Friday, September 19, 2008

Political life imitates art: Stephen Colbert for President and Al Franken for Senate

In a recent issue of Time Magazine, Joel Stein wrote an intriguing piece on Comedian Al Franken running for Senate in Minnesota.

There was one particularly interesting passage:
Not So Funny by Joel Stein
Back when he was trying to be the Bill O'Reilly of the left, ranting as a host on Air America... Franken didn't have to modulate his personality. Now he has cut way back on the joking and has become a little more boring than people are used to... He won't, for instance, appear on Saturday Night Live this season. "We have to do everything so people understand that this is a real campaign and not just a conceptual-art piece" he says.
The great thing about American Democracy is that almost anybody can become a leader. Granted, you'll need a hefty amount of money and good name recognition, superficially those two things arguably trump experience. But after all is said and done it comes down to convincing voters of your sincerity and that you relate to them.

As far as "conceptual" pieces go you don't have to look any further than Action figures Arnold Swarchenegger and Jesse Ventura. Arnold became Governor of California seemingly on name recognition alone. He was an actor his entire Hollywood career, having never led as a director. To make things more hyperreal there was an infamous scene in the Sylvester Stallone movie 'Demolition Man' (1993) where they satirically alluded to Schwarnegger - Stallone's real life action star rival - as President
STALLONE: "Hold it! The Schwarzenegger Library?"
BULLOCK: "Yes, the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn't he an actor?"
STALLONE: "Stop! He was President?"
BULLOCK: "Yes. Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment…"

jesse ventura, kinky friedmanJesse Ventura, a former wrestler and Navy Seal was voted in as Governor of Minnesota, where Franken is running for Senate. Jesse in recent months has flirted with joining the race for Senate and entertained a bid for the Presidency. What makes Jesse a compelling "conceptual" piece besides his unorthodox resume prior to entering politics is the way he's redefined the bounds of what a credible politician and serious commentator can look like. Its worth noting that both Action Stars-cum-politician, Swarchenegger and Ventura starred alongside each other in 'Predator' (1987).

The most telling account on the absurdity of politics bending reality comes from satirist Stephen Colbert. In conversation with comedian RadioTalker Pete Dominick (also Colbert's warm-up act), the fake Right Wing commentator muses on his fake bid for Presidency which faked everyone out including himself
STEPHEN COLBERT: ...I came close to believing my own line of crap - [but] I did not! When was running for President. Because I had to sincerely engage with people...
PETE DOMINICK: That was an interesting time because I don't think anybody in the staff even knew what was going on with you and nobody wanted to ask "What are your intentions here sir?"...
STEPHEN COLBERT: My publicist even asked at one point "Stephen people are confused, is this a joke or is this real?"... and I said "I don't understand the difference"
Listen to the full excerpt of Pete Dominick's conversation with Stephen Colbert on reality

When it comes to hyper-reality, Jesse Ventura is the undisputed champion. In his latest book 'Don't Start the Revolution Without Me!' (2008), Jesse speaks on his failed play to run for President as an independent. He intended to achieve this by parlaying a wrestling storyline where "he was running for president" into a real campaign that would get him ballot access to make him eligible for a real presidential bid in the 2008 election.
Read the full post - Answering the critics: Jesse Ventura, Al Franken and The Terminator

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