Saturday, November 12, 2011


Like it or not, reality television is not just for television anymore, it’s become a way of life. And, we, the American people, have turned out to be the Biggest Losers. America’s current cultural default setting of voyeuristically watching sordid manipulated dramas unfold before our eyes is proving to have much more far-reaching consequences than anybody could have ever imagined. The phenomenon of commercially produced competition masquerading as 'reality' has become more than just guilty-pleasure-lowbrow entertainment. In fact, it has so thoroughly influenced and oversaturated our cultural identity, that it’s become difficult to differentiate a game show from a political campaign.

A little more than three years ago, a perky, photogenic, flag-waving, self-proclaimed pit-bull with lipstick entered the national media spotlight, and at the time, it probably didn’t occur to most of us to draw a parallel between her specific brand of mean-spirited, attention-grabbing, political backbiting and America's Next Top Model. But, as time has gone by, and as we've watched her carry her Down’s syndrome baby around like a loaf of bread from one political rally to the next, heard her repeatedly misquote the constitution, watched as her chastity championing teenage daughter got knocked-up by the local bad boy, and listened as her rabid rhetoric became more and more malicious, all in the name of patriotism and Christian values, it began to look as if Sinclair Lewis’s prescient 1935 quote might actually come to pass.

"When fascism comes to America,

it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."

Sinclair Lewis

'Real America,' the one of cup holders, mud flaps, and chewing tobacco, was finally getting the representation it had long been lacking, and the grateful middling masses turned up, tuned in, and lifted up their strident and shrill, newfound spokes model with the force of a tsunami – ethics violations be damned!

When the publicity-hungry hockey mom finally relieved herself of her pesky gubernatorial duties, and went on a self-promotional, nation-wide book tour, her supporters didn’t question her deserting her constituents, rather they seemed reinvigorated by her fearless-buck-the-system-confidence. They gathered in malls and town squares crying for smaller government, looser regulations, and called for a firearm in every pocket. They shouted accusations of tyranny and socialism willy-nilly at the current President all to the half-governor's smiling approval. Cameras kept rolling and supporters and critics alike tuned in daily to watch the latest installment of her partisan performance piece.

Political strategists took note of what was capturing the attention of both the media and the discontented voting public, and political contenders acted in kind – loudly courting the far right lunatic fringe with the same strident fear-baiting tenor as the rogue Alaskan. Cable news network pundits, arugula-eating liberal elites, and even old school Republican plutocrats watched aghast as the new rules of campaign strategies took on the character of a Jerry Springer, hootenanny, cage-fight.

At the same time as the moose-hunting-pageant-walking-hockey-mom-media-bus-tour and jamboree was gathering momentum in the nation’s heartlands, our ultra-right leaning Supreme Court weighed in on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. From here on out, there would be no limits on corporate campaign contributions. Essentially, Walmart can now buy the presidency! Of course, this was potentially great news for an uneducated public who believes that Walmart and its ilk are prototypically American. They haven’t been reading the fine print that explains how Walmart has outsourced American jobs to third world nations where cheap labor can be exploited under even slacker regulations than our own. They’re not concerned that Walmart’s produce is flown in from Chile and Costa Rica at the expense of local farmers, and they’d long ago forgotten those mom and pop stores that had to close up shop when behemoth corporations opened their doors with prices that mom and pop couldn’t compete with.

Since then, we've luckily managed to avoid bearing witness to a Trump campaign. Apparently the Donald felt that his real reality television responsibilities outweighed the public's call for his run for office. Instead, however (along with a pack of other irate wingnuts, all clamoring for the Republican nomination), we've got an angry, media hungry Georgia business man, who's made a fortune from a mediocre pizza chain. And if mediocre pizza wasn't enough to substantiate this man's patriotism, his self-righteous, uncompromising insistence that there would be no room for a Muslim in his cabinet, his indignant claims that government regulations inhibit free market advantage, and his hardened no nonsense tone has struck a chord with a certain disgruntled conservative constituency during an economic crisis.

Despite all odds, Cain has managed to stay in the running amid the more seasoned darlings of cable news and talk radio, even grabbing the spotlight away from such legendary lunatics as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum. In the past weeks, however, four women have come forward with accusations of sexual harassment against the pizza man. With all his bobbing and weaving around the accusations, it's hard to remember that republicans claim to be the party of 'personal responsibility.' Of course, even with all the accusations of Cain's sexual inappropriateness, he continues to use dismissive and misogynistic language; joking about Anita Hill and referring to former Speaker of the House Pelosi as "princess Nancy." One would think that this brazen demonstration of insensitivity and denigration of women when his character is in question would be detrimental to someone in such a public arena, but in the last month the Cain campaign has raised nine million dollars!

Perhaps this may not be so surprising after all when one considers that Cain's attitude seems to fit directly into the groove of the current anti-woman agenda that the Republicans have been so relentlessly pushing forward. It might also make perfect sense in light of the fact that the folks he's appealing to are the very same folks who cheer executions, call for the death of the uninsured, and boo soldiers.

I don't have the interest or energy to expound upon the foolishness of the pizza man's 9-9-9 tax plan (a tax plan shockingly similar to the one that the inhabitants of video game SimCity live under), nor do I care to blather on about the irrationality and idiocy of his proposed immigration reform plan other than to say that it includes not only an electrified fence, but also a moat filled with alligators all along the U.S.-Mexico border (I wish I was making this up). But what I would like to point out is that in his closing statement for one of the Republican debates, Mr. Cain said: "A poet once said, 'Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it's never easy when there's so much on the line."

Actually, the poem that the pizza man chose to quote really isn't a poem at all, it's the theme song from a Pokemon movie! Yes, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the President of the United States of America is quoting Pokemon. Kudos to Mr. Cain for taking our already twisted reality television culture one step further, and entering it into a world of bizarre performance art.

This is what these recent years of championing ignorance and spectacle over intelligence and substance has brought us to.

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