Outrageous! Our New Political Showboats

A menagerie of malicious and misleading malcontents is undermining our democracy.

Italy’s fashion house, Valentino, has a “Director of Branding and Entertainment”.  Of course it does. 

The company, with its $3750 hunting jacket in waxed cotton, $5200 silk cady jumpsuit and $16,500 leather trench coat, understands that entertaining your current and prospective audience is a critical element in fortifying your brand and maintaining your trendiness.

It’s long been the case that building a brand requires that you entertain people, that your public persona be out there. And entertaining has long meant being outrageous in behavior, dress and comments, particularly in the arts. 

The  flamboyant pianist Liberace knew that.

So did Paul Stanley of Kiss:

Other entertainers who have traded on their outrageous behavior to bolster their knownness include Kim Kardashian, who thrives on pushing boundaries (Remember, her illustrious “career” began with a sex tape), rapper Lil Kim and Dennis Rodman.

Bad Boy Dennis Rodman

Others try similar tactics to build their brands, such as the grammy-winning singer, Lizzo

Lizzo boarding a private plane

and Miley Cyrus:

OK, I get it.

It’s one thing for celebrities and celebrity wannabes to be outrageous. Now, however, too many of our politicians are mimicking them, playing to the cheap seats and figuring they can translate outrageous behavior into political power by hoovering up media attention. Politicians are, after all, frequently referred to as “political actors” in a vast drama.

And they are getting the attention they want through their outrageous behavior because, as David A. Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College, has observed, “American voters generally aren’t attentive; you really do have to grab their attention, which is hard to do.”

Outrageous politicians also tend to get a lot of coverage because, unlike in the print days, there are no space constraints on the Internet and controversy breeds attention.

As a 2013 New York magazine article noted, “Originally, BuzzFeed employed no writers or editors, just an algorithm to cull stories from around the web that were showing stirrings of virality.”  Jonah Peretti, a founder of BuzzFeed, which went public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in Dec. 2021 (NASDAQ: BZFD), didn’t really care whether a post was produced by a journalist or sponsored by a brand, so long as it travelled. “He’s a semiotic Darwinist: He believes in messages that reproduce,” the article noted.

Outrageous politicians also tend to get a lot of coverage because, unlike in the print days, there are no space constraints on the Internet and controversy breeds attention.  As a 2013 New York magazine article noted early on, “Originally, BuzzFeed employed no writers or editors, just an algorithm to cull stories from around the web that were showing stirrings of virality.”

Also, there’s a lot of pressure on opinion writers to churn stuff out and the comments and actions of showboats are fertile territory for comment, which generates even more attention.

The Columbia Journalism Review recently reported on how Merrill Brown, the founder of a business-of-journalism startup called the News Project, described the pressure that opinion purveyors feel: “Everybody wants to get today’s take right,” he said. “But ‘thoughtful commentary’ on the day’s news is almost an oxymoron.” The result, he added, “is more about being clever than necessarily doing your homework.

As Lonesome Rhodes (played so powerfully by Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd)  said of himself, before his contemptible behavior led to his downfall, “I’m not just an entertainer. I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force… a force!”

A menagerie of malicious and misleading malcontents is undermining our democracy.

The toxic, hyperventilating blowhards include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Rep. Madison Cawthorne  (R-NC), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ). 

Reps. Greene and Boebert heckle President Biden during State of the Union address, March 1, 2022

In a recent article about the re-emergence of Sarah Palin, who now wants to represent Alaska in the House, Politico’s Joanna Weiss observed that the script has flipped in terms of the visibility of freshman members of Congress. 

“…there are plenty of politicians who have used Palin’s playbook to build fame out of political office, rather than the other way around.,” Weiss wrote. “Republican House members like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, and Lauren Boebert have learned that freshmen members of Congress can command outsized attention — and that outrageous statements are a ticket, if not to policy success, then at least to the kind of attention and fundraising prowess that keeps a career alive.”

