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As the World Burns: Let's Return to the Glitz

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To an outsider, or to a rational student of media and democracy, this is a land of wonders. The world is burning. The United States is immersed in two wars. Russia is redrawing the map of the region. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has resigned with no reliable replacement in sight. Healthcare is going to control the economic woes in the coming years, at least for the salaried class. The infrastructure of the country is collapsing. The educational system is a sham, easily overtaken by several others in the world. Globalization is making all the achievements of the country look pale. The world is not flat at all. And, everyone is waiting for the Olympics to be over before the “public” can take seriously the matter of choosing the next President.

There is only so much excitement television stations can hold. And for the public, it is easy to ignore the real pain and watch the athletes and their overrated activities called sports. The candidates do not have the courage to re-shape the public debate by simply jumping into it. They take carefully publicized vacations and hold off on their announcements of their vice presidential nominee. There is no room in our minds for two events, the great feats of Michael Phelps and a VP candidate together. It has to be one at a time. It is an astonishingly dismal achievement of this age that we have given in to the dictates of the world of showbiz. Television dictates how we think and indeed when we do that.

It is not a surprise that the schedule of events for the Olympics was commandeered by NBC, which was broadcasting them according to its own demands of revenue, ratings and audiences.

It should not be a surprise that the Conventions are also organized around the prime time schedules of networks. The great arrangements on the totem pole of importance are made according to who gets a chance to speak when. There are hundreds of lesser known speakers before prime time begins and a dozen or so score the high points for later. Prime time makes our political leaders. We know them because they get a chance to speak during this precious time. It is time to find substance behind the glitz and control.

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Politics | Magazine | August 2008

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