Sadly, as many of us had predicted, our political system has devolved into reality TV. Just look at the Presidential debate a couple of weeks ago. Do any of us remember any of the content? Heck no. What we focused on were the candidates’ looks and demeanors: did they blink too much, was there something stuck in their teeth, did they slouch, how many times did they sigh? Reality TV has trained us to pay attention to this crap, and to put substance on the backburner. Remember how American Idol’s David Archuleta kept licking his lips between verses? Don’t know if that boy can sing or not, but the annoying image of him licking his lips will haunt my nightmares forever.
What the Romney camp has understood recently that the Obama camp has not, are the principles of successful reality TV show performances. For example, the Endearing-Awkward Curve (EAC), which is basically that a little bit of awkwardness is charming and helpful. Too little and the contestant seems cocky. Too much and they make everyone uncomfortable. I remember the President’s opening remarks, which sounded something like, “Now, on the economy, first, I’d like to say, um, that, uh, twenty years ago, I met my sweetie, the love of my life, and tonight, uh, is, um, our anniversary…” Meant to be sweet, it crossed into the too-awkward end of the EAC, like that time on the “X-Factor” when that kid who used to sing with Britney Spears came back as a 30-year-old man-child to audition, and the whole time, he just looked so sad and fragile. Poor guy broke down after his awful performance, making us all feel even worse.
Another principle is that of the Underdog. Sure, in real life we tend to ignore or make fun of those at the bottom of the ladder. But on TV, America will always root for the underdog (unless they’re too awkward). That’s what Romney had going for him. He had been slipping in the polls, with nary a chance of winning the debate against a president renowned for his speaking skills. If the President had been too forceful, he would have been seen as a jerk and a bully. We all hate jerks and bullies. Nothing warms our heart more than when a kid who is bullied stands up for himself, beating the crap out of his tormentor. My eyes misted up at one scene in “Burn Notice,” when this sweet little kid in a fight pretended to be down on the ground, and when his bully bent down to investigate, the kid stood up real quick and slammed his head into the bully’s chin. Romney knew this, so they struck, interrupting again and again.
But the Obama camp has been playing smarter. Now they are the underdog, so when Biden was aggressive, dismissive, and bellicose, many of us think of it as strength. I hope it is not too late. Actually, President Obama’s sucky performance might be a blessing in disguise, thanks to the Melinda-Priya-Daughtry Effect. Basically, when singers were so good, everyone thought they were safe because other people would vote for them. Since everyone assumed this, few people voted, resulting in these good contestants’ elimination. On the reverse, crappy singers kept getting ahead because their rabid fans knew they had to vote for them or no one else would, something called the Sanjaya Effect.
Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, elections will only become more and more like reality TV. We cannot stop this. What we can do, however, is adapt techniques from some of the better shows. For example, for the next debate, the candidates should speak with their voices obscured by autotune. They debate ten rounds in front of judges whose chairs are turned away from the candidate. After each round, the judges rate which candidate made the most sense based solely on content. Then the judges turn their chairs around to see who won. After that, we call/text a 1-800 number to vote for our next President.
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