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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Political Theatre on the Left and Right

The first thing we have to do is admit we are no longer watching news. We are watching political theatre. Theatre is fine. Drama is a good thing and it has a  long tradition. A good story pulls us away from our worries and cares for a little while and hopefully we learn a thing or two. But theatre is not news. The reason we watch FOX or MSNBC has little to with news and more to do with our convictions. We want to watch someone with our views get into it with someone else on the other side. If we wanted to watch news we can always tune in Wolf and Anderson and David Gergen. Snore.

Political theatre is a hell of a lot more fun. We are invested in it. It's those damn liberals. It's those damn conservatives. Get a good guest on the show and grab the popcorn and they are off. Will Rachel Maddow tear another Family First conservative to shreds? What the the hell is Keith Olbermann talking about in his special comment anyway? Will Sean Hannity get the whole Great American Panel to tackle the spineless Democratic consultant sandwiched between the wrestler and the NASCAR  driver? Will Bill O'Reilly lose it? Will Glenn Beck break down and cry and explain how in the hell the founding fathers wanted us to live one more time? Now that is entertainment, but it is not news.

It is fine to watch these shows as long as we know we are watching entertainment. Rachel Maddow does research the hell out of the issues and Keith Olbermann passionately believes in what he is saying and Sean Hannity really does believe he is doing the country a favor by exposing the socialists on the left--but the motif of taking a  position and piling on to support it quickly becomes political theatre with a supporting cast of players like Dick Morris on The Factor or the now famous Juan Williams or Howard Fineman and Ezra Klein for Olbermann and Maddow. Any good play must have it's supporting cast and everyone does a hell of a job at putting on the show.

Not that we are not more informed by the end. Not that we don't learn something. But all theatre has a moral imperative or the irony of truth and if David Gergen suddenly came out on the stage and started reading the news we would object to his dry recitation of the days events. But here is the litmus test; a war breaks out with China. Who do you tune in? Fox? MSNBC? No, you turn on the news.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man due out in January.

Books by William Hazelgrove