Long long ago, as the oldest of my Watermelon friends may just remember, there used to be talent competitions in community and media. At Eisteddfords performers performed, judges judged, winners grinned, losers were praised and encouraged, audiences applauded loudly in appreciation.
Then the geniuses who produce tv programs decided this was all wrong. In the same way as they changed motor sport broadcasts from reporting winners to reporting crashes, they changed talent shows from having the winners being the entertainment to having the losers providing it.
In order to do this the losers would be increasingly humiliated, disparaged, brought into public contempt, driven to despair, driven, if at all possible, to tears, a human car crash. As long as every possible human emotion could be wrung from the losers, the actual “winners” of a competition were essentially irrelevant.
As time has gone by networks have competed against each other to make the humiliation of losers more extreme and more protracted in each successive show. The public demand for such spectacles is, it seems, as strong now as when the Roman public were given opportunity, thumbs up or down, to decide on life and death in the arena. Not so much circuses that marked entertainment, and decline, of the Roman Empire, but loser shows.
And so it is with us, as ritual psychological disembowelling becomes the standard tv entertainment in all “reality” and “talent” shows that fill broadcast hours on all networks.
But that left all the political stuff that the networks had some kind of public obligation to report. People would, after all, probably want to know who was going to govern them after an election. But it was all so boring, like an old-fashioned Eisteddford. Grinning winners about to form government, losers with stiff upper lips ready to form a “loyal opposition”. “Loyal Opposition” indeed, what sort of television did that make?
Hard to stump tv executives for long. If politics wouldn’t come to reality tv, then reality tv would have to come to politics, or, more exactly be brought into politics. And so it began.
Began with the destabilisation of an existing leader. Unflattering photos, odd pieces of film, some past “scandal” uncovered, carefully edited bits of an interview played again and again. Then we might find a disgruntled and very junior member of the party to make a criticism, anonymously of course, and describe this as “voices”. A former leader may be called on to prove they are still relevant by voicing an opinion, pretending to inside knowledge they no longer have. Opposing politicians may be asked for their objective views on the leadership of the other party.
Then in stage two we go into full scale rumour creation, where two people having coffee are photographed through a long range lens in sinister fashion; where an innocent glance is scrutinised by “body language experts”; where some policy debate (a good thing, right?) is turned into a signal of raging dissent and rebellion. Phoney opinion polls are sought and presented in the most damaging light possible. “Numbers” are said to be counted. Soon all this has an effect. The party decides the instability created by the media has to stop (believing that firm action will end it, ha ha) and there is a change of leadership. The media will milk this for all it is worth, close up images of tears on faces (family gathered around, hopefully also with tears), interviews where questions are asked not for answers but for emotional response, families of defeated leaders followed to school or shops hoping for angry reactions.
And then suddenly all that good television is over. Time to start again, and the whole cycle is repeated with new leader, the political party discovering, belatedly, that changing leader doesn’t stop instability (a media creation in fact), the instability having nothing to do with who the actual leader is, but merely being the signal for the media to begin a new round of destabilisation. Sometimes, and this is a bonus, the media may decide to bring a former expelled contestant (sorry, leader) back into the Big Brother (sorry, Parliament) House, and the twist will be that they may be able to gain full reinstatement, deposing the one who deposed them. Human emotion in spades. Hours, days, weeks of good television.
Neither the contestants (sorry politicians) themselves, nor the viewing audience (sorry, voters) have any more control over this process than the contestants and viewers of Survivor or Greatest Race or Beauty and the Geek or the X Factor. All are puppets, manipulated at the whims of directors and producers.
A lot of contestants and politicians, will be damaged mentally and professionally in the process, and democracy itself is the Biggest Loser. But Hey.