Lest you think all the blowhards committed to grandstanding rather than governing are Republicans, the behavior of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), has led to some outrageous viral moments, too. And as far as I’m concerned,  Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) went off the deep end in his allegations regarding the discredited Steele Dossier, which contained allegations of misconduct, conspiracy, and cooperation between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the government of Russia prior to and during the 2016 election campaign.

Being “political” today means seeing politics as a mode of self-expression, producing attention-getting images airing one’s views and publicly taking sides, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her “Tax the Rich” Met Gala dress, Blake Smith observed in a City Journal article, The Narcissism of Hyper-Politicization. “Achieving real political goals through coordination and cooperation would, in contrast, “require individuals to discipline themselves, to moderate their insistence on their own uniqueness, and to subordinate their own desires to a greater good,” he wrote. 

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Jon Allsop told of  a French student journalist who was thrilled he secured a  30-second interview with Emmanuel Macron ahead of the 2017 presidential election, only to later discover he’d forgotten to turn on his microphone.

Today’s journalists in the United States might want to do the same when they cover the narcissistic politicians who have adopted a “outrageous behavior-is-the ticket” attitude.

Celebrities and Politics: Why Are Voters Attracted to Shiny Objects?

What is it about celebrities?

Democrat Jon Ossoff wants to win an open primary on April 18 so he can represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

alyssa

Actress Alyssa Milano canvassed Ossoff’s district for him in March and offered voters a ride to an advance polling location.

According to various media, actors Alyssa Milano and Christopher Gorham‏, want Ossoff to win, too. Media tell us lots of other liberal celebrity actors support Ossoff as well, including Chelsea Handler, Kristen Bell, John Leguizamo, Sam Waterston, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Lynda Carter, Jon Cryer, Debra Messing, George Takei and Rhea Perlman.

I’m not sure yet where Kim Kardashian, who’s so well known for her political sophistication and deep thinking, stands on Ossoff’s race, but I’m sure the media will tell us if she ever blurts out something.

How did we get to the point where this matters, or at least reporters, reporters, pundits and political consultants think it does?

Did you know Elvis Presley supported Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the 1956 presidential election and John F. Kennedy in 1960, or that he shared his strong opinions on America’s cultural decline with President Nixon?

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President Nixon and Elvis Presley at the White House, 1970

Elvis was particularly incensed about the behavior of actress Jane Fonda, who was photographed at an anti-aircraft gun placement in Hanoi during the Vietnam war.

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Actress Jane Fonda at an anti-aircraft position in North Vietnam in July 1972

Like an updated Tokyo Rose, she’d also gone on Hanoi radio and petitioned American fighting men stationed to the south to lay down their arms because they were fighting an unjust war against the peace-loving North Vietnamese.

Did any of us care what Elvis thought about political issues? I don’t think so.

Did anybody vote for Adlai Stevenson because Elvis endorsed him? I doubt it.

How did we reach a point where the political opinions of pampered, self-absorbed, and often empty- headed celebrities influence our voting? It’s a virulent, ugly form of anti-intellectualism.

 Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Americans are woefully uninformed about history and public policy. According to a Pew Research project, about a quarter of American adults (26%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form.

A recent Fairleigh Dickinson University survey revealed that only 34 percent of registered voters can name the three branches of government, only 69 percent know which party controls the House of Representatives and just 21 percent can name the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Hard to believe, but according to Newsweek, 70 percent of Americans have no idea what the constitution, the country’s most important historical, political, and legal document even is.

But Americans do know the names, sexual proclivities, marital history, makeup choices, fashion choices and car crash-like personal lives of celebrities and, increasingly, they pay attention to their political opinions. And the media is thrilled to offer celebrities a platform to say what they think about climate change, refugees, the electoral college or whatever, no matter how nonsensical or shallow those views are or how hyping their views is a devaluation of actual expertise.

If there’s any hope it’s helpful to remember that celebrities like Katy Perry came out for Hillary in droves….and we know how that ended.

HillaryandKaty