Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why it is a wrestling match?

I've persisted with the analogy of wrestling when looking at politics and the media that covers it. As I've said before, the business of politics is serious and has very real implications on our way of life. From domestic issues ranging from Infrastructure to the Economy and International issues such as Security and Trade. Politics is vital to human society.

But it's not as dull as it sounds. For those who aren't political junkies, who don't read political blogs and watch cable news all day. For those who say "Politics is boring" and worry about more fun things like 'going out' or 'watching movies'. Politics can be summed up simpler- It's a popularity contest!

What is lost in all the policy debates and partisan rancor is the very real hurdle that you need to be well liked to actually get things done. So the game isn't so much "who has the best ideas to move the country forward". Rather its "who do we like most to put their ideas forward". That's what approval and disapproval ratings are essentially.

APF pundit Sam Seder has described this the 'horse race quality' of politics. I prefer to call it the 'Pro-wrestling quality' of politics. Firstly its all theater. The portrayal of archetypes, whether its when a politician defines themselves or when they are being characterized by their opponents. The manly man, the 'dark prince', the compassionate candidate, the flip-flopper. These may not reflect the person's policies or previous governing history but once the people are convinced of these archetype superficially, it is very difficult to remove.

In wrestling as in all of life, appearance counts for a lot. If a candidate does not have that 'star quality' from the beginning, there is little hope of them acquiring it down the line. A wrestler can have all the talent in the world, but if they are 5 foot 6 and not photogenic they can only go so far. The people will not 'buy' someone with an unconvincing stature as a credible champion. That is not to discount the possibility that a good dose of charisma may propel them in the top tier. Though it would be a tall order.

If you look at the top three candidates from the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, it is clear that each represents a particular archetype and all have a certain visual appeal.

In punditry, it's not so fickle. Pundits come in all shapes and sizes, not all are telegenic or even pleasant sounding. All pundits however fit into, not so much an archetype, but you could say a particular caricature. Pundits almost need to have a distinct embellishment and distinct personality style to be effective- just like any good wrestler. The intellectual, the cynical, the comedic, the outrageous, the outraged, the dumb and confident, the blissfully unaware, the populist, the people's champion etc... There are too many archetypes to mention. But they all must have one thing to be successful - showmanship.

Apart from the archetypes each politician and pundit play, another key component is orientation. Are you a hero or are you a villain? It doesn't really matter which one you are, its negligible. It just means you are in the public consciousness. If you are not known as a hero or villain, it probably means you are not known at all. You're probably a serious (read: dull) pundit or a an efficient legislator (maybe that's too cynical)? Being known has plenty of benefits, even if you're a villain. Exposure can be converted into book sales, TV analyst roles, thinktank and lobbyist positions. As long as you stay out of jail of course and even then that hasn't stopped people in the past.

We all know wrestling is fake. But in actual fact its more real than anything else, it's hyperreal. A wrestler who is an alcoholic in real life, may use this characteristic to inform his 'stage persona'. So when he is playing an 'alcoholic wrestler' on camera, its actually masking and making light of his very real problems with the bottle. As a viewer we are no longer able to distinguish between what is genuine to what is theater. They are actually intertwined. This can also affect the wrestler's self identity, he may start believing he is the character that he plays on stage. In politics when do we know when its genuine passion and concern, or when its gamesmanship and grandstanding. When a politician or a pundit overcompensates for their insecurity, perceived bias or hypocrisy and acts counter to their beliefs. Which is fake and which is real?

Its lamentable that politics is the way it is. But it is necessary to be pragmatic about it and see it for what it is. We need to be savvy about what we watch and believe of our politicians and pundits. We need to be aware of the emotional devices and mind games they use to make their constituents do things, often times against their better interests. We need to be aware of the self-delusion, ours and theirs. Just like wrestling, there might be a tendency to enjoy the fireworks but think its all fake. In fact we must do the opposite. Rather than being cynical and dismissive we should explore further into our politicians and pundits and look through the persona to find the real person behind it.

Read hyperreality in action, as conservatives refute the meme that "(presidential hopeful) Fred Thompson is just an actor"

Update (Part 2):
I think I may be updating this Ad nauseam but here is another find on HyperReality. Stephen Colbert talking about Wikipedia, the Wiki-scanner and the art of self-inventon. Watch and download the video here.

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