Politics & Celebrity

The danger of 'Reality TV' rather than reality in Politics

Ask the general public who their local representatives are from all three levels of government.  Several will be able to identify one or two politicians, while a small minority would be able to identify all three.  Now ask the same public who got voted out of a reality show the day before and see the increase of interest and information they will be able to provide.  In an age of technology where it is everywhere and information is easily accessible, the interest in politics has grown incrementally.  The average person doesn't pay attention to politics out of a jaded response to scandal, process or policy.  The politics machine is too big, too slow and doesn't address their immediate concerns.  

A change is coming to politics, the influence and idolization of celebrity.  From Trump to O'Leary to Ford, their danger of engaging in politics is starting to show signs of influence.  The substance doesn't matter; it's all about the sizzle.  Media recognizes the opportunity to profit, the public seems to enjoy the process as if a reality show and the 'celebrity' politician understands how to maximize the exposure.  Policy is lost in the political abyss, slowly turning the political theatre into actual entertainment.

Ask someone to describe the political policies of Trump, O'leary or Ford.  The following themes will appear:

  • Low taxes (protecting the taxpayer) at all costs
  • Identify a group to blame for (insert problem here) 
    • Blaming ethnic groups for economy, crime, etc
    • Targeting ideologically different politicians as corrupt without proof
    • Pitting region vs region in the 'divide and conquer' mentality
  • Catchphrases lacking solid basis for policy "Subways, subways, subways"

The danger of physical violence, hatred, racism and prejudice attitudes have been evident by some supporters of Donald Trump.  Blaming illegal immigrants for an increase in crime is attempting to capitalize on the xenophobic paradigms of some citizens.  Having a potential presidential candidate incite violence through veiled messaging is irresponsible.  The threat of violence has grown to action, especially against those who oppose Trump that demonstrate at his rallies.  As Trump inches closer to becoming the Republican nominee for president, the likelihood of more violence and even death also increases.

One of the biggest contributors to the increase of celebrity in politics is the glamorization by the media.  The more inflammatory a message is, the bigger the media coverage.  The increase in media coverage given to negative and sensational statements, the further the exposure reaches  The era of 24 hour news and instantaneous social media exposure only exacerbates factually incorrect statements.  Many believe the media is a conduit to unbiased information.  The reality about political coverage and media, there is always an underlying bias.

There is no better example of the media fueling the spectacle of scandal in politics than their love affair with Rob Ford.  The history of Ford during his mayoral tenure has been well documented by every media outlet regionally and sadly internationally.  From his drug addictions, photo ops, lack of attention to policy details... he was their lightning rod of coverage.  Books have been written, promotions have been given because the circus show of Toronto politics gave media an endless barrage of front page news.  

With Ford's death on March 22nd, prepackaged obituaries serve as a media memoir of his political career.  The articles detail the follies, the fantastical and the fascination of local politics and the man who kept the printing presses working.  The media eulogizes the narratives that follow the path they have reported.  Ford was either a hero or a villain depending on the perception of the author.  Camera crews stand across the city to get reactions of his legacy, his importance or how he helped.  This need to televise a city grieving doesn't facilitate healing, it breeds opportunism.

 Where does this integration of politics and celebrity take governance?  Will policies be driven by twitter polls or popularity contests?  Will politicians be worried about midterm 'vote off the island'?  Will policies be dictated by catchphrases and empty political promises rather than fact based studies?  Toronto has seen the narrative of "Subways, Subways, Subways" without a funding model.  Toronto has seen SmartTrack without a viable integration with current and future transit lines continued to get promoted.  The rhetoric on respecting the taxpayers only works when policy addresses inequities such as affordable housing.  

The danger of celebrity and politics will grow as the U.S. presidential race eventually pits Trump vs Clinton.  Will the debates have merit; will the substance be about 'Trump steak' or how to find concrete ways to fix the economy?  Will there be a sideshow, clowns, t-shirts made?  Or will the race show the dangers of elevating celebrity figures in political power because of a false sense of stature?  If reason cannot win over reality tv, what future are we destined for? 

We'll discuss the future after this short commercial break.

Posted on March 23, 2016 .