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My daughter yells, “He hit me first!” My son cries, “I didn't do
anything!” This behavior is as typical in my home during the summer
months as it is in this country during a presidential campaign.
Someone's bound to hit somebody, and everyone will deny it.
This season's political blockbuster brings us a mediated brawl
fought with logos, banners, websites, email spam, online videos and
doctored images. Experienced in image manipulation, emotional
branding and sloganeering, graphic designers should be among those
creative types fully equipped with media-savvy upgrades and the
intellectual software package, Skepticism 2.0, to withstand the
info-onslaught and achieve the nirvana of pacific equilibrium.
Amused by the strivings of the righteous and desperate, we already
know the campaign catchphrase will be something akin to, “It's the
YouTube video, stupid.” We also know that no one will ever know for
sure whether or not anyone else knows for sure about anything.
Trust your feelings. Use the Force. No lapel pins.
Here's a summary of what we know so far about each of the
Barack Obama said something or stood too close to someone else
who said something. He wore something or didn't wear something. He
went somewhere or didn't go somewhere else. His wife also said
something. She might also have gone somewhere.
John McCain said something and then said something different. He
stood apart from someone and then stood next to someone. He is this
old or else he is that old. He called his wife something. She might
also have called him something.
Obama launched the website Fight
the Smears. McCain toured the country on the Straight Talk
Where the truth lies: (from left) Obama's Fight the Smears
website and McCain's Straight Talk Express bus.
It's just like life at home. My daughter said something to my
son or she said something to herself and he overheard it. Then my
son said something or threw something. My daughter said something
else. I heard someone hit something or someone. I toured the house
in my Straight Talk Khaki Shorts. I put my daughter in her room and
my son in his room. I launched the hallway speech entitled “Be Nice
to Each Other and Don't Say Bad Words and Don't Hit.” It's an old
I never try to clear up exactly what happened between my kids.
My daughter likely used a sarcastic tone to describe my son's
methods for not making his bed and not putting his clothes away. My
son likely grunted to warn of an imminent violent response. My
daughter pushed her luck by denying both her observation and the
tone in which it was delivered. There was a violent response.
I wasn't there. I was downstairs or outside or in my office. The
best I can do is solicit testimony from the participants, observe
facial expressions and body language, examine circumstantial
evidence (wrinkled sheets, shards of a porcelain bunny) and weigh
the likelihood of competing scenarios against experience. Smears
and straight talk are claims, not facts, and the claimants doth
protest too much. I don't want to hear it.
(From left) Fans of Barack Obama (photo: David Butow/Redux for
USN&WR) and John McCain (photo:
Likewise, during a presidential campaign, I don't hear it,
whether I want to hear it or not. I'm not there when what allegedly
happened supposedly happened. I didn't see it either. What I see
and hear, instead, are the snippets, claims, clips, logos,
websites, photos, quotes, banners, balloons, posters, videos,
emails, recordings, confetti, comedian's quip and broadcaster's
broadside: in short, the selective products of mediated and quite
possibly altered, and quite probably unverifiable, hullaballoo. A
wall of sound bytes separates me from reality, and I don't trust
the filtering mechanisms embedded in that wall. The latest
unfiltered blog rumor is filtered in the mainstream press only to
be reported as “the latest blog rumor.” And I can't just send
Barack to his room and John to his and tell everyone to “Campaign
Nice and Don't Make Up Lies and Don't Make Mistakes America Will
Have to Pay For.” That's an old speech, too.
Instead, I'm stuck with a TV reporter describing a scuffle
around a corner, a blogger ranting about an epithet garbled behind
a wall and a radio-show host mischaracterizing what other
radio-show hosts mischaracterized about what the original
radio-show host allegedly said about the current sorry state of
media meta-commentary. I don't want to hear it.
It's too little about too much. The print, broadcast and online
media outlets are the only ways for citizens tucked into the holes
of home and office to catch glimpses of snazzy news graphics,
three-second video montages, Photoshopped images, off-camera
accusations, scam emails, phony websites, celebrity endorsements,
radio rants and blog blather. What a wealth of dazzling dazzle.
Until November, I shall gird my voting loins by watching episodes
of The Wire and Entourage while taking long,
heart-healthy strides on my treadmill.
Red vs. Blue.
Despite Obama's smear-fighting and McCain's straight-talking,
it's never really about separating straight from smear, fact from
fiction, right from rumor. It's not about figuring out who's behind
the latest equivalent of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who
Photoshopped Obama's head on Osama's body, who created the funny
online montage video of McCain versus McCain. Because we already
know. The other team did it. In today's tech-empowered world in
which anyone can have access to design software and the internet,
the smears, slurs and accusations are simply volleys on a crowded
playing field. The politics of the last eight years has been about
picking a team and cheering for it, no matter what. Red team. Blue
team. Us. Them. We're too swamped by work, too overwhelmed by
layoffs and buyout offers, too busy learning to cope in a global
marketplace to sift through the info-torrent for reliable evidence
of political misbehavior. Who has time to triple-check the
counter-claims? It's far more expedient to be political fans the
way we're sports fans—mindless, rabid—and we have the logos and
T-shirts to prove it.
You can't say I haven't learned something during the past eight
years. I've learned to meet the pronouncements from press, podium
and pulpit with a tired yet good-humored skepticism. I'd be a fool
not to. I will spend the summer shaking my head at the antics of
Team McCain and Team Obama. These teams, and the competing cultures
they represent, are larger than presidential candidates, of course.
But the candidates, like star athletes, are role models embodying
our latest wishes.
They're having a great summer. Wish you could hear.
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