I have no idea how the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire survive it.
For the past few weeks, my home state’s primaries assuming a rare importance for both political parties, the remaining presidential candidates have been stumping here in New York City. You’ve surely heard their speeches and their debates, most likely seen footage of them strolling and speechifying, playing dominoes and attempting swiping metrocards. Surely, this is an exciting time for us New Yorkers, to have ourselves at the center of national debate in so spectacular a fashion.
Except the thing of it is, we New Yorkers view ourselves as the center of national debate anyway. Heck, the five boroughs are the center of the known universe as far as we’re concerned. So having this attention from the candidates doesn’t seem surprising, or validating. To me, at any rate, it simply seems wrong.
After all, much of what they’re doing in their staged photo-ops is the sort of stuff a tourist would do on their trip to the Big Apple. (Better informed tourists than most – heading to Arthur Avenue to sample local Italian delicacies, as Kasich did, means you did more research than simply watch the Food Channel, but still.) We’re a proud people - what true New Yorker is inclined to vote for a tourist? These candidates are asking us to entrust them with our very safety - they should at least be able to find the buildings around here without asking directions! Plus, as these famous personages come to town, even as they shop and ride the transit system, they insist that we look at them – it doesn’t work as a photo-op if we don’t. And this goes against a basic code of our city – should you pass them by on the street, you don’t look at the famous people.
Furthermore, the whole essence of modern politics, sadly, is spectator sport. We’re sorted into teams, encouraged to cheer for our own without question and to lustily boo the opposition. And again, we’re too proud to think of ourselves as spectators. We’re New Yorkers, dammit – we debate ideas and set agendas. Even when it’s in service of candidates with whom we agree, to be reduced to props is a cruel blow to our ego.
This may seem like a trivial analysis – after all, I haven’t endorsed anybody, for all those undecideds who were looking to an actor’s blog to make their final decision. But this carnival-slash-spectator sport aspect to modern politics isn’t just bad for New Yorkers’ self-esteem – it’s BAD FOR THE ENTIRE NATION. Addressing looming climate catastrophe, dealing with structural social and economic issues, all these require a level of critical thought and engagement in order to begin to make headway, and that level needs to be sustained long past the election. Our shrieking at rival camps, our endless pep rallies and Facebook smackdowns, are not designed to facilitate that engagement; they’re designed to make sure that engagement never happens in the first place. Angry sports fans, after all, are not known for critical thought.
So I’ll be glad when the circus leaves town. There is, after all, real work to be done instead.
(One additional note to the candidates – as long as you’re here in the city, you might wish to schedule a session or two with one of our many excellent vocal coaches, because you all sound terrible. Public speaking is your profession, folks – learn some breath support techniques!)
Posted on April 18, 2016
by Michael C. O'Day