms without violating the rules of slick television production. There is nothing more frustrating for media professionals than "talent" that messes up its lines, or misses a cue.
When the celebrities at MSNBC and CNN speculated on whether the Florida senator had thrown away his political future by taking an awkward drink of water on live television, they were not making fools of themselves, as so many among the unsophisticated masses presumed. For they were speaking not as Homo Sapiens, but rather as members of that peculiar media-spawned subspecies, "Homo Cathodicus" -- TV-tube humans. Their question, a very legitimate one, was whether a "TV-senator" could ever be elevated to the status of "TV-president" after having, as it were, jumped out of the television by performing a normal human act in a "no-redo situation," i.e. on live television.
Homo Cathodicus loved Bill Clinton the most, not because he was a Democrat, a Rhodes Scholar, or a guy who always had an extra chick on his hands for a friend. They loved him because under any and every circumstance, he remained true to "TV-reality," which, in the terms of the unwashed conservative masses, is to say he was a perfect fake. He never broke faith with TV-world: he fostered the public's agreeable suspension of disbelief by never once acting like a real human.
Consider Clinton's greatest performance -- no, not his sunglasses-sporting saxophone gig on Arsenio Hall, or his carefully staged pensive moment at Normandy. I refer to his video-taped grand jury testimony, featuring his utter demolition of a young lover's value (it isn't "sexual relations" if you have no interest in the other person's pleasure) and of moral reasoning itself ("it depends what the meaning of the word 'is' is"). While unsophisticated conservatives felt they had witnessed a defining moment in the corruption of modern morality, the TV-tube humans were agog at their hero's grace under pressure. "By god," they marveled, "he pulled it off." And so he had, lying, and allowing himself to be caught lying, in the only way a man can simultaneously be caught lying and get away with it: in TV-world, where the best man is the one who produces the most fascinating storyline, and hence where the primary moral obligation is to be interesting.
Bill Clinton was the "missing link" of political paleontology, the evolutionary moment when politics ceased merely to be orchestrated by television, and finally became a TV program like any other, with mass entertainment as its chief purpose, and a stylized, amoral version of verisimilitude as its defining quality. Since Clinton, the divide between so-called conservatives and so-called liberals has been transformed from a mere moral or political distinction into a metaphysical one.
Conservatives are living fossils, trapped in a time when lying was considered a bad thing, taking other people's property was a sin, spending money that doesn't exist was a self-destructive folly, and believing you could "build that" was a sign of adulthood. Today, thanks to Clinton and the decades of hard work in the educational establishment that made him possible, wised-up has replaced wise, clever has replaced thoughtful, polished has replaced talented, and "doing it right" has replaced "doing right." In short, TV-world has replaced the real world -- and in TV-world, where entertainment is god, lying is good if it is done with chutzpah; theft is virtue if it is done by our handsome hero; incalculable debt is of no concern because we escape all future consequences merely by changing channels; and no one "built" anything, as it is all an illusion we create together out of painted cardboard, painted faces, and collective dreams.
The distinction of conservative versus progressive is now a difference in planes of existence, one the dead realm of an uncool past (i.e., real life), and the other the living mise-en-scène of our collective consciousness -- TV-world. It is the distinction between naïve, observable reality and post-modern, deconstructed "reality." In naïve reality, words and actions that contradict fact, nature and logic are judged irrational or immoral. In "reality," words and actions that contradict fact, nature and logic are just part of the grand show, to be judged according to the degree of charisma or élan with which they are performed.
As a clear example, consider the cliché ending of most major American political speeches since Reagan -- "...and God bless the United States of America." When a Republican says these words, Homo Cathodicus men are beside themselves with anger, cynicism, or mocking laughter. When a Democrat says them, Homo Cathodicus enjoys it, or at least tolerates it with equanimity.
Are they hypocrites? Not in the least. For what TV-humans and their enthralled followers in the general public implicitly understand is that these words carry a completely different meaning when delivered by Republicans or Democrats, corresponding to the difference between reality and "reality." A Republican says them because he wants you to think he believes in God, and wishes to appeal to the sensibility of listeners who also believe in God. When a Democrat says them, by contrast, everyone knows it is a performance: he is "playing American," saying what everyone expects American leaders to say; no one imagines it is a declaration of personal faith, or an appeal to genuinely religious people. And so it is quite reasonable for progressive TV-humans to roll their eyes at the Republican, while nodding approvingly at the Democrat. The words may be the same, but the quotation marks around the Democrat version remove the words from the real world of the bitter clingers with their Bibles and guns, and bracket them off in the realm of post-modern "TV-politics," where even "sincerity" itself comes with a wink.
When conservatives point to the obvious contradiction between Barack Obama's words and actions on spending, taxes, healthcare, the free market, Benghazi, and almost everything else, they merely reveal their naïveté. Obama, like Clinton, is not a president, or even a human, in the old sense of those terms. He is a TV-president and a TV-human; his words need not match any reality beyond the media apparatus in which he "exists." He is to be judged according to whether his TV-presidency is interesting and entertaining. When the greater public gets bored of the show, they will switch channels and watch a different show.
But as long as that public never actually turns off the TV entirely, the post-modern progressives will get their way. Through progressive education, progressive mass entertainment, and progressive TV-politics, the citizen-viewers are kept permanently drowsy, hovering on that edge of sleep where the leftist fantasy of a conscienceless collective consciousness seems almost possible. The progressives will destroy what is left of modern civilization, while citizen-viewers continue to doze happily within the media's comforting cocoon of "politics as usual" -- the cocoon of bipartisanship, "my good friend across the aisle," doing what's best for the middle class, saving Social Security, and making sure all children get a good education.
Sweet dreams to that public, and may they never be jarred from the peaceful slumbers of TV-politics by the impromptu awkwardness of real life. In other words, may they never wake up from their somnambulant "reality" to face the real nightmare their dreams have wrought.