How Did The Presidential Race Turn Into A Reality TV Show?
What do Donald Trump and the Real Housewives of New Jersey have in common? No, it’s not New Jersey Governor Chris Christie‘s infamously poor choice to endorse one and denounce the others, earning fellow New Jerseyans’ contempt. It is rather the paradoxical pretentious theatricality of “reality” TV.
When politics meets entertainment, you get… the 2016 President Primaries. This might come as no surprise. With our modern obsession with who wore what on the red carpet and what celebrity was caught fooling around with their new beau by the unblinking eye of the paparazzi, it’s not so difficult to imagine that serious matters like politics have been transformed into a circus show.
There’s an obvious connection between the presidential race and much of reality television. Quite simply, both operate on the same principle of eliminating contenders. Whether it’s America’s Next Top Model, The Bachelorette, Survivor or… The Apprentice, there can only be one winner and it’s exciting for the viewers to see someone have their dreams crushed as others make it to the top. Now, my example with the Real Housewives may not have been the aptest one, when it comes to the structure of the reality format, but in terms of dramatics, it seems they are unsurpassed, which brings me to my next point.
Who wins can be a really passionate matter for the audience, as we tend to get emotionally invested in our favorites, rooting for them until the very end, crying with them when they lose in the grand finalé. But what matters most of all is not so much who wins but how he or she gets there. The talent, strength, endurance and cunning on one hand (which is all fine and always good to have) and the nitty-gritty gossip, the self-serving scheming and the backstabbing on the other — it’s all part of the process. And as contenders for the prize get “eliminated” by the viewership after every other debate, the core values of the American democratic system are continuously disregarded, or are at least pushed out into the background — maybe somewhere behind the curtain where we can’t see them.
And as contenders for the prize get “eliminated” by the viewership after every other debate, the core values of the American democratic system are continuously disregarded, or are at least pushed out into the background — maybe somewhere behind the curtain where we can’t see them. We know they are still there lurking, waiting to be called back on stage after the last ballot is counted, but we don’t want to see them now.
Many of the candidates in the primaries are guilty of the charge of appealing to people’s worst instincts as opposed to their ability to reason and think critically about the state of society. It’s in the ads, it’s in the endorsements — also in the TV appearances, the selfies with celebrities, the tweets, the pronouncements from feminist icons. It’s all part of the reel that keeps turning and turning because the camera is never off — the audience is always watching and is hungry for more.
There is a lot missing from the political discourse as it is because many voters would focus not on what the candidates are saying but on how they are saying it — is there a sufficient amount of intrigue and scheming involved; is there something outrageous to grab our immediate attention instead of having to listen to the dry “real” issues of the state? Of course, it’s much more entertaining to watch the spectacle as it occurs rather than to think about what is to come next. But what will happen after the show’s last episode? What are we going to watch next?
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