By the time I write my next column, there’s a half-decent chance that Mitt Romney might be warming up for his first day in office. By the looks of things on his campaign trail, he’s going to have to be putting in more than just a Paul Ryan workout to get through the day, though. As political satirist Stephen Colbert notes, he’s promised on day one to repeal that tiny little pesky healthcare law of Obama’s, label China a currency manipulator (bold move, Mitt – never mind the Great Wall, there’s three trillion dollars of US debt in that great wallet of China), approve a pipeline from Canada and “get America back to work.”Looks like it’s going to be a busy first day, Mitt.
…which is why we hope, for your sake as well as ours Mitt, that you and your voters sit this one out. I mean, feel free to take it easy. That campaign trail must be getting pretty exhausting and goodness knows you deserve a break. My personal observer’s motto? “He ain’t heavy, he’s my 47%.”
I know the American political process seems a (first) world away from our own reality, but I find it endlessly fascinating. Part of this is how theatrical it is – there’s such an intensity of media attention that electioneering is nothing less than a political production. To see the candidates go at each other in the past few debates, where even the smallest phrases have gone viral with eager animosity from both sides before the credits roll, you’d think the entire country had turned into one big Jerry Springer Show.
It makes me think: as much as Romney’s “binders of women” comment was offensive and unwittingly revealed his underlying 1950s-style gender assumptions, it pales into insignificance when you compare it to some of the doozies our politicians come out with on a daily basis. Remember Bloody Agent brou-ha-ha? Tea Lady-gate? Let’s not even get into JZ’s own gender debacle with the “children give extra training to women” comments. John Kerry’s campaign was sunk by swiftboat media tactics; our own media watchdogs seem toothless by comparison.
While I’m certainly not advocating for swiftboat tactics, I am suggesting that cross-platform media engagement ramps up political engagement. I ask my journalism students simple political questions – What’s the Protection of State Information Bill?; How do we define democracy? – and they are often at a loss to answer me, whilst being completely comfortable with my questions about America. Then again, they generally have more pressing matters occupying their immediate attention. One, for instance, drunk herself into such an alcohol-induced state of nausea last weekend that her projectile vomit detached her tooth crown. She now lisps at me from behind her retainer in class, a permanent reminder of the gap in both her knowledge and her front teeth.
So I’ve been thinking: what if we could go into the Rainbow Nation Twilight Zone? What would a South African political landscape look like under a big budget American media production? Suspend reality, folks, because here we go…
In the lead up to the elections, Helen Zille guest stars on ‘SA Idols’ and belts out a rousing “Don’t Cry For me Khayelitsha.” Gareth Cliff compliments her for “making the song your own.” Meanwhile, Kgalema “Wizard” Mothlante strips to the waist and proclaims he’s “got balls” in a series of staged photographs from a weekend football match he just happened to fly across two provinces to drop in on.
Three televised debates are held – one in each major language for each of the SABC boutique channels. Ratings soar when Dali Thambo is criticised as debate moderator after referencing the now-infamous vegetable chopping incident by referring to Helen Zille’s husband as “Mr Potato Head.”
In an attempt to appeal to youth culture, Rian Cruywagen conducts MTV-Base interviews called ‘In the Hot Seat’. Chiefly this involves a Jon Stewart-style rundown of the day’s top political stories from a Jacuzzi. His first guest – the incumbent Jacob Zuma – wastes no time releasing ‘Umshini Wam’ as the party’s first hit single. He announces that, in an attempt to reintegrate the politically under-utilised sport of cricket, he will be using the T20 cheerleaders in the music video. “Just not the male ones,” he says with a grin. “That’s not right.”
…snap back, folks. Enough of this malarkey for one week. It’s at this point that I think back to my student and wonder if – like her – I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Did I lose you with any of my references? Did Dali’s decidedly sexist October interview questions, for instance, get lost in the latest Taylor Swift album release? Heck, maybe South Africa’s not ready for a serving of American-style electioneering. I guess we’re still struggling to digest the rest of their cultural offerings.
Follow Carla Lever on Twitter (@carlalever)
Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org