An Extension of the Reality Aesthetic
July 19, 2021 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Reality TV Has Remade Our Politics. But Just for One Party. (slPolitico)
posted by box (47 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I feel like we can trace this back to Richard Nixon awkwardly blurting "Sock it...to me?" on Laugh-In. The modern Republican has no comprehension of dignity or gravitas, unless it can be wielded as a hypocritical sledgehammer against anyone to their left.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:21 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


AOC and Nancy Pelosi were guests on RuPaul's Drag Race. Sure, less than five minutes of actual face time, but still.
posted by Billiken at 7:30 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


It's bonkers that we're five years out from 2016 and people are still putting out pieces like this that politely elide the fact that any of this stuff has consequences for actual human beings.

People were saying that Sarah Palin's appearance on Masked Singer marked the end times not because it was soooo crazy but because it was on March 11, 2020, minutes before the president gave a live speech in which he finally took notice of the spreading pandemic, and the day before my office closed indefinitely.
posted by theodolite at 7:50 AM on July 19 [28 favorites]


TV and politics have been intertwined for a long time. Ronald Regan. Sonny Bono. Clint Eastwood was mayor. Being on TV or in the movies is a huge force multiplier -see the Number Ones column about how strong it is for music.

And reality TV is just TV. If Republicans are better at understanding it's power, it's just something they do better than Democrats, but fortunately, other than Trump, they seem to have the force multiplier effect backwards; rather than using it it to get elected, they use getting elected to get on TV.

Jenner is kind of a special test case -California's dumb politics (only 1.5 vs a 40 million required to recall the governor) enable her to run for office while also running for tv. If she wins (probably a very low probability but who knows?) that will spell dire results for future major elections - in that people knowing who you are is way more important than knowing what you are for.

Also, I'm not sure I buy the 'dignity' thing Republicans vs Democrats, because they both do way too many other undignified things while in office.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:14 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Also, I'm not sure I buy the 'dignity' thing Republicans vs Democrats, because they both do way too many other undignified things while in office.

It's also kind of crappy as though being able to actually dance or sing are so risque that it's 'undignified'. No wonder our politicians fail us so often - the ur-conceptual version is a law-talking robot.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:18 AM on July 19 [8 favorites]


… people knowing who you are is way more important than knowing what you are for.

cough cough Governor Schwarzenegger cough cough
posted by panglos at 8:25 AM on July 19 [6 favorites]


TFA: ... the biggest stars in politics today—figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene.....

Um wut
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:31 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I think there is a key difference between a politician appearing on a talk show (“the Late Show with Stephen Colbert”) or SNL as opposed to competing on a reality TV show. In the case of the former, it is usually done for people who are already relevant but need to spread a message, or the show is, in a sense, trying to elevate itself (Clinton on SNL).

Celebrity Competitive Reality shows have a replication (deserved or not) of having “D List” celebs—people who are trying to stretch to minute 16 of fame. At best, they might be trying to get back into the public eye (Donny Osmond) or broaden their base (Bill Nye). To be on a competitive reality show is less about elevating the show but elevating yourself.

Put another way: in the case of the former, they show needs you than you necessarily need it; in the case of the latter, the reverse.
posted by MrGuilt at 8:40 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Talk show guests are also usually there to promote their latest thing, or raise their profile as a subject matter expert, or both.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:52 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Um wut

Is there any argument about that? She's gone from being a first-time Congresswoman who won her race essentially by default into a hero of the hard right, a regularly trending topic on Twitter, someone who gets invited to speak at Trump's rallies and someone who draws _far more_ public and media attention than her station would normally suggest.

She does so by being deliberately crude, obnoxious and belligerent, of course, but no one said that "stardom" was an inherently positive thing. Every soap opera, wrestling show or horror movie needs its over-the-top villains, and it's hard to say which of those three American politics resembles most at any given moment.
posted by delfin at 8:55 AM on July 19 [17 favorites]


It's the kayfabe. Reality television provides a platform where highly scripted behavior can be laundered as authentic and whatever resonates with audiences can be quickly exported to the campaign trail.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:55 AM on July 19 [26 favorites]


There is a particular kind of grandstanding that makes me cringe. One example of this is when some ex-military guys get together and start trying to top each other with bullshit military stories without reading the room so there are a dozen people sitting there bored and fuming while they hold the floor describing how drunk they got while doing ethically dubious or downright cruel things of increasingly implausibility like killing a moose with one well placed shot with a 22 pistol in the brain.

Another is when some poor soul boasts about how much better they are at something than other people - they could be boasting about their coding skill or their skill at hockey, or driving, or brawling, or driving a bargain or how much better their motor bike is than other people's motor bikes apparently based on much hearing damage they can induce. It's all the same monologue.

