Monday, August 11, 2008


Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan and Open Left's Paul Rosenberg took note of this comment at about John McCain's negative campaign:

...How can someone being portrayed as "the biggest celebrity in the world" also be painted as radical and out of the mainstream? Either Obama is like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton: a fluffy, substanceless, mass-consumed but empty celebrity-for-celebrity's sake, or he is an unfamiliar and dangerous other with a hidden anti-American agenda.

It's hard to reconcile the two. By trumpeting Obama's popularity, McCain is calling him -- by definition -- a safe, easily digestible consumer product, broadly acceptable in the mainstream. Thus, McCain boxes himself into a corner when he wants to make the argument not to elect Obama because he's so far outside the mainstream....

Well, no.

If you've ever spent any time in comedy clubs, which I did a million years ago, you've had the heckler experience. It doesn't just happen to comics who are bombing -- some hecklers just want to heckle every comic who walks on stage, regardless of how good the comic is or what the rest of the audience thinks. These people have paid good money to be entertained, yet they clearly find it painful to watch entertainers take over a room, get all the attention, and generate good feeling.

There's also the standard -- and I think accurate -- pop-psychology explanation for the popularity of (real or fictional) soap operas featuring rich, glamorous people enduring great personal trials, an explanation I first heard in the era of Dallas and Dynasty: We watch these shows, or a lot of us do, because we want to be told that money and power don't buy happiness, and in fact bring a great deal of misery. Yes, we want to vicariously wallow in what the rich and powerful have, but we want to be reassured that we're not missing anything by not being those rich, powerful people. We're the hecklers in this case -- we want to see them brought down to our level.

Many ordinary people love celebrities and glamorous people but are also made uncomfortable by them. That's why it's maddening that the Democratic Party is regularly portrayed as the Hollywood party, something that doesn't happen to the GOP even when Republicans literally run a Hollywood star (or, as they've done this year, run someone who loves hanging out with celebrities and has done a number of Hollywood screen appearances). If you're Republican and you go Hollywood, you are, by definition, the heckler, or the person watching Dynasty -- you're the ordinary person evening the score. You're never the star.

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