Thursday, June 5, 2008

Political Super Bowl

A friend asked me yesterday why I wasn't going to vote. I gave him a few reasons, trying to explain my general feeling lately that national politics are just another form of reality-based entertainment, and that people love to follow Presidential races for the same reason so many people only tune in to watch their home team when it makes the playoffs. I don't know, maybe I should vote third party, I said.

Truthfully though, despite my raging apathy, some part of me wants Obama to win. Maybe it's because he's biracial, and I'm subconsciously equating the fact that a biracial president would be a change with change itself. That, and the fact that he dresses and carries himself well and makes almost every photograph he's in look vaguely like art. (While McCain - old, white guy - is, visually, the past.) But those are pretty stupid reasons to base a vote on, especially if you still hold the idea that voting is some kind of sacred act. The fact is, I don't know very much about the men. Or the issues. And, more importantly, I've stopped believing in men and issues.

If there is anything I could get behind politically, besides instituting a mandatory national siesta (complete with nap rooms in the work place), it's to break up the two-party system. To my untrained eye that, more than anything else, is what's making our government resemble professional sports instead of professional solution-making.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, this idea that in our time sports, politics, religion and entertainment share the same essential qualities: a list of rules and two opposing teams. That's it. And as long as they have both of those they stand a chance of catching on. Take religion for instance. It's all about the rules - I mean, they're practically an end in themselves - and good and evil are the only two teams ever in contention. Politics are also about rules because the elected are supposed to follow the law, but also because they're creating law. As for team warfare... shit. Us vs. Them is the only fuel that junker will run on anymore.

So I ask myself, how different are these from our entertainment - the tales we tell ourselves, from The Three Little Pigs to CSI. In this case, there are rules too, in the form of genre, convention, cliche. Those are there so that a writer, if he's doing his job, delivers a predictable product. And if you really want to make your story sing, you make sure the differences between the hero and the villain are as sharp as possible. Cowboys vs. Indians. God vs. Satan. Republicans vs. Dems. The two parties even have animal mascots, and the paraphernalia is voluminous and garish. It's sports. The places we go to search for social meaning are just sports.

I'd like to believe that, when we build a big enough telescope to spy on advanced civilizations on far away planets, we're going to freak out about their games. They won't be two-way, Earth-style, but three-, four- or five-way. Imagine a tennis court in three prongs like a haz-mat logo, with balls flying in triple directions, all at the same time. Or a soccer game with six goal posts. Or a field game that doesn't just move horizontally but vertically too. Mere earthlings wouldn't have the motor skills to pull off thinking in all those directions at once. Maybe our brains aren't big enough for multi-directional tennis. Or we'd need more arms. Or maybe we've been thinking in 2D for so long, we've become dimensionally stupid.

Of course, you don't have to go another solar system to escape the easy dichotomy of two-way, sports-level politics. You could just go to Europe. Or India. or Moldova. Or a place like Norway, whose parliament currently has seven major parties with seats, and about a dozen others waiting in the wings.

Dramatic stories that are painted in more tones than a newspaper comic strip aren't impossible to come by on Earth either. The animated films of Miyazaki, like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, have morally ambiguous characters and whacky plots that give them the irrational dimensions of dream logic. I guess it's that Eastern sensibility. You've got to love Buddhism. It doesn't have any villains but the self.

I'd like to believe that it's still possible to elect a President with a shred of perspective left. So I fantasize that Obama's inexperience is his best asset. I pretend that he hasn't been in the Senate long enough for the warping to start. And vaguely, without really wanting it or being able to rationally defend this, I hope he gets in based on a purely emotional vote. A giant wave of a superficial, factually ignorant vote propelled by nothing more than the hazy want of change and admiration for the way the man looks in a suit. Otherwise, my pet theory goes, it could mean he made it to the top because he learned to play the game.

That's what I kind of want to happen. But I doubt I'll take part in it. For the same reason I never watch the playoffs, even though I say I will this time. I say I will because the stakes are higher, the players are better. It looks like fun, and I always tell myself that this year I'm going to watch. But I never do.


christopher said...

that's why Huey Lewis and the News named their album "Sports"

Scotter said...

Hi Daniel,

I really appreciate your thoughts and feelings about this year's political race, and especially appreciate your understanding of politics (and religion) through sports. Sounds just about right on to me.

However, there is one big difference between sports and politics: the result of a sporting event has no impact on whether people go without health care, starve, or die in a war. The result of an election does decide these things.

I can totally understand political apathy, especially after the past two presidential elections. It's sad to say, but as important as this election in November will be, the most important election of our lives was 2000. And with Bush, 98% of America got screwed.

On the other hand, it's safe to say that Obama has already changed politics. He's pulling audiences that politicians have never pulled before. To make a sports comparison, Obama's victory speech was held last Tuesday at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, where Minnesota's NHL hockey team plays. The all-time attendance record for a game is 19,434, and the all-time attendance record for an event at the Xcel Center was a Shania Twain concert that brought in 20,554 people.

Estimates from the newspapers report that as many as 32,000 people came to Obama's victory rally. 15,000 of the 32,000 were standing and cheering outside of the arena, just hanging out. I don't think anyone would stick around outside the arena if they couldn't get a ticket to the game, or Shania Twain.

What's really new about Obama is that he's our generation's candidate--the first one. He's the first candidate that will actually work for our interests, because he shares many of them. Hell, he's a midwesterner too. And every once in a while, a person comes along that embodies the best in all of us and brings a message that is true and free of sarcasm and delusion.

Does he know how to play "the game." You betcha. But just because he knows how to play the game doesn't mean that he's not it for our best intentions. It does mean that he might be able to use his skills and savvy to effect meaningful change and eschew the politics of "us vs. them" to create a better politics and a better America.

Ultimately, winning the Super Bowl is an end in itself--there's nothing that comes after winning the Super Bowl. You just start training for the next year.

But a lot is going to happen after this political Super Bowl in November, and our lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.

Sorry for the long comment.

Will Yates said...

A reason to vote, I think, is that the outcome of the race will actually make a difference in people's lives.

I support a preference voting system (ranking candidates in order of preference, rather than voting for just one) as a way to break up the two-party system.