But here is the thing. It might make me cringe but there is a very good reason for people doing this kind of a display. Like gorilla chest beating displays they are a critically important way of letting individuals compete without actually coming into conflict in a way that will cause injuries. When two or more attention seekers do this they get to figure out which of the boastful show offs is the winner of their competition without anyone getting a scratch across their nose which could potentially result in an infection and losing a valuable tribal member. I'm not the person they are trying to impress. They are working to impress other loud showy types and doing it instinctively in a way that doesn't require them to get into a fistfight in front of the cameras.

You're not going to wound them and send them away in tears if you tell them them they look like an idiot. They are trying to look like idiots and are wondering why people who aren't trying to look like an idiot give up so easily. It's like a rap battle. They're standing up there to say we can throw our worst at them. They don't respect anyone who isn't willing to stand up there and make an ass of themself and tell lies and swear up and down that it's the gospel truth when everyone knows it isn't. The lies are the million eyes on a peacock's tail. They don't care that it's not the truth. It's a great story and they vote for the best story, because they want the best story to win.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:05 AM on July 19 [18 favorites]


Is there any argument about that?

I don't really have the energy today, but yes there is. She's already been totally sidelined in Congress with the cooperation of her own party. Her reelection appears to be unlikely. Not every briefly prominent kook is a "star." Certainly not "among the biggest stars." In politics, that requires some mixture of power, influence and endurance. She has little of those.

She's more likely to wind up as a talking head on Newsmax, which is a different kind of stardom.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:08 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


It's also kind of crappy as though being able to actually dance or sing are so risque that it's 'undignified'.

I think it's context. I spent most of last week with my family in and around Charleston, SC, and could not shake entirely the memory of this moment, which to my mind was among the most powerful political "performances" (if you will) in memory.
posted by thivaia at 9:11 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Marjorie Taylor Greene is just the next Sarah Palin. She's performatively stupid and makes a lot of noise right now, but after the next election she loses she'll be reduced to spending all of her time trying to claw her way back into the national spotlight.
posted by axiom at 9:22 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


In politics, that requires some mixture of power, influence and endurance. She has little of those.

Oh, she's not an actual politician. She's not even trying to be. Her being in Congress is almost incidental to her actual goals.

Agreeing to disagree, though.
posted by delfin at 9:28 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Republicans have reality TV. Democrats have Sorkin’s West Wing, where institutions work, opposition is loyal, compromise is wisdom and reasonable minds can differ. Unreality TV, guiding light of the Obama administration.
posted by moorooka at 9:47 AM on July 19 [16 favorites]


I feel like we can trace this back to Richard Nixon awkwardly blurting "Sock it...to me?" on Laugh-In. The modern Republican has no comprehension of dignity or gravitas, unless it can be wielded as a hypocritical sledgehammer against anyone to their left.

Laugh-In's head writer Paul Keyes, who arranged the "Sock it to me?" stunt, also wrote jokes for Nixon's speeches and often worked to keep the content on Laugh-In from getting too establishment. By contrast, the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was heavily shaped by Tommy Smothers' antiwar beliefs & Nixon tried to shut that show down, even though Laugh-In was in many ways a vehicle for cashing in on the popularity of the Smothers Brothers. Check out The Comedy Writer That Helped Elect Richard Nixon by comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff for background.
posted by jonp72 at 9:57 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


It's all about each party's standards, right? It's not an accident that the celebrity-to-politician pipeline is more prominent in the party that is indifferent, if not hostile, to competent public administration. Instances of Democratic celebrities jumping into electoral politics rarely go beyond the hypothetical stage, as the recurring "Alec Baldwin for president" stories demonstrate. So it's hardly a surprise that reality TV stars have found it easier to get ahead in the Republican Party, where one's record is less valued than one's ability to perform commitment to the "cause", however it is defined at the moment.

Conversely, one of AOC's virtues as a politician is that she doesn't assume, as many Democrats do, that competence is all that matters. She's very good at social media, as everyone knows, and that extends not just to stuff like Instagram stories, but also how she acts in congressional hearings. But that media savvy is ballasted by her depth of knowledge and her commitment for making government work for the American people, something that is by and large not shared in the GOP.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:57 AM on July 19 [12 favorites]


Sorkin’s West Wing

Prefigured by The American President, which itself was a dramedy commenting on the Clinton/Gingrich phase of the culture wars in politics.

