The Tribe Has Broken

At various points in the last few weeks, John McLaughlin, George Will, Lindsey Graham, and Andrew Sullivan have all surprised me w/their unwillingness to play Charades any longer, but nothing that any of them said may be as indicative of how quickly the worm is turning as this editorial. (And I think it was just yesterday that the Times printed an article about various high-ranking brass who’re openly discussing their growing certainty that the war has been strategically lost.)

The Army Times also has an interesting archive of results from their weekly polls, including the answers to a poll from two weeks ago that asked, “From what you’ve seen and heard to date, do you think John Kerry has offered a comprehensive strategy for how he would deal with the situation in Iraq if he is elected president?” 78% of the respondents responded “No,” which I’d imagine is something very like the number that would result if the question was asked of the general population. I saw Kerry on TV at a town-hall forum a few days ago, and a woman who’d lost her son in Iraq asked him how he’d manage the war differently than Bush. (An unmistakable dollop of venom filled her voice when she pronounced Bush’s name.) It was a question Kerry should’ve knocked out of the park, but all he could manage was a generalized wonk’s call to “internationalize” the war, in a voice wholly unclouded by such messy emotions as passion or urgency. Isn’t it time for him to deliver a speech—the major speech of his candidacy to date—in which he spells out in simple but certain terms his vision of the war and the future of American-Iraqi relations? It’d be a nice gesture,  if only to remind his supporters that he’s still running for President.

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Last night I caught all 16 hours of the Survivor All-Stars finale, and while generally amused I was also bewildered by how seriously these people take what they keep solemnly calling “The Game.” (You can hear the capitalized initials in their voices.) Only two contestants made a lick of sense, one of them a highly-strung woman who had the audacity to point out that The Game is “about entertainment.” That may not sound like such a radical notion, but she made it in front of a live Madison Square Garden audience—not the best place to puncture people’s illusions about television—and sure enough the crowd, acting like she’d called for Charles Manson to be paroled to their neighborhoods, shouted her down with boos and catcalls. Okay, so she was no Daniel Boorstin, but she’s still the only one who deflated the proceedings and recognized that the holy “Game“ actually consists of shoehorning a bunch of half-bright money-grubbers into a crassly manipulative spotlight where their chances for success largely depend on such uncontrollable factors as luck and stamina, and spackling in the gaps with Viagra ads.

Beyond the mystifying air of High Seriousness that surrounds the show like a tall curtain, I’m struck by the notion of “reality” as it plays out on Survivor and the other reality-TV showsit sure isn’t like any reality I’ve ever seen. The cameras rarely catch the players when there isn’t some little point to be taken away, or when they’re just lying around in situations where we might really get to know them, preferring instead to repeat the same forced and dopey tropes—the wistful long-distance shots.of someone walking down a beach as ghastly flute music plays in the background, or the line of torch-toting castaways marching with bovine pace and constipated expressions towards yet another Tribal Council. How is it that fictional works like California Split or The Sopranos actually catch more, and reveal more, of reality than a show that’s actually set there?

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