When politics becomes soap opera

posted at 11:01 am on December 1, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

For your consideration and discussion we take a look at a rather bleak column by Andrew McCarthy at National Review from this week. In it, he discusses the converging roles of two forms of entertainment in modern media. One is the soap opera, now in decline in the ratings from their peak in the 70′s and 80′s, but still quite popular. People seemed to flock to these shows for the unending drama, with unlikely heroes turning into villains and back to heroes again, facing increasingly unbelievable situations of stress and conflict week after week. Viewers were able to enjoy it as a vacation from reality. But that was the point… it wasn’t real and we all knew it.

McCarthy argues that we have now reached the point where politics has usurped the place of the soap opera in American media, and that’s not a good thing.

Politics is our reality. It only seems like soap opera because of the way it is covered: Right into your living room, day-in-day-out, celebrity journalists present the adventures of their fellow dramatis personae, celebrity pols. The journalists portray politics, moreover, as suspense, and not just such suspense as the news of the day may warrant by dint of its relative seriousness — an earthquake, the outbreak of a war, or the specter of millions losing health-insurance plans they were promised they could keep. The continuing suspense lies in the practice of politics.

A little more than 15 minutes ago, there were only three major networks and a handful of prominent national newspapers. The focus of this limited news-media universe was the events themselves.

Not anymore. With a plethora of news sources, with limitless space and hours of airtime to fill, events are now more like episodes of a long-running drama. Politics is the glue that holds the plot together. No longer is the story that millions of people are losing health insurance that President Obama guaranteed they would be able to keep. For the mainstream press, it is about how cleverly Obama can rationalize his lies, how adroitly can he revise what he’s previously said, how deftly can he turn the page . . . shifting the audience’s attention to the next episode — maybe immigration, maybe Iran, maybe the debt ceiling . . .

It’s easy to pin the blame for this on the cable news media. They thrive on drama and conflict and actively seek to foment it wherever they can. The examples of this are legion, but the easiest sample to point to is found in the presidential primary debates during the last cycle. Rather than asking questions of substance on policy and the challenges facing the nation, they threw out clips of “controversial” statements made by one candidate regarding another and baited them to crank up the heat and continue the food fight. Every night we see the talking heads looking for the most “outrageous outrage of the day” to cover rather than exploring the dry, boring details of policy and legislation or foreign policy challenges.

But there would be nothing for them to cover if politicians weren’t fulfilling their roles as actors in this new soap opera. It’s really a beast which feeds itself. The pols want the face time on the small screen, so they play up to the media, supplying the endless stream of “outrage” and drama which will keep the cameras focused on them. People who actually engage in the tedious business of trying to find workable solutions to problems – Paul Ryan comes to mind – can’t get time on camera unless they hit somebody with their car.

So has the American political theater and the media which fuels it become the new soap opera of the 21st century? In reality, that’s probably something of an insult to General Hospital. At least Luke and Laura had the good grace to chuckle at their own lives sometimes.


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Too bad we can’t change this channel.

birdwatcher on December 1, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Not to be disagreeable but politics has been soap opera my entire life. And I ain’t no spring chicken.

platypus on December 1, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Viewers were able to enjoy it as a vacation from reality. But that was the point… it wasn’t real and we all knew it.
============================================

Hmm, ……. enter Weiner and Mayor Ford!!

canopfor on December 1, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Not to be disagreeable but politics has been soap opera my entire life. And I ain’t no spring chicken.

platypus on December 1, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Yeah, I think we’ve gone from Soap Opera to jumping the shark but the soap opera has been going on for so long that the fact gets lost in the noise.

Happy Nomad on December 1, 2013 at 11:18 AM

So has the American political theater and the media which fuels it become the new soap opera of the 21st century?
=======================================

Sigh,…yes!!

canopfor on December 1, 2013 at 11:19 AM

It’s too bad that it took y’all this long to link to this article. I read it online hours after it came out. I’m sure that HotAir didn’t mean to demean Mr. McCarthy with this sophomoric Cliff’s Notes version.
I’d like to be sure, but …
I do know that Andrew McCarthy is more qualified than anyone who writes for HotAir, else he would be here, eh?
~(Ä)~

Karl Magnus on December 1, 2013 at 11:27 AM

So has the American political theater and the media which fuels it become the new soap opera of the 21st century?

Yeah…But it’s not confined to the US.

Mayor of Toronto smokes Crack & Former PM Blair caught up in Murdoch divorce….to name a few

workingclass artist on December 1, 2013 at 11:33 AM

Speaking of Reality Sumpins:

The Associated Press ‏@AP 8m

Stay classy North Dakota: Will Ferrell co-anchors Bismarck newscast as character Ron Burgundy: http://apne.ws/1hr4ABH -MM
===================================================

Anchorman Will Ferrell visits KX
Posted: Nov 30, 2013 8:43 PM EST
Updated: Nov 30, 2013 8:43 PM EST
*********************************

VIDEO:(31:25)

http://www.kxnet.com/story/24103584/anchorman-will-ferrell-visits-kx

canopfor on December 1, 2013 at 11:47 AM

If people wanted to know about what is in the policies and how those policies and laws would effect them more than they wanted the entertaining type of political coverage, than that is what we would see. All is ratings.

Ultimately, in a democracy, you get the politics and the politicians you deserve. You also get the media you deserve.

HakerA on December 1, 2013 at 11:53 AM

davidk on December 1, 2013 at 11:52 AM

See RedState for LaborUnionReport’s update on a slew of new pro-union regulations coming in 2014.

Obama is going to use the next three years to force unionization whereever he can, to keep the union cash coming into Dem bank accounts.

