When politicians go pop
I write about pop culture for a magazine that deals with American entertainment. Does a presidential campaign belong in a column like that, for a magazine like this? Two months ago, I would have said no. But then came Oprah Winfrey's decision to actively campaign for Barack Obama. And the writers' strike. And the completely wrong polls preceding the New Hampshire Democratic primary, and the news media's subsequent caution in quoting polls since then.
The tipping point came somewhere in Georgia, on my annual drive from Maine to Florida; I was listening to a country station. The DJ spun Alan Jackson's new single, ''Small Town Southern Man,'' and when it was over he said it belonged to a new musical genre: Huckabilly. Sitting there in my car as I-95 unrolled in front of me, I thought: Something's going on here.
Indeed there is. The presidency has gone pop-cult. And to a large extent I blame the WGA.
Are TV viewers' habits changing because of the writers' strike? Many reporters who cover entertainment some at this very periodical think they are, and that if the strike doesn't end soon, the changes will accelerate. One change they've noted is the ever larger number of TV watchers who are tuning in to coverage of the campaign (which already feels four centuries old). The switch is partly because scripted TV episodes are in increasingly short supply, but it's also because...damn, people are just interested. If anything has come clear in the last few months, it's that citizens are tired of the Bush & Cheney Show. They want someone new. Almost anybody, it seems.
Programmers at cable nets like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News may have been born at night, but it wasn't last night, and they're not stupid. They've jumped on the bandwagon and produced a constant din of political palaver. Most is generated by the motormouths my friend The Longhair calls ''the White Guys in Ties Brigade.'' But it's not all Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews; there are also real stars! OMG!!
2008 has become the political equivalent of Celebrity Match Game. Huckabee fans include Ted ''I Never Saw a Gun I Didn't Like'' Nugent and Chuck Norris, he of the scary teeth. Hillary Clinton's got Barbra Streisand. John Edwards was running on empty with Jackson Browne. Rudy Giuliani had...er, Bo Derek? Romney is trailing the field, celeb-wise, but still trying with Donny Osmond. And even Fred Thompson had a pet celeb: Pat Sajak! (I was hoping my guy Obama would get Sajak, but disappointment is a part of politics.)
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