Blood sport was also entertainment, of course, but with a political purpose. By extolling violent victory in battle as the highest aesthetic value, the Romans kept the populace committed to imperial expansion (many of the most popular games were “reenactments” of glorious Roman victories). By legitimizing and glorifying cruelty, emperors had a convenient tool for terrorizing their enemies, keeping the people in line, and satisfying their own sadism, as when Commodus tied prisoners together and clubbed them to death, pretending that he was Hercules slaughtering “giants.” Or when a heckler in the stands jeered at one of Domitian’s favorite gladiators and the emperor responded by having him pulled from his seat and thrown to wild dogs in the arena.
.. With the exception of MMA and boxing, which are weak substitutes for watching dudes disembowel each other with pikes and swords, we don’t have literal gladiatorial games in America today. But we have plenty of figurative ones. Lots of movies, video games (“Finish him!”), and TV shows all serve a similar function, even if our political rulers don’t play anything like the kind of role the emperors did in dictating the stories they tell.
.. we carry ideas across all of these borders, in part because that’s just how language works. (For instance, sports, journalism and politics are a battleground of martial metaphors: campaign, over the top, ceasefire, crossfire, besieged, firestorm, salvo, hotshot, friendly-fire, launch, collateral damage, decimated, firestorm, and on and on).
.. Well, have you noticed how ads from the NRA and gold bugs have changed their tone of late? No doubt in part because a Republican-controlled government poses little plausible threat to gun rights, the NRA is now investing heavily in partisan tribalism and paranoid fear of social unrest.
.. Now, I should say, there’s a lot I agree with in the ads, but the tone and overall message strikes me as exploitative and creepy coming from a gun-rights group. I have the same feeling about this odd battleships-and-bullion mash-up of patriotism, nostalgia, militarism, and paranoia from our friends at Rosland Capital.
.. When you lower the barriers between politics and entertainment you get more politics in entertainment, but you also get more entertainment in your politics. It’s like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials, “Hey, you got your politics in my popular culture!” “You got your popular culture in my politics!”
..Donald Trump leapt into politics from the worlds of reality shows and professional wrestling. In those worlds, the most important thing is holding the attention of the audience. In wrestling, if you can be popular playing the “face” — the good guy — great. But it’s far better to be a ratings-grabbing “heel” — the bad guy — than to be a boring face. The same goes for reality shows. Puck from the Real World and Richard Hatch from Survivor proved long ago that compelling a**holes are better than boring nice people. As far as I can tell, all of the Desperate Housewives are horrible people.
.. Most of the people who voted for Moore don’t actually agree with him. They find him entertaining.
.. I have no doubt that many of the people who voted for him are decent people. I’d also bet lots of them don’t agree with Moore’s shtick. Do all the patriotic Alabamans who voted for Moore believe that 9/11 was God’s wrath on a sinful America? Or that America is “the focus of evil in the world?” I very much doubt it. Do they all think evolution is “fake”? Some? Sure. All? No way.
.. Moore is like a right-wing version of the “Progressive Liberal” heel. I’m sure many like his brashness and forthrightness and his unapologetic defense of Christianity. And while I haven’t run a focus group or anything, I strongly suspect his real value-add is that he horrifies all the right people. Like that other political stock character with the same last name, Michael Moore, his appeal lies in the fact he’s a living Internet troll.
.. we also know that Moore won in part because voters were led to believe that this would be a hilarious way to screw with Mitch McConnell and “The Establishment.”
.. The Republican brand will be tarnished even more as mainstream media outlets and late-night comedians gleefully broadcast Moore’s asininity to the broader public. But, yeah, sure: It’ll be entertaining for people who now follow politics like it’s one long pro-wrestling kayfabe.
.. The more unproductive and dysfunctional Washington is, the more it seems irrelevant to, or incapable of improving, the lives of regular people, the lower the stakes become in treating politics like entertainment. If “The Establishment” can’t deliver the goods, why not just treat it like the straight man for clowns like Moore?