It’s not just the EPA regs that are going to destroy businesses.

Wethal on December 1, 2013 at 12:08 PM

80% of the population does not watch any cable news nor go to any online political site or blog. 80% of the population does not care about political soap opera, politics, or “news” at all.

Note also the following: of the approx. 320M people in the USA, about 200M are eligible to vote. Of those, about 150M are registered. Of those, about 60% of the registered voters actually vote.

SunSword on December 1, 2013 at 12:12 PM

I used to watch “Days of Our Lives”, which the caption picture is of, but now I much prefer “The Young and The Restless”. It’s harmless fun, and I LOVE IT!

SouthernGent on December 1, 2013 at 12:26 PM

I used to watch “Days of Our Lives”, which the caption picture is of, but now I much prefer “The Young and The Restless”. It’s harmless fun, and I LOVE IT!

SouthernGent on December 1, 2013 at 12:26 PM

I’m still waiting to find out that after the 2008 elections, Barry Obama’s evil twin Larry switched places with the guy who made so many promises about bringing the nation together. And the only way such deception worked is that Mooch and her secret wife Valarie Jarrett are in on the swap.

Happy Nomad on December 1, 2013 at 12:29 PM

How many “column inches” does Hot Air devote to “working out solutions” versus reporting on the latest “outrage”?

BTW, I’m quite content that we don’t need “solutions”–at least, not from from politicians.

mockmook on December 1, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Doc: Why that’s me, look at me, I’m an old man.

TV Doc: Good evening, I’m Doctor Emmet Brown, I’m standing here on the
parking lot of-

Doc: Thank God I still got my hair. What on Earth is that thing I’m wearing?

Marty: Well, this is a radiation suit.

Doc: Radiation suit, of course, cause all of the fall out from the atomic wars.

This is truly amazing, a portable television studio. No wonder your president has to be an actor, he’s gotta look good on television.

unclesmrgol on December 1, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Despite their eternal liberal bias, we as a nation were far better off when there were only three major television networks and no Internet. I know the implications of that statement, and I stand by it.

Shump on December 1, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Despite their eternal liberal bias, we as a nation were far better off when there were only three major television networks and no Internet. I know the implications of that statement, and I stand by it.

Shump on December 1, 2013 at 1:27 PM

Considering what the cable “news” universe has deteriorated into, I can’t argue with you at all.

It is to the point where I refuse to watch the news or read about it in most cases.

People who actually engage in the tedious business of trying to find workable solutions to problems – Paul Ryan comes to mind – can’t get time on camera unless they hit somebody with their car.

If Paul Ryan wasn’t proposing something that the core base of his own party vehemently rejects on a myriad of principles, then there would be a fight to get him some attention.

Look at how Ted Cruz and Mike Lee’s supporters fought to get his message out while McCant and King Peter walked in front of news cameras and verbally bludgeoned them as Whacko Birds meant to Destroy this Nation for Their Own Petty Interests.

Politics is not only a soap opera, it is helmed by those who are intent on destroying conservative interests.

Myron Falwell on December 1, 2013 at 1:59 PM

More like professional wrestling.

Honesty has become a “brand” to be sold to the rubes, and there are different “degrees” of lies politicians sell.

The only competence this administration has shown is in reading focus groups, and telling the prettiest lies.

I’m not really sure why I pay attention to it anymore, it’s beyond ridiculous.

wytshus on December 1, 2013 at 2:04 PM

Myron Falwell on December 1, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Here, here. I second that motion.

Gebirgsjager on December 1, 2013 at 2:08 PM

My mother listened to Soap Operas before TV back in the Thirties on our little Philco table radio. “Our Gal Sunday”, “Ma Perkins”, Kate Smith(not a soap-singing). Sure miss those days.

Herb on December 1, 2013 at 2:12 PM

Go out on the street and ask random passersby what the purpose of the Bill of Rights is. If you can get a cogent answer more than 50% of the time I will stop complaining and simply go along with whatever the majority wants.

claudius on December 1, 2013 at 2:31 PM

More like professional wrestling.

Honesty has become a “brand” to be sold to the rubes, and there are different “degrees” of lies politicians sell.

The only competence this administration has shown is in reading focus groups, and telling the prettiest lies.

I’m not really sure why I pay attention to it anymore, it’s beyond ridiculous.

wytshus on December 1, 2013 at 2:04 PM

Pro Wrestling’s essential presentation has it’s roots in the soap opera. Vince McMahon, Jim Crockett and Ted Turner simply took what was a regional brand with limited exposure and exploited it to their logical limits.

And let’s not forget that soaps like the Guiding Light were created by Procter and Gamble to… sell Procter and Gamble products. It was all about selling a brand, ergo, “soap” opera.

Myron Falwell on December 1, 2013 at 2:57 PM

Everything old is new again.

I’d refer nonfiction lovers at HA to the eerily prophetic Neil Postman work “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and then balance it with Steven Johnson’s “Everything Bad is Good for You.” For extra credit, re-watch “Network,” balance it with the leftoid cult classic “Bullworth” and repeat after me: None of this is remotely new, or as Omar Little would say, “It’s all in the game, bruh.”

King B on December 1, 2013 at 3:26 PM

When politics becomes soap opera

…it’s fiction!

KOOLAID2 on December 1, 2013 at 4:14 PM

Herb on December 1, 2013 at 2:12 PM

“One Man’s Family”

“Just Plain Bill”

“Fibber McGee and Molly”

Solaratov on December 1, 2013 at 4:14 PM

If McCarthy ever got out of his bubble, he’d fine that most folks aren’t consumed 24/7 with political theater.

GarandFan on December 1, 2013 at 7:22 PM