I'm re-reading Being There, by Jerzy Kosinski. The main premise is that the media takes a retarded gardner and makes him into a potential presidential candidate. He becomes an icon, a product of a culture of amusement. In many respects, it seems loosely based upon The Idiot. However, it can also read as a commentary on our own shallow entertainment culture and the embodiment of Marshall McLuhan's concept that "the medium is the message."
I've been thinking about this book lately. It's easy to imagine America electing the village idiot because he seemed like a nice guy. I still think Bush might be a fun guy to have a beer with. At the same time, I'm watching the media creation of our own two candidates:
Obama, the master of rhetoric, appearing smart, delivering a well-rehearsed, polished and yet folksy speech. From his own propaganda to the media's re-telling of his amazing rise to power, Obama seems to be a creation of the media itself. It's not that I believe he is unqualified. He's smart, no doubt. I'm guessing he knows policy fairly well. It's just that the Obama I know is all soundbytes and photo-ops.
McCain, too, is a product of the media. For years, they have labeled him as the maverick, the feisty bulldog of the moderates. In his plaid shirts and his homey town hall meetings, it is hard for me to remember that he cannot identify the number of homes he owns. He's essentially everyone's grandpa - except that he's not. He's a part of an elite oligarchy, marrying someone younger and richer than himself.
Now I watch Palin, who the media seems to adore as well. Palinmania sweeps the nation, mostly because she is such a blend of working class mom, evangelical home-maker and working woman. She's a master of her own image, but a product of the RNC and right-wing special interest groups. Perhaps this is why Biden fails so badly. It's not that he's an actor, but that he's a bad actor. By seeming fake and plastic, he fails in his chief job: to communicate to the voters and give an heir of being genuine.
Twenty eight years ago, Reagan proved that Being There was less a work of fiction than even Kosinski had imagined. He wrote the book before Watergate and the rural brand of Jimmy Carter democracy and cable television and internet polling. Yet, the theme remains fresh. As we shift from a print to an image culture, we elect images rather than intellectuals.