Dave deserves a mention too, when it comes to political unreality.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:58 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Back around the turn of the century, I thought Martin Sheen would be an unbeatable candidate for president.
posted by MtDewd at 10:03 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


That was a lot of words to skip over the fact that reality television has always been pushed and popularized by the networks as a remedy to break up writer’s strikes

Not to mention that the grossness of reality TV giving a platform to the likes of Trump, Spicer, Palin and Carlson isn’t in bringing indignity to politics, it’s the opposite: treating these racists and fascists like they have any social value at all instead of the nothing but deep wells of pain and harm for vulnerable peoples that they cause

Reality TV producers giving platform to humanize Republicans is just grift recognizing grift
posted by Skwirl at 10:04 AM on July 19 [18 favorites]


Back around the turn of the century, I thought Martin Sheen would be an unbeatable candidate for president.

Tom Hanks these days.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:05 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Back around the turn of the century, I thought Martin Sheen would be an unbeatable candidate for president.

Democrats: Martin Sheen
Republicans: Charlie Sheen
Libertarians: Joe Estevez
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:16 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


They are working to impress other loud showy types and doing it instinctively in a way that doesn't require them to get into a fistfight in front of the cameras.

And it does tend to impress and motivate their followers. I participate on a site dedicated mostly to discussion about TV shows and during the last five years or so I noticed that when a random poster showed up out of the blue and started "confronting" me, if I had a look at their posting history there'd usually be a lot of reality TV shows. Almost entirely.

I also noticed that these types have a tendency to express their opinions as facts, which usually makes it difficult to engage in discussion with them because as far as they're concerned whatever they say is The Truth. It's effective for them to a point but things get rough when they're confronted with numbers and facts and science that doesn't adhere to what they want to believe. Then they start calling people crazy, liars, criminals, etc., and bring up unrelated but tried and true issues like buttery males. The whole pattern of behavior is like the written form of reality TV where what matters more than anything else is how much drama and controversy you can create and get rewarded for it.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:23 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


Reminds me of Jim Jordan during the impeachment hearings or, well, just about any other time. His idea of debating an issue is as follows:

1) Ignore what the other side said
2) Say your set talking points
3) Say them as loudly and obnoxiously as possible
4) GOTO 1

Because as long as he gets his statement out forcefully and loudly, the usual suspects will declare "Jim Jordan DESTROYS [opponent]" without fail. The same goes for a vast number of his colleagues and contemporaries.

The first televised Kennedy-Nixon debate, in which Nixon held his own rhetorically but got wiped out on presentation, has much to answer for.
posted by delfin at 10:28 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


Marjorie Taylor Greene is, at best, a buffoon. Her popularity or notoriety is a function of her press coverage. If the liberal press would stop covering her, she would have no platform for her performative politics. Instead of cringing and saying look what MTG did today, don't cover it. It is not news worthy. But, it sells. It is about the money. Always about the money. CNN loved Trump because bashing him paid the bills. Their ratings skyrocketed when he became President.
posted by AugustWest at 10:34 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Sorkin’s West Wing

Prefigured by The American President, which itself was a dramedy commenting on the Clinton/Gingrich phase of the culture wars in politics.


My wife has watched the entire run of The West Wing multiple times and when The American President showed up on one of our streaming services she picked it to watch one movie night. In retrospect it seems like a two hour series pilot and there are a lot of beats in TWW that are just copy-and-paste from the movie.

(We also have Dave on DVD, so you now know a lot about who my wife is).
posted by fedward at 10:42 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Y'all who think Marjorie Taylor Greene won't win reelection are basing that on what, exactly? Despite the lack of committee assignments she's going to head into the party primary a front runner based both on incumbency and fundraising, and nobody who runs from her left in a Republican primary is going to beat her in that district. And it's a super safe GOP seat, so whoever wins the primary will win the seat in November 2022. If anything Greene has paved the way for kooks from more districts to join her in the next Congress.
posted by fedward at 11:06 AM on July 19 [18 favorites]


If "she's a racist, sexist, obnoxious bigot" is the reasoning, well, do keep in mind that Steve King, Mr. "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?", won reelection eight times.
posted by delfin at 11:23 AM on July 19 [6 favorites]


Since the rest of this thread only fills me with despair, I will only say that my sister-in-law owned a gray couch that was used in the movie Dave. It was very large and comfortable. We always called it "the Dave couch."
posted by rikschell at 11:26 AM on July 19 [21 favorites]


Republicans have reality TV. Democrats have Sorkin’s West Wing, [...] guiding light of the Obama administration.

maybe in retrospect, I guess. But of West Wing's seven seasons, six of them coincided with the George W Bush presidency making the show far more fantastical than even the most egregious "reality" show. I honestly couldn't watch it. It presented an American presidency that worked, which was a bloody dangerous fantasy to have had at the time.
posted by philip-random at 11:30 AM on July 19 [6 favorites]


I mean, this is true, but Palin had a specific "look" going for her that caused a lot of conservative men to fall behind her.

