It was a funny mistake when the folks at Fox used a still of Tina Fey doing her 2008 Sarah Palin routine for their coverage of a story on the real Palin. I’m not sure if Palin’s colleagues – she actually works as a Fox commentator – are clueless, mean-spirited, or just have an interesting sense of humor, but it does make me think about the authentic and the fake.
Wouldn’t Baudrillard have loved it? For him, it would have indicated the presence of yet more proof that actual people do suffer from hyperrealitis! According to Jean Baudrillard, consumers had long ceased to need originals. Thus, in a world where the simulated version has conquered the real, how many people will have principled issues with the mix up of the person and the parody? Or taking it one step further, how many people have concerns about the authenticity of the real Palin in the first place?
This brings me to the genuineness of political performers. During a recent show, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow served up 12 male politicians whom she placed on a “post-Clinton modern American political sex scandal consequence-o-meter.” Depending on the creepiness of their behavior and the extent to which they might be prosecuted, Maddow measured the cases of Florida Representative Mark Foley, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Nevada Senator John Ensign, VP candidate John Edwards, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and of course, New York Representative Anthony Weiner, and a couple of others. (For more on Weiner, read Gary Alan Fine’s post.) Did all these gentlemen think they could get away with extramarital affairs, prostitution, lewd conduct, and other such activities? While some of these activities may not be downright illegal, they all reveal little or no moral standards. In many cases, the behavior was not only hypocritical, but also naïve, as the compromising position in which these politicians pushed themselves would one day trip them up. To make matters even more complicated, the hypocrisy is a common element. Among the politicians who are the most vocal about the need for punishment and resignation of the sinners, are those who are guilty of some nasty sins themselves. How many others still think that their secret lives will not become public?
Even though these men have differences, they do share some similarities. Significantly, they all confuse the authentic and the fake. They all jazzed up their real lives with lies and may have found some moments of reality in their lives as cheaters. To find oneself in this muddle of real and unreal must be bewildering to any mere mortal, but unsettling on a whole other level to political representatives. While survival on the political stage demands a high degree of showmanship, a politician’s moral credibility and integrity are his or her lifeblood. Or, at least, it used to be.
Of course, deceit and pretense have long been a part of the political profession. But in a society where there already exists an overwhelming amount of posing and parades, the show element of politics seems to be only increasing. As the lines between reality and imitation have become blurry in society in general, political society has followed suit. Concern about the authentic and the fake has diminished during our travels from real life to reality shows. There is an insufficient concern about the mixing up of the authentic and fake in the movements from real-life politics to pure political spectacle. Amidst all the gaming and faking, it would be good to realize that real decisions have an impact on real people.