This year’s campaign has kept me at arms length. Continually, I feel I should be more engaged, reading the news, conversing with friends. However, the typical language and conversational content cause me to recoil.
Political talk is usually pure gossip. Conversations are littered with, ‘Did you hear what he saids’ and ‘Can you believe what she dids’. If I didn’t have a context, I’d assume that the speaker was referring to a Kardashian publicity stunt.
I watch friends, young and old, gossip about candidates, checking their phone multiple times per day for a candidate’s latest outlandish statement. They sit in likeminded circles, laughing at the ridiculous quotes, exuding a strong superiority complex. This sly smirk and lifted chin are identical to that of a person reading the tabloids, judging a celebrity’s latest, questionably true, faux pas. Humorously, many of the same people gossiping at the the 2016 election, would never be caught dead gossiping about a new celebrity craze. In fact, they would scoff at me if they saw me nose-deep in a People Magazine. Election gossip scratches a deeply human itch, while appearing high brow enough to pass the snob test of an ‘intellectual’. (As I write this, I realize that I am no different. I gossip about gossiping. Throw me in the mud as well.)
When I question my friends, ‘Why would so-and-so be such a bad candidate?’, I get a wide spectrum of answers; on Immigration, foreign relations, education and more. Many responses seem preprogrammed, as if I called their answering machine. Though, one theme tends to poke through, “I don’t want the public image of our country to be represented by that candidate.” All social and fiscal issues aside, we care about a brand. Of course a stance on each hot button issue affects a candidate’s brand, but, ultimately, the issues don’t always drive the conversation. Each of us wants a brand that is familiar, predictable, and most of all relatable. We want a brand that we can be proud to stick on our car’s bumper, without the fear of judgment from the people we respect. Branding is driven by our instant mental associations. These associations, whether we want it or not, are based on the superficial. How does a candidate look and speak. What mistakes has a candidate made. In short, gossip.
I tell myself everyday to avoid gossip (to varying degrees of success). Don’t talk idly behind the backs of people, avoid eye contact with the magazines at the grocery store checkout line. I try to crave a deeper content based discussion, and I’ve spent countless evenings arguing with friends about nationally significant social issues and fiscal issues. However, when it comes to choosing a presidential candidate, conversations seem to float at the surface, focusing on publicity stunts and publicly orated speeches.
The information pipeline promotes political gossip. Its difficult to glean any cut and dry policies from daily news articles. Its next to impossible to get any information from a candidate’s public speech. Each speech is carefully crafted to be an inspiring twenty minutes. Most clauses are banal enough to appeal to anyone watching NBC that evening. Every once in a while an interesting statement is made. Though, by that point, my eyes have glazed over or I have succumbed to the strong urge to leave the room. Why does the pinnacle of our election come in the form of a spectacle that should be aired right after Family Feud on the Game Show Network?
I know its my civic duty to get involved. I realize that the country depends on me giving my opinion. But couldn’t this be a bit more painless?
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