Sunday, October 17, 2010


The process of democracy as practiced in North America for the last 200 years implies a symbiotic relationship between the mass media and the politicians. As repeated ad nausea, a free press is the hallmark of democracy.

Over the course of those two centuries snake oil salesmen, film flam artists and schemers of every type and description have predicated the success of their enterprise on manipulating the media. Showman P.T. Barnum and illusionist Harry Houdini among the better practitioners of the first 100 years.

The arrival of the motion picture industry about a century ago, and latterly the phenomenon of television in the 1950's seem to have sparked an embryonic convergence of all three of the elements: Schemers and manipulators, politicians and the public media. It is hard to tell just when it started. Certainly Director Elia Kazan's groundbreaking 1957 motion picture - "A Face In The Crowd" - which explores the power of television in the aftermath of the Arthur Godfrey Show and subsequent scandals, warns of both the dangers of, and the potential for manipulating mass audiences. The same thing Barnum and Houdini understood.

This weekend Prime Minister Stephen Harper took time out from his busy schedule to film a bit part in the Victorian murder television series - "The Murdoch Mysteries" - which shoots in Toronto. Though Mr. Harper is generally described as a timid and diffident person; he is not shy about appearing in television cameos (he's also appeared on the comedy "Corner Gas") nor on the stage of the National Arts Centre to sing a pop tune. There is a certain level of confidence imbued when a script controls the message.

Some may argue with considerable conviction that 1940's - 50's movie star Ronald Reagan staged his best career acting roles as Governor of California for eight years from 1966 to 1974; and much more importantly as President of the United States elected in 1980 and for a subsequent four year term in November 1984. Meantime the jury is probably still out on whether those rascally Californians elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as their Governor to handle their state's moribund finances 8 years ago, because of his on-stage muscle strongman persona, or whether they actually thought he could do something. He couldn't. - Mr. Schwarzenegger leaves office next month - California's financial turmoil is worse than ever. His Austrian birth precludes him from running for the U.S. Presidency.

As Britain's - "The Independent" - cited this week: "The quandary that is Sarah Palin just gets more troublesome...for dedicated Palintologists everywhere, the titillation is unbearable." American neo-conservatives like her values. After all the "Tea Party Movement" to whom she both plays and appeals calls her the "Mama Grizzly".

This convergence of the elements which should be uppermost concern to North Americans is precisely in this ever tightening relationship and the blurring of divisions between show business and politics. In the aftermath of the economic meltdown at the end of the last decade, the seething discontent and anger which persists; and which spawned the "Tea Party Movement," is fertile ground for the accelerated rise of hubris if not outright demigodry...religious or otherwise. It's plausible that it could appear from either The Right or The Left.

Political satirist and observational comedian Jon Stewart, an increasingly harsh and vociferous critic of "The Right," is making the rounds of the American talk-show circuit this week in advance of "The Rally To Restore Sanity" on October 30th in Washington, which he launched from his television pulpit: "The Daily Show". The rally has already won the support of Oprah Winfrey and by inference her millions of fans. President Obama, who's Democratic Party is facing tough mid-term elections next month, endorsed the rally in a speech in Arlington, Virginia. So far Jon Stewart has clearly rejected pressure to jump directly into the political arena.

Such is not necessarily the case with the strident conservative radio and Fox News personality and commentator Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck hosted his own "Restoring Honor Rally" at Washington's Lincoln Memorial at the end of August. Sarah Palin was its main speaker.

One thing is abundantly clear: At our critical time of history when the political discourse on the Continent should be both rational and reasoned; we have allowed it to be adulterated to its lowest shameful denominator. For that: Each one of us bears a level of blame.

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