So RCP is up with its debate preview and it set me thinking. Two random thoughts really.
The first is the “Evangelical embrace” of Carson in Iowa. Twice Mitt Romney lost in Iowa and twice his Mormon faith played a significant role in that loss. Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. Both the LDS and the SDA are movements born in the “burned over district” of western and central New York state during the Second Great Awakening. Both faith expressions are heterodox when compared to traditional Christianity. The fact that Romney’s Mormonism was a huge problem in Iowa, but Carson’s Adventist faith is being attributed as the reason for his rise is deeply curious. Huckabee and Kasich are far better fits for the Iowa voters on religion grounds than Carson.
My presumption is the press is grasping at straws for a way to explain the polls so they grasp religion ignorantly, but that is really just a guess. Maybe Romney successfully killed religious bias, just too late for himself. But mostly I think this says that religion just is not in play anymore. That would be a wonderful conclusion if our culture was not rotting so; but the way things look religion is not only not in play politically, it is not in play culturally.
My second thought has to do with the “heated rivalries” (quoting RCP) of tonight’s debate. What? – is this the end of the college football season?
Some of us will remember the glory days of Mohammed Ali’s boxing career. Ali’s pre- and post- fight antics made every fight so much more interesting. I cannot tell you how many times I watched a fight not because I cared for boxing all that much but because I wanted to see what Ali was going to do. The boxing was actually often pretty dull. It is a thin line between legitimate martial sport and professional wrestling.
There are a lot of stories about how pro wrestling started. Most of them contain some element of truth to them, it is a deep cultural phenomena. There were many legitimate efforts at pro wrestling, but the crowds just did not pour in for events. That is until promoters discovered that building up story lines around a match, and even making the match appear far more spectacular than it actually was sold tickets by the bushel.
Media plays the role of promoter in these debates. Their interest is not in the art of debate, but in clicks and eyeballs and ratings, which are the media equivalent of ticket sales. They want to build up story lines around a debate, not necessarily for purposes of informing the public, but for purposes of attracting clicks and eyeballs and ratings.
Theoretically these forces should all work together to inform the public and help them make an intelligent decision. But we live in a world were figures move freely between professional wrestling and MMA. The public does not seem to want to make a distinction between real martial sport and staged melodrama with fake fighting.
I attended several live pro wrestling events back in the Hulk Hogan/Rowdy Roddy Piper heyday. Piper may be one of the most entertaining people I have ever watched do anything. But this was also in the day before pro wrestling acknowledged that it was fake. I quit going when some people sitting near me got very angry at me and threatened me with physical violence because I was laughing so hard at a Piper match. They were convinced they were watching a life-or-death struggle and I was disrespecting the gravity of the situation.
At some point blurring the line between acting and reality gets dangerous. As tonight’s debate approaches I wonder if we are not a little too precariously balanced on that blurry, yet very thin, line.