Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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March 30, 2007
"electability" = "ad buy"-ability

Gore Vidal sums up the current American political system in two sentences:

You're not elected because people think you're any good.
You're elected because you can buy the ads.

Source: interview in BookForum for Dec/Jan 2007.

The implications of Vidal's off-hand insight here initially strike me as very chilling. They go beyond the elementary notion that media companies will push the candidate who generates the best copy. I feel like we all already know that.

The implications are scarier than that, because of what they suggest about the mentality or behavior of today's typical American voter. And even on that point, I wonder whether the gist of Vidal's comment doesn't go beyond the simplistic, behaviorist point that we might think him to be making at first blush, if we skim the interview half-mindedly (as I admittedly first did, as I do everything).

Vidal's observation does more than merely to perpetuate a mechanistic, widespread notion, derived in the American mind, I suppose, from popularized concepts of Pavlovian, classical conditioning. The notion says that "Americans are passive robots who will automatically pull the lever in the voting booth for whomever they've seen the most ads." Though the perpetuation of that proposition is of some usefulness too.

Rather, the "can buy" phrasing of Vidal's observation invites us to take the analysis one scary step further. American voters, his comment perhaps suggests, are active, forward thinkers who have come to identify their prospects for personal well-being as identical with the prospective health of the corporate media conglomerates which generate their revenues from ad sales. Individual voters vote based on a sense of which candidate, should he or she be elected, in the years ahead is most likely to sell the most ad-packed newspapers; pull the most eyeballs to cable TV, and the commercials broadcast there; and generally expand the scope of a world in which media rules all.

Put another way: American voters have come to acknowledge and accept that their politics is run by, and subordinate to, the interests of media corporations. Voters acknowledge and accept that the economic and psychic health of their entire nation is dependent on the fortunes of same. Voters behave like shareholders. Even if most voters are not, in the technical sense, holders of individual shares of stock in media companies, they have learned to behave and to view reality as if they were.

Which candidate will bring more money into the worlds of TV, telecommunications and advertising, both by direct injections of cash and indirect attraction, through cultivation of a more sensationalistic politics and national culture? Roger Ailes would naturally ask such a question, and vote accordingly. So would Tim Russert. But perhaps everyone else has somehow come around to voting that way.

[update 9/28/07:

Voters in the USA: Repeat after this man:

I look at the election from what's good for Viacom.

I vote for what's good for Viacom.

I vote, today, Viacom.

source here, via reminder from Blumenthal, here.]