Friday, August 29, 2008

That's Entertainment!

Having made the conscious (conscientious?) decision to avoid approaching Barack Obama's speech last night as a "media event," I feel it fair to cite one source that, for all intents and purposes, addressed it only as a media event. That source is, as one might guess, Variety, whose business is to report on entertainment, not on the basis of any aesthetic foundations of quality, but on the business foundations of how marketable a given commodity is. Lest there be any confusion about the reviewers intentions, they are stated clearly in the final paragraph of the review:

Setting politics aside, graded on his delivery, Obama met high expectations and made the sale, to the extent he can. But like so much in the media today, the distribution channel through which one consumed the speech doubtless forecasts how it will be received more than anything the candidate said or didn’t.

Given my emphasis on a "sense of reality" in my own account, I think it is important to recognize that the "Variety reality" is one that we cannot ignore; and there is every reason to expect that we shall see it in play as early as next week's Republican Convention.

However, while the "commoditizing of a candidate" was clearly the primary concern of this review, I found it interesting that the current state of those "distribution channels" should also be addressed:

Channel surfing through the four days of convention coverage, by the way, only reinforced that the best place to watch was PBS or C-SPAN. Commercial broadcast networks again mostly sat out the convention, while the ever-present cable nets preferred the blather of their insufferable in-house pundits to what the speakers were saying. Desperate to kill time, they preempted Obama’s speech with exhaustive analysis based on advance excerpts — in hindsight an especially silly exercise that ranged from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on one end of the political spectrum to Fox News’ pugnacious Dick Morris on the other.

While these channels will doubtless extend Republicans the same discourtesy when they assemble in Minnesota, this approach underscores that CNN, Fox News and MSNBC (whose talent spent the week indulging in silly intramural on-air squabbles) are far more concerned with branding and self-aggrandizement than news.

Indeed, before Obama appeared, cable networks spent almost as much time examining the venue of the speech as its content — the perfect metaphor for a medium that invariably exalts style over substance.

There is thus much to be gained from examining our political process through the eyes of Variety, however incongruous that proposition may seem!

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