Wonkette, December 4, 2006: GILF: Alaska's First Gal Governor Sworn In
posted by kirkaracha at 11:30 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Otherwise, we don’t know anything about her, but we do hope she seeks national office soon because the Capitol is filled with scary old men wandering around in their pajamas and she could really class up the joint.
Be careful what you wish for, indeed.
posted by fedward at 11:38 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Like gorilla chest beating displays...

So the problem is that, much like the gorilla, the jackasses can't seem to let go of their animalistic behaviors so they're stuck acting like a fucking gorilla instead of a HUMAN BEING!

Because we typically claim that we're better than animals. Whether it's true or not I like to think that I at least make an effort.
posted by VTX at 12:20 PM on July 19


>That was a lot of words to skip over the fact that reality television has always been pushed and popularized by the networks as a remedy to break up writer’s strikes

Yep!

In a number of ways, Reality TV is a right-wing business model, every bit as much so as multi-level marketing and payday lending.

Before I retired from acting, I was with this slapdash local talent agency that sent out typo-ridden casting breakdowns for all kinds of shitty gigs --promotional modeling (look hot, drink Red Bull, let men touch you), unpaid student films that required partial nudity (with, big surprise, the student director who had of course cast himself in the lead), you name it.

By far the grossest breakdowns were for reality series. Most of the time, it was "no pay but GREAT EXPOSURE" and they were looking for "STRONG PERSONALITIES" (read: assholes who are used to getting away with it). Casting calls were often very explicit about which ethnicity/gender/class background was supposed to go with which kind of "strong personality." Talent competitions might offer the faintest theoretical prospect of launching an actual entertainment career, but they were far outnumbered by the "bunch of jerks in captivity, see who survives" model.

It was clearly not acting work, and no seasoned actor would mistake it for their chance to "get noticed" by the "right people." But they didn't want actors anyway; they wanted marks. It was a 21st-Century twist on the "freak show," where ordinary people could point and laugh at the stars. And of course it was unpaid, because why pay when a certain kind of Strong Personality wants attention badly enough to humiliate themselves for free?

Naturally conservatives love reality TV. It's illusory superiority, voyeurism, and social Darwinism, rolled into one.
posted by armeowda at 12:26 PM on July 19 [27 favorites]


I thought Martin Sheen would be an unbeatable candidate for president.

It's been done, thanks to King and Cronenberg.
posted by doctornemo at 12:29 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


Along these lines I recommend James Poniewozik's Audience of One: Television, Donald Trump, and the Fracturing of America. It does a good job of analyzing what tv meant for Trump in a variety of ways.
posted by doctornemo at 12:31 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


The West Wing is fucking poison and I blame it for why we can't have nice things. So much trying to deal with the other side as if they were reasonable people.

They tried to throw a coup six months ago. McConnell plays Calvinball with the rules to seat three Supreme Court justices. But yeah, let's bargain with people who came within two or three minutes of having a show trial on live TV.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:38 PM on July 19 [25 favorites]




Naturally conservatives love reality TV. It's illusory superiority, voyeurism, and social Darwinism, rolled into one.

And everyone pretends that the game isn’t rigged.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:55 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


They tried to throw a coup six months ago. McConnell plays Calvinball with the rules to seat three Supreme Court justices. But yeah, let's bargain with people who came within two or three minutes of having a show trial on live TV.

Not to mention the writers wasting that fucking time machine they had.
posted by howfar at 2:20 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


PUT BERNIE SANDERS ON SHARK TANK.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:38 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of Jim Jordan during the impeachment hearings or, well, just about any other time. His idea of debating an issue is as follows:

1) Ignore what the other side said
2) Say your set talking points
3) Say them as loudly and obnoxiously as possible
4) GOTO 1


To be fair, that is every low-info paleo-conservative's playbook. I live near a city that has had a tortured path to adding an LRT to its transit strategy. Every news story about it has people and bots complaining that the money should be used to fix infrastructure (never mind that the federal funding to build the LRT includes hundreds of millions in funding to repair and upgrade infrastructure) but also a few profiles complaining that WHY ARE WE NOT TALKING ABOUT #THEAXEICAMETOGRIND (when that story has been the topic of three stories in the same media outlet that week).

I think the nadir of comments may have been a story in the Globe and Mail, which included the comment, "Why is this not in the news??!?" Buddy, you just read about it on the website of the largest circulation paper in the country.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:43 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Let’s just add a talent competition to the Presidential primaries. We haven’t had a good sax player in the running since Bill Clinton.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:10 PM on July 19




Ooo for 12 hours. Wake me when Twitter has any kind of conscience.
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:38 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


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