Political News Seems Like Unreality TV


I’m hardly the only one who has observed and opined on how politics has become – and also descended into (even if it seems politics is the lowest American art) – entertainment, a notion I keep coming around to in this space.

A moment that crystallizes this was when Newt Gingrich was asked about his questionable, if in fact rather disgusting, record as a married man at a debate just before the South Carolina primary. To his credit as a skillful political public operator – but to also further detract from his measure as man – he turned it around into an attack on the media to thunderous applause from what no doubt was a crowd who thinks of themselves as “values voters” who defend the sanctity of traditional marriage.

It was one of those moments when things felt so utterly unmoored from reality and spun into mind-boggling absurdity that one has to wonder just what strain of insanity has infected far too much of the populace. But the humorists did make the most if it even as they decried the lost entertainment value and comedic fodder after Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann removed their wackiness and truly crazy statements from the race. As much as I decry – being a member of the target demographic – the “blame the media” scourge that Gingrich used to great effect, hey, we’re talking entertainment here. And politics has distressingly come to resemble some cable TV feed of red meat, prejudices and downright lies, and hypocrisies and mind-boggling contradictions that we cannot dismiss the nature of modern media as a factor.

Out there somewhere is some conduit within the entertainment media or so-called news media that cannot just cater but pander to whatever prejudices, wild notions and even delusions people may hold politically.

In an era when “reality TV” is often more unreal than fiction, why should what’s supposed to be reality be any different? It’s all about the ratings, people, and super-serving what clicks with the prime demographic. In a nation that voraciously consumes entertainment, even the most disturbing and bizarre can be utterly compelling. That’s why I believe some of my Leftist friends have become devoted to watching the GOP debates – which face it, people, have been televised with such frequency they qualify for ongoing series status – beyond just staying aware of what the opposition is up to.

I gave that up after only a few last year. They were just too disturbing to my sense of well-being and faith that our democratic republic can weather this wild storm of what sometimes seems like near madness – but also a zaniness one can’t help but rubberneck because it’s just so damn entertaining – that characterizes politics all but across the board. But especially so on the right wing and within the GOP nomination’s clown parade, which has been filled with so many moments of shock, humor and surprise it deserves some kind of award as the most entertaining thriller on TV.

But let’s not forget that the media and entertainment may well be what saves us. I’ve said before and it seems to be that such comedic entertainers and their shows as Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert may well be the best sources of accurate news, information and sane perspectives as anything else out there.

And Lord knows we sure need humor in these bizarre times to keep those of us with some threads of sanity left from going as batspit as too many other Americans and our politicians in these wild and wacky yet perilous times. On the Left, we at least have the edge over the opposition when it comes to being funny in the most entertaining way possible. And I’d attribute that to what every good joke must possess: the ring of truth.

Humorous political entertainment is certainly helping save my soul at a time when too much else in the realm of politics either sickens or maddens me in at least two meanings of the latter term.

Perhaps it can also help preserve and maybe even save the republic.


Paradise Lost

Documentary Film: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory – Following through after my previous column writings on the two earlier films of the same name exploring the tangle of the West Memphis 3 murder case, the recently released third in the series is the best yet.

Not just in the fact that the filmmakers have by dint of experience become more skillful in their skills and presentation of a highly complex situation suffused with fog, huge police procedural and justice system mistakes, string emotions and hard-held preconceived notions.

It’s also because this one ends with the three convicted teenagers now very much adults being freed after 18 years in jail. Plus it affirms beyond a doubt that they are innocent of the crime of brutally killing and abusing three boys.

It also adds twists to a continuing story, such as how one stepfather of the boys has gone from being vocally vengeful and even – after watching “Paradise Lost 2” – a seemingly very likely suspect to becoming an avid and outspoken champion of the WM3’s innocence. Suspicion has now shifted to the stepfather of another victim.

Even more persuasive beyond a review of the evidence and the miscarriages of justice is the WM3 themselves, what they say, and who they have grown into while even in jail, from the semi-retarded Jesse Misskelley to, most of all, accused ringleader and prime instigator Damien Echols, who has matured into and eloquent, wise and even spiritually conscious adult who one can’t possibly imagine ever being a vicious and twisted murderer. Of course there remain unanswered questions such as who did kill the boys and whether that will ever be solved (one would hope police continue to work on that, and that it will result in “Paradise Lost 4”).

Beyond the specifics of the case, the doc also sheds rather worrisome light on endemic shortcomings in the investigative and judicial systems in modern America, and just how easily innocent parties can be accused and convicted of capital crimes. Which adds even one more compelling arguments in favor of ending the death penalty.

CD: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – The sort of solo debut of the former main songwriter and musical and conceptual leader of the band Oasis – one of the few musical acts to emerge in the last few decades I would characterize as monumental – is well worth getting and savoring, as it’s his finest and most consistent set of songs since What’s the Story Morning Glory, the Oasis artistic peak. It’s really not all that different from an Oasis disc in sound and style, which means if you think that The Beatles are just about the finest rock’n’roll/pop band ever, well, music of a similar stripe and quality was achieved by Gallagher with Oasis.

Here again is an album whose title and artist credit both spotlight him and retain the sound of the band. It offers sumptuous moments to be enjoyed, to cop one Gallagher lyrical line, while in the backseat of my mind, as well as the catchy rocking rousers of the sort Oasis triumphed at in some of the group’s finest moments.

In a just world, Oasis would have been far bigger in America (as they were in much of the rest of the world), and any number of the songs.

Rob Patterson is an entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2012


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