Wednesday, January 04, 2023


Writing for The Washington Post, Jim Geraghty of National Review blazes a new trail up Evasion of Responsibility Mountain, blaming all of today's political dysfunction -- presumably including the Kevin McCarthy shitshow in the House of Representatives right now -- on liberal-leaning thirty-year-old cable TV broadcasts:
Everyone has a theory about why American politics today is so awful.

I blame MTV.

More specifically, I blame the music channel’s “Rock the Vote” campaign in the early 1990s. That’s the moment when the tastemakers of popular culture decided the widespread perception that politics isn’t cool was a problem to be solved. Politics had to be made cool. And therefore not boring.

... the campaign didn’t fully kick into gear until two years later, with the goal of persuading young voters to take a break from obsessing over Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men and actually care about voting for Bill Clinton.

Oh, those last three words weren’t explicit, but it wasn’t hard to discern MTV’s preference....
I watched MTV back then. I don't think it's wrong to suggest that MTV leaned pro-Clinton, although the channel was probably following rather than leading its audience -- young people were fed up with the GOP by then, and Clinton courted young voters in a way that George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot didn't.

The mind-set, values and incentive structure of the entertainment industry have colonized the world of politics and government over the past three decades, and both worlds are worse off for it.
That's right -- according to Geraghty, this happened only in the past thirty years, when the entertainment industry found a clever new way to get a Democrat elected president. Ignore the fact that the president of the United States for most of the previous decade was a former Hollywood actor who went out of his way to get photographed at the White House with Michael Jackson, while his ex-actress wife did a photo op sitting on Mr. T's lap and appeared on a popular sitcom. Maybe the TV special below was on past Young Jim Geraghty's bedtime back in 1985, but surely he's heard of it:

Geraghty doesn't blame just MTV:
A few years later, John F. Kennedy Jr. came along with George magazine, “a lifestyle magazine with politics at its core,” giving political figures (Gerald Ford, Madeleine Albright, Pat Schroeder) the Hollywood treatment — when it wasn’t doing the same for actual celebrities (Kate Moss, George Clooney, Madonna ...). Almost every page and profile and article screamed at readers: Hey, Americans! We know you think politics is boring, but look how cool and fashionable and fascinating these people are!
Nothing like that ever happened before the 1990s!

I'm offering a somewhat distorted history of recent presidential celebrity -- the first modern media-superstar president was John F. Kennedy Jr.'s dad. But JFK wasn't a professional entertainer like Reagan. And most Democrats, however mediagenic they may be, haven't become literal podcast hosts at the same time they're holding office, like Ted Cruz. They don't consider media hits to be a substitute for governing, like ... well, most of the edgelords in the House GOP caucus.

The change happened primarily because right-wingers with non-political media skills -- Rush Limbaugh in radio, Roger Ailes in TV, Rupert Murdoch in newspapers -- learned how to tabloidize right-wing grievance and make broadcasts out of it that were exciting (and, for much of the audience, better than real entertainment). This happened on Fox and talk radio and the right-wing Internet; it has little or nothing to do with MTV. Modern Democrats still want to govern -- even the ones with media skills, like Barack Obama and AOC -- and if Republicans would rather grandstand, their own party's media giants deserve the blame.

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