Posted by: pop-break | November 2, 2010

Blurring the Lines Between Art & Politics

bill bodkin gives us the site’s first politically themed blog…

I’m not a political person. Never have been, probably never will be.

I don’t read or watch the news, which some say is a major flaw in my character. What can I tell you is: Following the news makes me feel like the world is an infinite chasm of doom that I’ll never escape, never want to raise a family in or even want to be a part. Hence, I write about pop culture.

But this weekend, I took notice of something. There were two events hyped all over television and the Internet: John Stewart and Steven Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington D.C., and the promotional push for debut of TLC’s new series Sarah Palin’s Alaska that struck me as very profound political statements in the pop-culture world.

Ladies and gentlemen, the line between art and politics has officially been blurred.

Yes, these two “non-political” events certainly smack of politics to me. Call me a paranoid conspiracy theorist or just simply call me Irish, but the motives behind these two non-political events are not as tame and entertaining as they may seem.

For instance, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, to me, is a brilliant piece of political gamesmanship. Love her or hate her (and there’s no reason for either in my humble), Palin has thrust herself back into the public eye. Yes, the same week that New York Magazineslaps her on their cover and proclaims her

A still from TLC's Sarah Palin's Alaska

the next President of the United States, we see trailers of her and her clan fishing and looking at bears who might want to eat them. It may seem silly, but she’s back in our minds. Even if you don’t follow politics, you know that every week on TLC she’ll be up to hijinx in The Great White North. By doing so, not only is she building up interest in her state and giving the tourism business a nice shot in the arm (look what Jersey Shore did for Seaside Heights), but she’s also endearing herself to millions as an all-around gee-golly, nice and entertaining woman. She’s engaging, she’s charming — you may just start to like her. Long buried are the hockey-mom jokes and the constant “maverick” drops, the positive PR she’ll get from this show could definitely change the hearts and minds of those people who are on the fence about her being our president.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, comedian Jon Stewart holds a massive rally in the nation’s capital. Now that’s a heck of a PR move for his show, right? Or is it? Here’s his closing statement at the rally, which saw over 200,000 people attend:

“This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are, and we do.

But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico–pundit perpetual panic “conflictinator” did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the “dangerous, unexpected flaming-ants epidemic!” If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

[Gestures across the Mall and toward the Capitol.] Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done – not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do. But they do it. Impossible things, every day, that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make.

… We know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land. Sometimes, it’s just New Jersey.”

While laced with a heavy dose of comedy, the words spoken by Stewart are very politically charged. Sure, this rally was intended as a goof on Glen Beck’s recent Restoring Honor Rally, but in press releases and interviews Stewart has stated that the rally was for the majority of Americans, “the 70–80 percenters, who don’t have extreme political views and lack a voice in the media.” To illustrate the point, he unveiled a mock motto for the rally: “Take it down a notch for America,” and offered protest signs with messages such as “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.’

Pretty political to me.

And it makes sense that both Stewart and Palin have taken to the pop-culture world to get their messages across. The entertainment medium of television has become the new political arena. The lions fighting in it are not the senators and congressmen we elected, it’s the political pundits and talking heads of the networks. People are relating more to Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly than their own elected officials. Why? Because they can connect with them. And that’s why Jon Stewart has become so popular: He connects with the people who can’t stand the talking heads. They subscribe to what he’s saying because they connect with him.

Yes, they're funny, but comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are taken seriously for their political views by many people.

To me, it’s the perfect picture of irony — we turn to people in the media a former MTV personality (Stewart), an former ESPN analyst (Keith Olberman), the former anchor for A Current Affair (O’Reilly) and a guy who did a Christmas tour about shoes or something last year (Beck) than we do actual politicians. The irony? It’s the media who has helped widen the chasm between the people and the politicians. For decades, we’ve seen senators and shadowy government agents as the villains in countless action movies. Every dirty deed from a senator is microscopically dissected by every wannabe Woodward and Bernstein. The media has the right to do so, but the results have been devastating. So we look to the same people who helped destroy our faith in government for answers.

It’s a crazy time we live. Even those of us who try to ignore all the ins and outs of politics can no longer do so. Politics has immersed itself into the world of pop culture — sending its message to the masses. However. like Jon Stewart said, “sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land. Sometimes, it’s just New Jersey.”



  1. Very good article and I agree with a lot of it but I have to ask the question –“Why are people listening to the the high profile entertainment people like the above mentioned and others who I personally wouldn’t give the time of day to?”

    Could it be that our politicians don’t address the issues when campaigning? They seem to care about just maligning their opponents. Why does it seem that they only vote along political lines without any concern for the consequences i.e. Obamacare and the misplacement of bail out monies? Why is it we only hear from them at election time? Have you ever watched CSPAN and seen a full house? Where are they? How did they have the nerve to cut this session short so they could electioneer? Who had time to vote themselves raises? Where are you Americans that listen and believe these Star Pundits and their political views? Why aren’t you trying to elect someone who cares for your views and your country?

    If you take the position it doesn’t matter what I think or how am I going to change things then you get what you pay for.

  2. Interesting piece, Bill!

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