Everything’s gone a bit quiet on the US Election front – possibly the British media feel that they’ve milked this story so hard that it’s udders are starting to look sore. Now they’re giving it a break for a couple of months until the run up to voting day begins.
I’ve been following the US election for the last six months for the same reason that I might follow a friend who’s drunk and started rubbing himself against the nearest urine soaked alley wall - he might do something hilarious, or get part of his genitals caught in a drainpipe. Possibly both. I’ve witnessed a few of them now, but this year was far more interesting since I was in America for a decent amount of the primaries, and updates showed up every time the TV was switched on. Since we had a General Election the year before, I found my mind trying to superimpose events from May 2015 onto the current events, and vice versa to compare, and the results were surprisingly difficult to envisage.
I don’t claim to be a sociologist, but I can only surmise that this difficulty in reconciling the two approaches to public voting comes from differing cultural attitudes to politics – or more specifically, the attitudes of the media. To analogise, the US elections are a big Hollywood blockbuster. The graphics are super slick, with battle lines being drawn as candidate photos are smashed onto screen side by side as though their still images are already battling for screen dominance. All the while a deep, dramatic voice, pumped full of adrenaline is proclaiming “It’s your vote! Your choice!”, jabbing it’s meaty fingers at you like a World War Two recruitment poster. It’s amusing to watch the trailers for Captain America Civil War, and mentally replace team Cap and team Stark with the Democrats and the Republicans (I’m not saying which is which) and perhaps most tellingly, it’s not that difficult to imagine the ensuing brawl complete with CGI explosions.
Then we have the UK elections, which come across more like the school nativity play (for the benefit of my American friends, yes you can do that in our schools). The back wall is having scenes projected onto it to set the mood, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that those headdresses are made of cardboard. The teachers run around trying to drum up enthusiasm, and the audience play along and try to get into the spirit of it, but as the students shuffle out and start mumbling their lines, you just know everyone is secretly waiting to see who trips over their dressing gown first. The donkey’s arse will inevitably stand up halfway through, loudly crying because he didn’t get to be Joseph, and will go on to complain about political correctness and the liberal bias of the school faculty, before the teachers can lead him offstage for a sit down and a stern talking to.
We’re not going to get any flashy graphics or star-making performances. And most importantly, we’re not expecting them from our elections. From the very beginning, we expect disappointment, something that the papers and news are only too keen to soak up in cringeworthy detail. TV actually joins in with figures like Jeremy Paxman popping up for hard hitting interviews that seem deliberately designed to make the candidates stumble so we can have a good laugh at them. Debates and TV appearances start to resemble public floggings, designed to make the audience wince, flinch away from the screen and mutter “Oooh! Shouldn’t have said that! That’s going to hurt!”.
In retrospect, we’re coming across as very cruel.
There’s an undercurrent of mockery and snickering behind our hands (also very much like a school environment now that I think about it) that fills our election process, and in two months in America, I never got a sense of that. Americans seem far quicker to believe that maybe - just maybe - this election will be a game changer. That the winning candidate might just keep his promises, and make the country better. Certainly the media does its best to hype up this idea, with it’s dramatic music and quick-fire statements being shot into our ears. News reporters get pumped up, beaming at the screen and practically dancing around the studio when another state finishes voting. Smash-cut to Trump! Smash-cut to Hillary! They’re coming for you, Americans, and they’re going to do the job right!
Meanwhile, over the pond, our media pulls out its binoculars out and starts to peer like a group of peeping Toms. One of them’s going to trip over their dressing gown soon…
Having optimism isn’t a bad thing, but it’s unmatched as fodder for the media.