As if reality TV, MTV, and various other cheap programming choices had not made the old telly an even more barren wasteland than McLuhan anticipated, we now have to add another dubious category to the mildly amusing horror show that has become American discourse: the pol-ebrity.
A pol-ebrity is a person with some name recognition in the seamy world of politics who never really accomplishes anything nominally political besides making speeches and making money from making speeches. Hence the combination term made from the words politician and celebrity. Like Snooky or The Situation, inhabitants of that adolescent nightmare Jersey Shore, these political image-grifters become known primarily for being known. Daniel Boorstin foretold the coming of this politicarnival in his prescient book “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America” written in 1961! This can still be obtained at any of the dot com bookstores or a local bookstore near you. It is well worth the minimal effort you will put out to find it.
The gold standard for this new genre is surely Sarah Palin, who crisscrosses the landscape like a country singer in her big Sarah bus. She greets gaggles of hooting fans, signs some autographs, does her “show” then piles back onto the bus with her retinue in tow rattling off to the next venue. It’s not like going to hear Jim and Jesse or Hank the 3rd. You don’t leave the tent exactly humming Sarah’s position on the debt ceiling or rhythmically shuffling you feet to her analysis of foreign policy, but you see where we are headed. Down a long, dry, dusty and yes, just say it, spirit-blighting road.
There are other starlets in the pol-ebrity firmament trying desperately to find the Magus who will make them shine. Newt Gingrich is well on his way to pol-eberity status, and may in an unintended way, be the actual godfather of this movement. Delaware’s most famous Un-Witch, Christine O’Donnell is flailing away in the darker corners of pol-ebrity but has not yet found a producer or a vehicle that will lift her from the Grimpen Mire of right wing anarchy to star status. The guys at MTV seem pretty good at this. Perhaps she should consult the crystal ball I’m sure she does not have and contact the first friendly face that appears there.
We must acknowledge that pol-ebrity is becoming a lucrative business. This means our intelligence will suffer more hits than an al Qaida bunker over the next few years. True, almost every virus eventually runs its course but because elements of the proletariat will fork over the cabbage to hear these hucksters bloviate it may actually metastasize into a media network of its own. We all fondly remember the PTL Club. Why not “Pol-ebrity Dirty Dancing” or “Are You Smarter Than Anybody?” I vote for something like Survivor, where we airlift a bushel or two of these chatteristas into some remote location and dare them to find their way back to what will by then be the tatters of our civilization. Sartre and I have a great name for the show: No Exit