September 18, 2008

Obama vs. McCain or Justin vs. Kelly? The Election Parade Continues

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In most parts of the world, the campaign season lasts a few weeks to a few months at most. In the U.S., it used to start around Labor day, yet somehow this year we’ve been staring at the faces of Obama, McCain and their forgotten opponents since before March, and we’re still well over a month from election day.
To me, this is less of a true democratic political process and more like an overlong season of American Idol. Sure, we didn’t start with nationwide auditions and the playing field was never more than a few people, but watching everyone fall in love with one candidate over the other feels a lot like the loyalties we feel towards Kelly, Reuben, or … well, those are the only names I can remember. I don’t watch it anymore.
It’s not surprising that we care so much about the election, as it is generally assumed that the winner will have a major impact on our lives and the world.
What is amazing is how long we care. Is there really so little news in the world that we can spend thousands of New York Times articles on what Obama’s friend’s cousin’s brother said, or the exact medical details of McCain’s check-up?
We spend hours watching news anchors become sports commentators as they discuss the conventions and the debates in all of their petty detail. We even go through the ritual of counting delegates, as if Hillary Clinton or Ron Paul could even possibly defeat their opponents.
The election is no longer a political event, but rather a cultural one. It is no longer about picking our candidate, because most of us did that a long time ago and will vote with a party anyway. It is about replacing our love of gossip magazines and reality TV with something that feels more substantial, but in reality is not.
Obama’s passionate decree that “there is not a black America, or a white America,” was one week’s hit single. The Palin choice, another brilliant performance. The scandal over Reverend Wright? The mid-season plot twist. The conventions? Semi-finals. Racial and sexual politics? An attempt at diversity because ratings were low four years ago. The presidency? A major-label record deal. I don’t even have to make an analogy about the glossy spreads in major magazines and nationally-syndicated performances. It’s been done for me.
As I said last week, these men are rock stars as much as they are politicians, and who we pick is as much based on taste and identity as it is on policy and “values.” The convention footage of each candidate’s fans holding up posterboards and painted t-shirts is simply a patriotic version of loving the pop singer who rose from adversity and obscurity to the greatest heights of power and fame.
Is this a criticism? Absolutely not. I’m enjoying this whole thing as much as anyone. So why not go with the analogy and simply make it more fun? Why go to the ballot box? Let’s do call-in-voting live on television! Let’s have text-messaged write in support for the candidates. We already have the fireworks and an impressive light show lined up for the winner. Why not let Simon tell McCain he looks too old and make fun of Dennis Kucinich for looking funny? Let Paula Abdul secretly have an affair with Obama. Bring on Carter and Bush as guest judges.
I don’t mean to trivialize the election. It certainly is important who the winner is. Nevertheless, the way we go about watching these two pop stars travel along the national tours of rhetorical performances, the manicured hairstyles and perfectly picked wardrobes is painfully similar to the least important things in pop culture.
We could have voted months ago and sure we would have known a little bit less about our voting choice, but I think more importantly we would have missed the peaks and valleys of a good season of American Idol. So let the season roll on! I’m sure it will only get better.

Maurice Chammah is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be contacted at mchammah@cornellsun.com. Noses Up appears alternate Thursdays.