Back when I used to live in New York City, people would ask me what I thought of Mayor Ed Koch. "He's a great entertainer," was my stock answer. To wit, Koch left office to later become a TV judge and radio host.
Anyone who thinks that the line between politics and entertainment isn't hopelessly blurred probably also thinks that the notion of global warming, despite the shrinking polar ice caps, is "junk science." Thanks to Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger, people who buy the notion that professional wrestling is a sport and the Terminator movies are cinema can now decide gubernatorial elections. But when you think about it, isn't that truly democracy in action?
After all, the war in Iraq ended when George W. Bush landed Top Gun style on a carrier to declare it over in front of a banner, conveniently provided by the Bushies, that declared "Mission Accomplished." The fact that more US soldiers have died after that photo op than before the war's announced end is just a minor inconvenience. We saw the president say it was over on TV. It must be true.
Meanwhile the scrum of Democratic presidential aspirants has already provided one glaring example of how running for the top office is just another media opportunity in the candidacy of Al Sharpton. Here's a man who never met a camera or microphone he didn't like, and it's obvious he hasn't a Popsicle's chance in hell of becoming the nominee, much less president. So why is he even running?
Then again, he's the same guy who whipped up a media frenzy over the Tawana Brawley "case" by declaring conspiracy theories involving Poughkeepsie public officials that rivaled the speculation surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Eager reporters and media outlets covering what was likely a runaway girl with a runaway imagination in fashioning an alibi ate it up like it was genuine news. The fact that Sharpton was even considered a serious enough candidate to participate in televised debates tells us that it's not a candidate's platform that matters anymore. Rather, it's how many TV cameras a political aspirant can get aimed at the podium on any platform they stand atop.
And America is not alone in this phenomenon. Osama bin Laden's cassette tapes probably outsell Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake combined in the Arab world. And I imagine that his videos are giving "Girls Gone Wild" a run for the money at the roadside shops on the road to Mecca.
All the bemoaning by pundits about how the once serious business of politics has become tawdry entertainment hasn't done a bit of good. So why don't we just embrace celebrity as the wave of the future and use it as a means for genuine electoral reform?
It's obvious from the last election that the Electoral College is as much of a needless vestige as the human appendix. But the idea created by our founding fathers of filtering the results of the popular vote through the social and cultural elite did have some wisdom.
So instead of the grinding and repetitive round of primaries and the party conventions that no one much watches anymore, perhaps we should use the national occasion of selecting a president to create the sort of entertainment events that America loves. Celebrities are now lining up to give their nods to the candidates of their choice. And far more Americans go to the movies, watch TV, attend sports events, rent videos and DVDs, and buy CDs than actually vote. So turning over our presidential elections to the entertainment business would obviously reflect the public will far more than asking people to take time out of their busy days to actually go to the polls.
So here's how it works: Instead of candidates taking themselves on the road across America for a good year or two and spending an inordinate amount of time sucking up to corporate interests for campaign contributions, presidential aspirants would instead use the election season to line up celebrity supporters. Instead of such yawn-invoking images as John Kerry eating a rubber chicken at some nondescript Iowa town hall, we get glimpses of him in a hot tub in the Hollywood Hills with Cher, Madonna and Drew Barrymore wearing skimpy bikinis. Now that's entertainment. And what sells papers and boosts TV ratings is surely good for the economy and good for America.
By the end of the race, on election day, we then tabulate the combined box office receipts, stadium ticket grosses, CD sales -- sorry, illegal downloads won't count -- TV ratings and video and DVD rentals of the stars each candidate lines up. Whichever presidential aspirant amasses the most successful slate of celebrity electors wins. (And after that, we might even convert their stay in the White House into a reality show a la MTV's The Real World. Now that would make The West Wing look like mere fiction, wouldn't it? Oh wait it is fiction.)
In the event of a close call, we could have the candidates stage competing, weekend long telethons featuring all their supporters. The one who earns the highest ratings breaks the tie and takes office.
This truly democratic system would immediately erase the problems of soft money and special interests. And what better expression is there of the public will in a capitalist society than the way people vote with their pocketbooks? It's an idea whose time has surely come. And it's gonna be the sort of boffo entertainment to take our minds off such niggling details as national security, the deficit, the economy, education, the environment and other bummers that cut into enjoying all the benefits of modern life. So let's all settle back in our easy chairs in our home entertainment centers and the real race begin.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.