Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mr. President Goes to Hollywood

On Tuesday night I went to a lecture for my art history class. The last thing I would have expected was for it to give me an idea on what to write about for my blogging. The lecture was on a painting titled President Elect which contains a picture of President Kennedy. During the lecture, the art historian Dr. Michael Lobel said that by the 1960’s, politics had become advertising; our nation was being sold Presidents.

His remark reminded me of the class discussion we had the other day on Sarah Palin and presidential elections. I had mentioned how degrading it was for the United States to have its Presidential candidates try and appear like celebrities to try and win votes. And answering questions like what music they like or who their favorite actors or actresses are is pointless, since it does not address the important issues of our country like national security or the plight of the economy.

It seems that with each presidential election, the candidates are becoming more concerned about trying to win votes not by their platform of ideas but by their image. It is almost like ideology is becoming less and less relevant in the presidential elections. In Freeden’s book, he says that ideology can never cease to exist in the world (38). But can it stop existing in the sphere of elections in the United States? Will we one day be voting for a candidate, because they are more handsome or because they like Prada instead of Gucci?

Presidential elections have also gotten more media coverage over the past few elections, and people seem to be getting more interested in voting and elections. Now this could be, because of the state that our country is in right now. Again, our economy is doing poorly, and the Iraq War is a mess. Or could it be, because presidential elections have become to resemble the Hollywood scene more, since we get to read about stuff like the juicy details of the candidates’ families?

I feel like people are more interested in presidential elections, because they deal less with issues people want to ignore (is there global warming?) and more with our consumer driven-pop culture. I have seen the candidates for this election on People magazine where they willingly get interviewed and also on TV talk shows like the View or the Ellen Degeneres Show. By doing this, the candidates are able to reach a larger audience and possibly get these people inspired to participate in the elections, but at what expense? The presidential candidates avoid talking about the tough issues, because people do not want to read or watch something that reminds them of the problems or conflicts in our country. So, over time people could begin to vote more and more for a candidate not entirely based on what ideology they believe in or what issues they believe in, but for whose image they like best. It would be the downfall of our nation if over time our presidential elections practically reduced themselves to resemble class elections in schools where kids vote for the most popular kid not because that kid will do anything for them but because he/she is cool.


Allison Fish said...

I'm happy you chose to write about this.
The "celebritization" of political candidates in this day and age is unavoidable, but unfortunately, it is only destined to worsen. With constant technological and mass media advances, more and more potential voters are being reached. In today's culture a typical citizen is much more likely to turn on the television than pick up a creditable newspaper. What can be found on the television regarding the current presidential hopefuls is baffling, as you mentioned. Even more baffling is the unconscious, or sometimes even conscious, effects this televised material can have on its viewers, the potential voters.
Let's look back to the beginning of this downward spiral-the first televised debate in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy. Although they were equally matched in substance,the viewers focused on what they saw instead of what they heard. Nixon had just been released from the hospital, looking gaunt and pale. Kennedy, on the other hand, looked young, tan, and handsome as always. The audience that first heard the debate on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner by a large margin; the exact opposite was true of the television audience. This was the start of a continuous debate of the role television plays in politics.
I suggest everyone read the last two paragraphs of this essay (sorry, I forgot how to put the URL under a tag):

I think the questions posed at the end are worth thinking about and discussing in class possibly.

Virginia Beasley said...

I agree with everything you say in this post, but while reading it I began to try to brainstorm how this could possibly change. This trend has increased alongside the increase in types of media and accessibility. There's no way that we could not be influenced by the looks and charisma of a candidate, because we see them all the time. However, what could be changed is the focus of the media that's being shoved in our faces everywhere we go. Many people argue that the media should not be blamed, they just report what we are interested in, but I don't believe this tells the whole story. The media is calculated in what it sells to us, the lifestyles it tells us we want, the things we are taught we should care about. Although there is no legal way the media can be checked, I just wish there was a higher degree of responsibility to the people on what is reported and shown to us. Every advertisement we see has been worked on by psychologists, and people who know how to target people's minds. There's a reason that insecurity is so rampant in our country, and that people buy into
such a celebrity based culture. This has definitely permeated into the arena of politics, and I don't even want to think how much worse it is going to be 20 or more years from now.

Ai said...

It is sad, and i agree with you, that most people are too lazy to want to know more rather than just base their opinions on physical and trivial topics. Though, I feel that there are more than enough people out there that cares about this election for it's main purpose and will vote for the right reasons. i also want to add that it depends on the type of media that you are talking about. If look at the right source, such as CNN or the New York Times or any national news network, i don't feel that they are afraid to speak of difficult issues or ignore the important points.

Ashley Ladd said...

I think that the people of the U.S. are being generalized too much as voting for the "celebrity". The people are given who they are given to vote for, whether they are celebrities or rocket scientists. Either way, there is not going to be a candidate that is not qualified to be the U.S. President.
The idea of the president is a package of being personable/likeable and qualified. When one seems to be extra likeable and personable (aka. celebrity), one cannot just dismiss the fact that they have a political background and have a game plan for their hopeful upcoming presidency. I think more credit has to be given to these candidates, along with the people voting for them.

Anonymous said...

In terms of how the media operates, news stations and the like operate on ratings, and just like anything else in this world, revolves around money. When I worked at MSNBC this summer, the producers and I had several conversations about the topics we were covering and our duty to provide people with the facts and what they need to hear. They expressed to me a disillusionment they experience that results from the basis of ratings. Although they knew what stories should be most important to the American people watching their station, they were forced to give more time to meaningless entertainment stories about celebrities and the like because that is what kept people tuned into their stations thus boosting their ratings. In considering this, it is evident that if most of the American people are not concerned with the real issues in this country, but care more about celebrity. Its not that Americans are having this trashed pushed in their faces, the fact is, most Americans are looking for this stuff, which leaves intelligent people who are concerned with real issues in the dust. This can only lead one to the conclusion that these people who actually care about the real issues are the minority, and in a society structured as ours is, it appears as though the majority is always most catered to. Although we may understand the problem with the system here and might know what is really important, the fact is that most Americans just don't care.

Alex C said...

I agree with what Kip said, at least to a certain degree. In class we all expressed concern with the presidential candidates being treated as celebrities, however I do not think I am the only person to have purchased a magazine with Obama or McCain on the cover. Even more I am sure that our class is not unique, and voters all over face the same issues. They do not want the election to be based on who listens to the most popular music or who watches the hippest tv show, however those same voters buy the magazines to find out the answer. If the voters were truly bothered by this then they would not buy the magazines, not watch the interviews, and stick to the facts. However like Kip said, the problem is that Americans do not care enough to change this, in fact I can imagine there are even those who will cast their vote merely based on these superficial ideas and that is what is truly disappointing; that voters do not care enough to actually change anything