Can the Presidential Debates be called debates?
The key to understanding a hyperreal society, in the Baudrillard sense, is to trace how that what we called the ‘real’ is being replaced with simulations. To call the 7th October debate a ‘town hall’ debate is an attempt to hide its reality as a Television event. It is not a ‘town hall’ debate, in the traditional sense; it is the replacement of ‘debating’ with the simulation of debate. Someone maybe should have told this to John McCain. His performance was more suited to a ‘real’ debate than a television debate. Richard Wolffe accurately sums up the problem:
That lesson was lost on John McCain in Nashville on Wednesday, who seemed to think that a town hall debate on television was the same as a town hall debate in a real town hall.
He paced up and down in fits and starts as he spoke. He leapt from subject to subject, soundbite to soundbite. Between answers, he sat down and scribbled page after page of notes, then jumped up and paced around silently.
Neil Postman, in amusing ourselves to death, writes about how presidential, and senator, candidates used to debate for 8hours in town hall debates and would even return if they felt the debate was not over. Questions from the audience were also not pre-monitored from the censors/production team.
Television changes everything. As McLuhan would state ‘the medium is the message!’ and the ‘debates’ hinge on image and slogans. What did anyone learn about the candidates that they didn’t already know? What questions appeared that was unexpected?
Of course, nothing is new about these claims; they are merely repeating old arguments. It is also not an argument for nostalgia of the old. Instead, I am reminded of one of the ‘masters’ of the medium and television politics Lee Atwaters. It was Atwaters, despite and irrespective of his politcs, who learnt that true and false lose meaning in the spiral of television. One only needs to ask Michael Dukakis about the meaningless of truth and falsity when the sign had already been disseminated from the media. The effect had already done its work.