Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Metaphor that Tells us Who we Really Are?

In reviewing my recent posts, I have discovered that I have invoked the metaphor of WWE Friday Night Smackdown! in two independent contexts:

  1. The discussion and editing of Wikipedia entries
  2. The approach to political debate either assumed or accepted by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

Apparently that second context is extending further beyond the scope of this blog than I could have anticipated. Derrik J. Lang of the Associated Press reported that all three of the leading contenders for the White House decided it would be appropriate to "leverage" last night's Monday Night Raw broadcast's being on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary:

Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain will appear on World Wrestling Entertainment's live "Monday Night Raw" (8-11 p.m. EST on cable's USA network) but instead of smacking each other down, they separately will deliver some wrestling-themed stumping in taped messages before Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary.

"Tonight, in honor of the WWE, you can call me Hillrod," Clinton says in her message. "This election is starting to feel a lot like `King of the Ring.' The only difference? The last man standing may just be a woman."

Obama borrows The Rock's famous catchphrase during his appearance.

"To the special interests who've been setting the agenda in Washington for too long and to all the forces of division and distraction that has stopped us from making progress, for the American people, I've got one question: Do you smell what Barack is cooking?" Obama says before flashing a smile.

McCain, meanwhile, looked to Hulkamania for inspiration for his message.

"Looks like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to celebrate their differences in the ring," McCain says. "Well, that's fine with me, but let me tell you: If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man. Come November, it'll be game over. And whatcha gonna do when John McCain and all his McCainiacs run wild on you?"

The candidate appearances will be used to promote "Smackdown Your Vote!" — the WWE's voter registration drive.

I suppose that last sentence is to assure us that this is all in good fun and all for a good cause, but who are they kidding? The race between Clinton and Obama in Pennsylvania is so tight that every investment in media counts as much as every investment in personal appearances. However amusing this may have appeared, it was clearly all aimed at the serious business of getting the right people to show up at the polls today, presumably to "vote the right way."

Since I do not follow WWE, I have no idea whether they have had a past history of getting political. After all their time slot overlaps with both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (at least here on the West Coast); and I do not really see them competing with those two programs for the same viewers. More likely, this was intended by at least Clinton and Obama as a final shot over the bow aimed at that open sore of elitism that the media (or at least ABC) continues to scratch.

So, if things were more serious than they appeared on the surface, did either of these candidates anticipate that, as Abby Livingston reported for NBC, WWE would "retaliate" by taking on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert with their own attempt at political humor:

WWE featured a wrestling match between Obama and Hillary and Bill Clinton impersonators. There were lots of body slams, knee lifts and even some sneaky moves (Bill). "Bill" primarily stayed out of the action, but both "Obama" and "Hillary" got some pretty good licks in on each other. Then an actual wrestler came out and took them both down. The announcers declared it "a draw." The skit ended with Obama and Hillary's bodies strewn across the wrestling ring with Bill scampering away.

Note that the Web page from which I copied this text also includes the YouTube clip of the entire sketch.

I first discovered this video through Truthdig, which described it as "hilarious, ridiculous and disturbing." This, of course, is a matter of taste (a topic in which I found myself immersed in the writings of Immanuel Kant, whose birthday today happens to be, over the last week or so, which probably has not helped me very much); so I do not mind disputing their first adjective. Both Stewart and Colbert usually know how to punch my hilarity button; but this act fell firmly on the "ridiculous and disturbing" side of my taste meter.

Yes, it was nothing more than a comedy sketch; and, as the "E" in "WWE" should remind us, the whole WWE enterprise has absolutely nothing to do with wrestling as athletic competition and everything to do with extended comedy sketches. The problem is that, when a metaphor is enabled by being acted out on television, that particular medium has this disturbing effect of shifting it from the figurative to the literal. Thus, it ceased to become "only a metaphor" for the way in which both candidates have managed their behavior over the last couple of weeks and became a reductio ad absurdum statement of who they really are and, for that matter, who we really are for wanting to see them in that light. Make no mistake, in some collective sense we really did want to see that sort of thing, since, if we wanted to concentrate on issues and opinions, we would have turned off all network coverage of the campaign a long time ago (perhaps as long ago as when the media were systematically ignoring those candidates who were offering serious voices of dissent). So, like it or not, that little video clip is one of the more accurate mirrors of our national character. We should all look in that mirror and reflect (literally as much as figuratively) on whether we are disturbed by what we see or whether we can accept it with the same complacency that allowed us to accept all of the self-serving political decisions that got us into the mess that has become our day-to-day life, all in the name of our obsession with our diet for "entertainment."


Faded said...

After watching that clip on Truthdig, all I can say is "Thank god Wrestling fans don't vote"

Stephen Smoliar said...

fade, would you entertain the hypothesis that this kind of treatment might motivate and encourage them to vote? Think of it from their point of view. This interpretation casts the election in terms they relate to very comfortably. The point I was trying to make is that, while this may appear frivolous on the surface, it gets far more serious at deeper levels.

Faded said...

I entertain the hypothesis, then think of my friends here in West Texas who actually watch, attend, and PAY FOR Wrestling events on payperview and reply, without pause,

No,they won't bother voting. What that video did was pretty much make fun of the Democrats and lead them to vote McCain if they did bother to vote, which, they will not. So, it's an interesting ploy, nice marketing scheme from Vince McMahon to make Wrestling fans look like less of the boobs they truly are by implying they might actually vote.(sorry my friends from West Texas).