I haven't watched pro wrestling since the mid-80s (back when it was still called the WWF, rather than the WWE), but even a 12-year-old could tell the outcome was predetermined, and the media emotion covering it was more or less scripted--the moral indignation was contrived, inconsistent, and superficial. That the script was just about the same every Saturday morning made it predictable enough to watch with glee rather than horror. Psychologically, one might like to fantasize about hitting someone with a metal chair (though it's not good to do), but it's always nicer to know that, in movies and pro wrestling, it isn't actually real: such is the cathartic effect of drama. The catharsis, however, only works if it isn't real.
Our election script feels disturbingly similar this year, and because it is being portrayed as reality, isn't cathartic at all.
We're given a cartoonish, exaggerated villain who makes scary and dangerous runs at achieving his nefarious goals. Various morally compromising revelations are made against our hero (or heroine), who must battle back against all odds (though none of us really think the odds are against them), and we have the predictable turning point. A great deal of WWF coverage back then was devoted to pre- and post match hype, consisting of blustered recriminations and self-adulation. The verbal 'debates' between bouts were so idiotic, either side could claim victory (and both did). The same holds true here: winners of the 'debates' are declared by the media, often in contradiction even to the third rate bluster we've just witnessed. The polls read whatever the pollsters want us to read, and the political analysis seems so shallow, unrealistic, self-referencing and narcissistic that I'm honestly no longer sure our votes even really count--and I think we should seriously start questioning it.
This year gets odder the farther we go: the country feels to me like the Poughkeepsie Civic Center circa 1984. It's Hulk Hogan vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper. Hulk is the "good guy" because even though he used to be a "bad guy" he's actually a "good guy" now (and that's all the moral reasoning we're gonna ask for or get). Rowdy Roddy is bad because, well listen to him! He's all nasty! Of course Hulk is nasty too, but that's cuz he has to be! He's fighting Rowdy Roddy Piper! But don't worry folks, we all know who's gonna win in the end. This was just to get your blood pumping and make sure you're committed to the action.
The question for the electorate: Was the WWF of the '80s a prophetic work of performance art, warning us of the political climate to come? Or was it just a useful template for the parties?
I once ran into an ad man, brought in to help a friend's business start up. He said that, once upon a time, advertising used to be naive: they would acknowledge that the competition offered a decent product too, and that the customer actually had a choice between goods. The ad man felt this wasted time and endangered the attention of the customer. An improvement, in his eyes, was when a pivot occurred to "good vs. evil" in marketing. The genius of our current marketing trends, he concluded, was we've finally reached the ultimate in advertising, with one last innovation: successful companies have made advertising have the emotional effect of "evil vs. evil", and that marketing your business as the stronger evil, you can really get them hooked, with no rational arguments needed. (Think about that next time you watch a car commercial).
Interestingly enough, the pro-wrestling world seems to have morphed over these lines since I was a kid. So have our politics.
To choose the lesser evil is still to choose evil. In fact it's to participate in evil. It's a no win situation.