Tag Archive: American Elections

Hyperreal Debating


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.

Over at Pinocchio Theory Steve Shaviro has written an excellent account of Republican Vice President candidate Palin. In it Shaviro writes:

Just watching five minutes of YouTube clips is enough to show that Palin is one of the most charismatic and telegenic politicians in the US today. She radiates a combination of spunky energy, cool authority, and down-home reassurance. There is no question that she will be powerfully appealing to mainstream voters. She is yet another example of the right wing’s brilliance, over the last thirty years, in manipulating affect — in getting voters to feel good about candidates, and therefore to vote for them even against their own actual conscious interests. [read full entry here]

It is here that Shaviro, correctly, reminds us that concentrating on ideological positions is not enough. I am tempted to say that ideology is almost a non-entity in today’s politics. What is more important is how candidates can function as percepts to affect their potential voters. If we only focus on what they say or their beliefs then we miss the politics of affect. Hopefully, with Obama, the Democrats can now compete at this level.

In conjunction, politics is also post-ideological in the sense that beliefs get replaced with soundbites. Something that fox news have mastered. See this video for their latest ‘John Kerry’ attacks on Obama.

*Update, Recording Surfaces has also written a short blog entry that concentrates on understand Republican Politics without (only) focusing on their discourse/ideology, read it here.