The other day I saw a link to a clip of Michelle Obama on a late night talk show (Letterman I think), where she was talking about her kids and how “normal” they are and joking around and acting silly and “cool,” etc. It got me thinking that American politicians basically have become part of the entertainment milieu. Presidents and first ladies go on late night talk shows and say things like “we’re just normal people,” “we lead normal lives,” “our kids are normal teens,” etc. This kind of inoculates them to the public, humanizing them, making them seem harmless and just like us (this also happens in Canada but to a lesser degree).
It also gives people a false sense of connection to them; just like with celebrity culture, where constant media ‘interaction’ allows the public to get personal with these people and ‘relate to them,’ even though in actuality the average person has nothing in common with the mega famous and powerful. For instance, unlike the US president’s so-called normal teenagers, most teens don’t have hordes of secret service people with them everywhere they go.
Western culture today is all about consumption and entertainment; these are great diversions that simultaneously distract and dumb down the population, making them far easier to lord over, manipulate, and less likely to ask critical questions about what the government-corporate alliance is doing to them at home and in their name abroad. It’s a type of modern-day, clever, friendly authoritarianism or “soft-fascism,” so to speak. While it might seem like a beacon of freedom and openness, modern day America is an example of “authoritarian rule” inasmuch as the state is obsessed with power and exercising power (at home and abroad). But the spectacle of American culture makes this almost invisible. It’s more like authoritarianism through marketing, consensus and media culture than rule by the barrel of a gun (although the police state and the militarization of the state are both on the rise). This is a smarter and more efficient form of political control and social manipulation than old-school ideological tyranny, for instance. For it’s far easier to rule over people and take away their rights if:
1. They are too distracted and entertained to even notice or care and;
2. They like you, trust you, see you as just like them (i.e., through watching you act a fool on late night interview shows and Saturday Night Live, etc) or their friend.
The same thing happens in the UK with the Royal family; the young royals (crown prince William and Kate and their baby and “baby pumps”) are everywhere in the media. I guess both the media and public are quick to forget that just a few years ago Will and Kate were notorious for being partying cokeheads.
Camera friendly elites like Will and Kate or Michelle Obama are the public face of power, privilege and class; one that camouflages and disguises the realities (and atrocities) of power, such as decreased rights and privacy as well as the ever increasing political and economic austerity measures that pray on the public and public spending on health, education, pensions, etc, and the overall continued corporate-banking-political assault on the working and middle classes. Few people seem to notice or care about such atrocities; many are too busy celebrity-worshipping movie stars and power elites like the young royals or hip first ladies. These people’s every movement is shoved down our throats as entertainment. And in our celebrity obsessed culture, many seem more interested in the fashion choices or red carpet ensembles of princess Kate or Michelle Obama than the very real and grim political, geo-political, and economic authoritarianism that is creeping across the globe.
The Empire has always distracted the masses with bread and circuses. But in modern times the politicians of the (largely economic) western Empire have become part of the spectacle and celebrity culture. They are both the masters and objects of diversion; they have become part of the circus, part of the distraction. But don’t think for a minute that the uber-powerful have anything in common with the masses. It’s a sham, a diversionary feat that inoculates them and their (authoritarian) policies, at home and abroad. Having US presidents and their wives on late night talk shows or hosting SNL is but one aspect of modern-day “politico-tainment” as distraction from creeping tyranny.
What’s next, a reality show in the White House!? For a comical take on where the circus is heading, watch the first ten minutes of the movie Idiocracy.