Reflecting some more on O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods and politics, here focusing on presidential elections as spectacle.
“This whole game – politics – it’s like hustling a woman. Same principle more or less.”
Kathy rolled her eyes but said nothing.
“Wrap your mind around it,” Tony said. “You’re at a party, say. You spot this hot looker across the room, this real babe, so you wander over and start politicking. Nice firm handshake, look her in the eye. Talk about every damn thing under the sun. Talk about Aristotle and Gandhi, how these guys affected you on a deep personal level, how they changed your life forever. Tell about your merit badges, that terrible experience you had with polio, what a sensitive human being you are, and then after a while, real polite, you invite the broad to dinner, blow a month’s pay, shovel out the oysters and caviar. Pretty soon she starts to owe you. It’s never said like that, not direct, but this little pumpkin knows the rules, she knows how the deal works. Code of commerce, so to speak. Anyhow, the whole time you keep talking up your qualifications, how you’re nuts about public TV, et cetera, ad shitum. The spiel’s important right? Wining and dining, all the courtship stuff, you got to do it. Because the girl’s human just like you and me. She’s got an ego. She’s got her dignity. I mean, she’s a living, breathing piece of ass and you got to respect that.” [pp. 150-151]
Now one of the interesting aspects of this passage is that the “real babe” knows the “code of commerce.” So a question is: Why does she play the game? What does she get out of the game, other than a meal and maybe more? And another question, dealing with politics: If we the people are being seduced, as the real babe is, then why we do play the game? What do we get out of it?
Presidential elections are, perhaps, the best example to use here. We participate because we like to think that we are involved in something important, something real, just like the woman who is being wined and dined. She likes to think that she is involved in something important, something real, that perhaps a great love affair is unfolding and that she’s not only a part of it but even the cause of it.
Same with presidential elections. We like to think that something important, something real is happening – that history, our history, is unfolding in a big way and that we are part of that and, more, that we are the cause of it. We are the engine driving the unfolding of our history, driving us toward our collective destiny, which the election will significantly alter. This is what we like to think because it makes us and our actions seem important, even crucial.
But what if, actually, presidential elections are little more than spectacle, a lot like a Super Bowl, and we are merely spectators watching two rivals “fight it out” to see, quite simply, who will be “the winner?” And the result has no more or little more effect on our history than the outcome of any Super Bowl. The only result is another “winner” and another “loser,” just as the only result of the wining and dining is whether the winer and diner “scores” or not!