A failure of imagining… the conventions

A failure of imagining… the conventions

: What is the convention in the end?

It’s the ultimate in product placement: We put on this show and instead of inserting a can of Coke into the middle of it, we place our candidate there! Only problem is, when nobody watches the show because it bears less reality than a reality show — I know reality TV; reality TV was a friend of mine; DNC, you’re no reality TV — then the product placement is worth about as much as spam.

So what is the convention in the end?

I’m glad Jay Rosen is there, abstracting the event from within. He’s asking the bigger question, as in:

What the hell is this convention, in the end?

Jay goes to the blogger breakfast and listens to AP veteran emeritas Walter Mears, who’s supposed to be blogging (who knows where?) “even though he told us–rather absurdly–that he doesn’t know what a blog is, or what he’s doing with one.”

I asked Mears during the breakfast Q & A how much responsibility he thought the news media had for the decline of the conventions, which he had described for us in the usual terms– not news, just a big show, nothing that’s unscripted, and so on.

His answer was “none.” Zero responsibility goes to the press. It was the parties that had drained the conventions of meaning, surprise and purpose. In that case, I replied, why are 15,000 media people gathered here to report on something so transparently dumb? “It’s a class reunion,” said Mears, a big social event for the news tribe. (Chuckles from the crowd.)

This I’ve heard before, of course, but it’s absurdist’s view. It amounts to saying: we have no reason, we’re just here. Upon this event, editors and news executives spend many thousands of dollars from precious editorial budgets. Do they really sit around saying: “Who are we going to send to the big class reunion this year? Who’s ready to party in Boston?” That’s even more absurd.

“Absurd”is a nice, academic’s way of saying “stupid.”

Jay then quotes the convention’s CEO (incredulous that such a title exists, as if this were a business with a P&L) bragging that it’s a “live television show.”

But this too is absurd [read: stupid -ed] because on television’s harsh terms the show has been a big flop– losing most of the audience to other shows, and losing the major networks for all but a few hours over four nights. The convention lacks a host–like Billy Crystal at the Oscars–who can connect with the audience, and thread the show with character. It is undistinguished as entertainment, and weak on narrative: no beginning, middle and end, no rising and falling action. It has all the plot structure of a parade: one thing after after another until the big floats–the acceptance speeches–are rolled by.

Duncan Black says [ooooh, I enjoyed making that link]:

Drudge is reporting that the ratings for the convention are low. I’m not surprised, given the way the media has packaged it (what I saw beforehand). They say it doesn’t matter. They’re only going to cover an hour here, an hour there, sandwiched between sitcoms. Then, 4 years from now they’ll use it as an excuse to say the event doesn’t really matter, while sending another 15,000 people to cover it…

Rosen goes on to quote Mears one more time, saying that “the conventions are a memory device. They convey events in the present tense backward in political time. (As Mears himself does when he talks to bloggers.)”

Aha, there’s the problem. In all our analyses of the conventions, we keep looking back, trying to recapture lost excitement and entertainment and ratings and involvement… and democracy. And like a 9/11 Commission, we keep looking for someone to blame: Is it the parties’ fault? Medias? Ours?

But we’re all looking at this the wrong way. We’re looking at it like any of the five recent CEOs of AT&T who inherit the dinosaur and don’t know what the hell to do with it and so they keep adjusting the rouge on the dinosaur’s cheeks, but it’s still a dinosaur.

The world has changed, Rex. The political process of old is dead. Media of old is dead.

Conventions were once meant to actually get the people to select candidates. But that ended about 1968, when there was too damned much drama. So then they became scripted media events. But that ended about 1992, when the citizenry started turning away as they were armed with a powerful new weapon: the remote control.

So the conventions that were will never be again and I’m not shedding one damned tear over that.

Rather than asking what the conventions are or what they were, shouldn’t we be asking what they should be? Here was my humble suggestion.

We can turn the conventions into citizens’ events. In this, the age of dawning citizens’ media, why not have citizens’ politics. Or we can turn them into sessions to get to know the candidates we’ve already selected. Or we can just cancel them and save everybody a helluva lot of money. Or we can use this wonderful new distributed architecture of communications we have and spread the conventions across the land.

But, please, let’s make this the last year when we keep on asking, what is the convention, in the end?