Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Deconstructing Modern Political Coverage

This election cycle, the media are not just in the tank for Obama, they are the tank, and that glistening container is sloshing and running over with the sweet milk of hope and change and electoral predestination.

I’ve been wondering why this should be. There are the obvious reasons, of course: the press is always biased in favor of the Democrat, reporters and other news-mongers are overwhelmingly liberal, and the large metropolitan centers in which the major media are located are echo chambers for those fashionable political views that pass for received wisdom. But this year I think there’s something additional afoot, and I believe it has to do with The Narrative.

It appears to me that all of these news writers, reporters, pundits, talking heads, and assorted other gatekeepers are unmasking themselves as frustrated authors, would-be Pulitzer Prize winners who hunger to write the next Great American Novel – and the Obama narrative, as recounted by the candidate and his handlers, perfectly dovetails with their jejune sense of drama. Bouncing around inside their heads, like a ping-pong ball tossed into an empty garage, is the exciting notion that the storyline of Obama’s life makes a great read, and that they now have an opportunity to write the ending to the story in a way they find artistically pleasing.

Just consider the elements of the plot:

1) First serious African-American candidate for president: young, hip and brimming with big city cool;

2) Genuine African roots (his father was from Kenya);

3) A somewhat complicated childhood (father skipped, early years unsettled, wound up being brought up largely by his white grandmother);

4) Worked hard to further his education, finally graduating with a law degree from a prestigious university;

5) Toiled among the disadvantaged, in a non-profit environment, to help better the lot of the poor;

6) Coming to believe that he could have a greater impact by moving on a larger stage, he decides to enter the political arena, where he wins elective office successively in the Illinois state senate and the U.S. Senate.

7) He is, ostensibly, a garden-variety liberal, compassionate, tolerant and fair-minded – practically from central casting! – but there are sexy, though vague, undercurrents of radicalism, that could conceivably propel him toward mighty deeds, unprecedented in recent memory.

Are there facts that conflict with, contradict and otherwise undermine The Narrative? Racist and anti-semitic preachers? Terrorist associates? Sweetheart deals with crooked real estate investors? Ethically-challenged fund raising? Thuggish intimidation of political foes? A fundamental contempt for America, for its constitution, for the give and take of our system of government? Well, what do fiction writers do when they want to smooth out the bumps in the plot? They edit, they delete, they ignore; it’s called “poetic license”, and they are, you must remember, laboring to nurture The Narrative, to write that wonderful novel in the only medium at their disposal.

And what is one of the things a writer will do to develop characterization? He will employ the device of contrast, to throw into relief the shining merits of the Young Hero. So, if Obama is a veritable Beowulf, the storyline demands that John McCain and Sarah Palin be cast in the respective roles of Grendel and his mother. This may not be fair, or even remotely factual, but we must never forget: The Narrative is the thing!

Unlike the yellowing, dog-eared manuscript of a traditional novel, resting in the desk drawer or file cabinet of the novelist manqué, wrinkled and dirty after numerous round trips to disparaging publishers, The Narrative as it unfolds in the minds of these indefatigable scribblers is read everyday, and taken in by that uncomfortably large portion of the population – described by H.L. Mencken as the “booboisie” – not as the torrid potboiler for which the “bodice-ripper” is the obvious model, but as genuine biography and scientific fact, with potentially alarming consequences for the future of the Republic.

If Obama is elected, one wonders what prodigies of literature our frustrated novelists will turn out under the guise of “news” at the end of four years. My guess is that the Young Hero celebrated in the stanzas of today’s epic poetry will undergo a sharp transformation, as will the genre used to aid and abet his struggle to secure a second term. Look for the world-weary loner of noir fiction: hard-bitten and cynical, but possessing his own admirable code of honor, pressing forward to do the right thing amidst the disasters and crimes with which he is beset – through no fault of his own! – but with which he has been framed by his cunning enemies. Perhaps the press can work in some gangsters or Nazis, or maybe a company of night-riding Republicans. There is plenty of time to decide whether Bobby Jindal will look better in a white hood and robe, or in jackboots, a gleaming monocle in his eye. Plenty of time to create a new Narrative.


mojo said...

"Jejune" don't hardly cover it.

I still have hope (you should pardon the expression. I denounce myself.), based mainly on the Conan-Doyle-like curious fact that the One is still pulling about even with Mad Mac in the various polls. Even with the media barrage running 24/7.

Arf arf, y'might say.

the_real_jeffs said...

No matter who wins the election, we're looking at more crazy years. The Republicans need to rebuild the party (after kicking selected idiots out the door) after losing control.

The Democrats not only lost control, they surrendered to the nutroots, and are power diving straight down, and trying to auger in deep.

The MSM will continue it's slide into irrelevancy no matter what. But if McCain wins, they will go berserk. If Obama wins, it'll be like watching an old alcoholic guzzling 10 gallons of Everclear.

I once thought that the election would bode well if McCain won. Certainly things will not be as bad if he does win, but I'm thinking now that he'll make the difference between an extended stay in the ICU, and long term care at home.

Either way, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Steve Skubinna said...

Snarky as expected, but with a kenrnal of truth, Paco. I think the temptation to help shape the story has proven too irresistable for today's ink stained wretches. They got a heady taste of that power during Vietnam, the only Good War in the leftist narrative (because it's the only one so far they have won).

Despite constant attempts to dust off the Vietnam Template and shoehorn every single subsequent US exercise of military power into it, they've run that narrative into the ground. That dog won't hunt.

This new narrative, however - it's glorious, shining, hits every leftist hot button, and can be truly transformative. This isn't just betraying a few million little brown people across the globe - this promises to remake the hated American society into one more in line with every bong driven dorm room bull session that ever held the tantalizing prospect of getting laid by that edgy Womyn's Poetry major, you know, the one who always wore that beret and smoked Galoises?

Wow, man. Just wow.

Steve Skubinna said...

Hey, are you proposing that today's Obama - the Duke Paul Atreides of Arrakis one - might transform into Detective Paco?

Dude... my mind just boggled.

Paco said...

Steve: No, no, no. More of an "anti-hero"; maybe something out of Norman Mailer.

RebeccaH said...

This media coverage of politics in general has been beyond poor the last eight years, not really good before that, but absolutely dismal this election season. That does bode well for the accurate information-loving population.

bruce said...

Yeah a lot of people our age may be intoxicated by the 'Black JFK' pitch, but journalists give it substance.

Oddly parallel, my former school friend Geraldine Brooks won Pulitzer for a novel which is hardly more than a bodice-ripper for boomer college-grad women, including escaping slaves and 'miscegenation' in a re-write of LM Alcott.

Our age group are suckers for a certain type of redeeming narrative.

RR Ryan said...

Personally, I prefer things that stay in Norman Mailer.

the_real_jeffs said...

Me, I prefer James Bolivar DiGriz as my model anti-hero.

Wimpy Canadian said...

First serious African-American candidate for president: young, hip and brimming with big city cool;

Paco, you forgot "Ears big enough to embarass Prince Charles"

Paco said...

Wimpy: Well, the ears are implied; they're what help to keep him cool.

blogstrop said...

Great thesis Paco!
Someone at CL's recently tried to say that the media was no longer relevant. I beg to differ. We are talking about voters, and voters are not political junkies like ourselves. Some soak up broad and shallow impressions of what's going on; some have no idea at all.
The media are there every day with the news, weather and traffic reports, and all the other stuff they fill their space with.
Propaganda is not restricted to what state-run outfits do, or did since 1917.
We live in increasingly "interesting times", but at this politcal banquet there is more than a taste of history repeating.