Evolving political landscape

Elton Wong

Well, the elections are over, though we don’t yet know which of the two dorks will be our next president. Though many of us (no matter what political affiliation) were not terribly happy with either choice, there will be some comfort to be found after the media election frenzy dies down. For one, we will begin to realize the president doesn’t have nearly the authority Bush and Gore were leading us to believe. Economic policies are not set by the president, they are controlled mostly by Congress. Furthermore, the actual president will be surrounded at all times by advisers, most of whom are very competent, if sometimes turned around on the issues. This last consideration was especially comforting as it appears that Bush might win.

In wake of the election before interest has totally died down, I feel it is a good time to propose some changes to the democratic process. Now, I’m not talking about campaign finance reform or getting rid of the arcane electoral college. The need for those reforms is so self-evident that I don’t even need to explain them.

My suggestions are made based on a few facts I’ve observed. First, television is the new political medium. By this I’m not talking about C-span. I’m not even really talking about the debates, although these were televised. Rather I’m talking about the places where entertainment and politics overlap, such as when the candidates appeared on David Letterman and Rosie O’Donnell, or when Bush and Gore taped segments for Saturday Night Live. This is where most people get their political information.

First of all, why did the campaigns of these candidates think it necessary for them to appear on these shows? The painfully obvious answer is that most people don’t even understand issues enough to form any kind of coherent position on them, let alone vote intelligently. People vote on the character of candidates but not real character. If that were the case, then Bush would never have been so far ahead in pre-election polls, seeing as how he spent most of his adulthood failing at business and having “youthful indiscretions” when Gore was in Vietnam and learning to be a public servant in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Rather, people vote on perceived character and celebrity. They want to relate to their candidate, and people relate to no one better than entertainers. In the popular culture of the United States, entertainment means television. Therefore, let us examine some prototypical television formats and imagine how candidates might explore them in the future.

The other afternoon I was watching MTV and what I saw was a documentary on the making of a Britney Spears video. Now, it’s ironic enough that MTV would make a TV show about the making of a TV product. Ignoring this for the time being, the documentary was very interesting.

I used to be interested in music production, so I know how a modern professional music studio can make anyone sound good. Ricky Martin, for example, needs about 12 digital-signal processors operating in real-time to produce his voice. Computer software can be used to correct out-of-tune singers and out-of-time drummers.

Watching the show, I learned videos are made the same way. Britney Spears had a veritable army of choreographers, makeup and hair people, film production crew and digital editing people at her service. I mean, if you made all those people work for me, I bet I could have platinum albums and No. 1 videos too.

When you look at all this, it makes political ads seem downright primitive. In four years, I want to see candidates entertain me the way MTV stars do. I want to see them dance on spinning chairs and sing for the camera in digitally-produced rain. Politicians always whine about youth apathy, but are they willing to do anything about it? You could even team politicians with pop stars. If Al Gore had shot a video with Christina Aguilerra and Bush with Britney Spears, think of what it would have done for the pre-teen, teen and 40-year-old male demographics.

So long as we’re making politics all about crude demographics, what about women voters? Pundits say women want a candidate who is compassionate and caring. Translate this to television, and certain solutions present themselves very naturally. Imagine this: a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime (Television for Women) Channel, starring Al Gore as a hunky fireman who risks everything to save his daughter from militia members who resemble the Bush family with a tear-jerker finale. It works on so many levels.

This wouldn’t be all, of course. Politicians would go after the male audience with something involving violence (maybe a steel cage match between the candidates.) Since political campaigns already talk about courting racial demographics, television spots could exploit those too because we all know that people of the same race always think alike.

These are just suggestions. The implementation of these ideas should of course be worked out by polls and focus groups like always. What is for certain, however, is that politicians can’t expect to be relevant to the voting public if they keep campaigning the way they have been. Times change and politics need to change too.