politics as theater

Let’s return to the original premise of this blog: Life as theater. There is one vast component of our lives that is entirely theater. That is politics. There is no there there. It is entirely theater. “see my book” Everything is composed. Every utterance is written and rehearsed. Only an open mike captures the occasional rice kernel of reality. Once you accept this premise….then…and only then…will you understand politics. Once you believe that nothing political is real, then you will have the mindset to truly understand what is going on. Those professional reporters who cover politics and politicians have achieved this mindset, and have learned to parse and translate the theater of politics into knowledge. That is why we listen to them and read them.

From the smallest self-serving news interview, to legislation itself…..all is theater. Individually and collectively they all conspire to compose the moment and compose the broad narrative. To the professional long serving incumbents, the style of composing theater and saying nothing real has become second nature. Playwriting flows from their tongues. All substance is translated into voodoo. Nothing said can be held accountable. Everything said can be resaid or recanted without contradiction. All that is said or transpires in the hallowed halls of state and federal legislatures is carefully composed, staged and planned. Even what looks spontaneous isn’t. It follows then that all that is said is nothing said.

For centuries and decades, politicians got away with this ruse. But in the last few decades, media and its immediacy has betrayed some of these efforts at theater. The politicians have not stopped trying, but I believe that much of the disillusionment of the public with their legislatures has been the result of the new media betraying them. Composing theater is not as easy as it used to be. The low information voter generally is still taken in by political theater. But the informed voters, the public that reads and assesses has seen through this habit and has simply grown to abhor all politicians and their assemblages. As we speak, almost everything in Washington is theater. The deep distrust and division between the parties is primarily due to their adhesion to their mounting of contrasting “plays” rather than giving that up and legislating through compromise. Currently, in Washington, theater is everything! That is why nothing of substance transpires. Like the characters in an Ionesco play of the absurd, the characters believe the play is reality. It is all “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

When cast in a long running play, the lines become rote and the drama stale. The audience loses the magic of disbelief. They head for the exits. They don’t come back. But don’t be too sanguine about new politics being any closer to reality. South American and African countries, new, old or reconfigured still persist in theater. China, Japan and the other Asian countries are equally married to political theater. Even the new entities seeking recognition, i.e., terrorist nations or terrorist groups engage in political theater. Their photos, their videos, their dialogue, their actions….though more provocative and frightening….are still political theater seeking effect. Everyone and every group is on some form of media all the time 24/7. We are always composing dialogue and vamping for the camera. All politics…wild, new, old or institutional are composing, singing, dancing, vamping, creating pageantry, creating signage, gesturing, howling, grimacing, posturing, dressing in garb that threatens or dignifies, choosing backgrounds of either destruction, ruins, or book cases and imperious Greek colonnades. Not a component is overlooked. The handlers, the directors are the Leni Riefenstahls of our time. Obama reportedly has members of his election committees and his staff writers as part of his foreign policy staff. Putin, too, is a carefully crafted image. Though the process is a little crude and obvious, cf., the silly photos ops of him shirtless on horseback and fishing, etc.

Political theater is an international phenomena. They all do it. You’d think they’d see its uselessness. They are too steeped….too habituated. They have to give it up or die. The newly elected have to find the direct connections to their constituency. Or we the public have to find a way to go around these avatars. What is the sequel to the Wizard of Oz after we see his hysteric fumbling behind the curtain? He is too old to learn new tricks. What do we do after we have seen the Wizards for what they are? “Fool me once…shame on you. Fool me twice…shame on me.” Never has a Wizard been so unmasked as Obama in these recent months. What will the electorate do this Fall? What will they do in 2016? Will we demand an end to theater?



5 thoughts on “politics as theater

  1. It is true that 90% is theater; however we the public has become so accustomed to the front I wonder what we would do when confronted with someone truthful. Do we just tear that person down because it is human nature or do we actually notice it an appreciate it. I think Paul Ryan is one of the closes Ive seen to being without Theater. However, the public seemed to bash him for just that reason. “He’s a robot, He’s a bore.” The fact is, he is actually incredibly smart and has done more to cross the aisle than most; yet he continually is shot down. Seems like no one takes hims seriously because he might actually be a little too “normal.” Is it the case that we’ve all come to thrive on the theatrics much like spectators at a Gladiator battle? How do we know? Would we actually embrace a “real” person as a politician when we’ve been fed the image for so long?


    1. Yes….you are right. There are people in “theatrical” professions, such as politics, who do not come across as well as others who are more in tune with the necessary theatrics of their profession. These people, in spite of their brains and political insights, are commonly marginalized by their lack of a theatrical presence.


  2. “We” might demand an end to the theater but unfortunately I think the low information voters will still be the ones buying the tickets for the show. If only they knew they were being scalped.


    1. Yes, I agree that the low info voters are the most vulnerable. But I would go beyond the “song and dance” aspects and suggest that even the deeper flows of politics is essentially theater. Legislation is the bedrock of politics. That is what all of the “sturm and drang” comes to. But I suggest that legislation itself is theater. This is a vast plain to further plumb, but a single example: I think the reason Obamacare came out of the chute so badly is that it was essentially conceived as a set piece and not as a functioning program. It was passed as an image of the progressive left, and the mechanics of function were left to be discovered. Thus the crippled roll out. Most legislation is showmanship. That’s why government programs are so badly administered. The cart is always before the horse.
      ps. on Dr. Carson….I think I agree if I understand what your are referring to….he is bright, articulate and calm….but I wonder whether he has the gravitas to withstand a primary fight let alone go one on one with Putin. Thanks for your thoughts.


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