This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 25, 2008 - Wow, it is as though network TV has been born again! Two weeks of Olympics, China style.
Now, off to the Mile High City for Barack Obama's coronation and then on to Minneapolis for John McCain, the action hero mini-series.
Anyone who thinks nothing good could come from Reality TV shows did not watch the Olympics carefully enough. Sure, no one got tossed off the island, but there were disqualifications. And though the judges did not get to speak, Randy, Simon and Paula had nothing on some of those gymnastics judges - such harsh scoring!
With the Olympics fresh in our mental Tivos, I think we should take the three critical aha's from the Olympics and apply them to our convention viewing.
The Fireworks Aren't Real
That amazing display of fireworks all around the Bird's Nest stadium that kicked off the Opening Ceremony turned out to be a display of Chinese prowess with computer graphics and not an extension of ancient traditions using gunpowder. If you were there, you saw a great show. If you were watching at home, you saw a similar but not exactly authentic show.
That, to me, is an apt description of what we are going to see with the conventions. One show for those gathered close in. Another staged for the viewers at home. Both big on flash and both carefully controlled.
A Big Difference between Putting on a Show and Running a Country
After thinking about the conventions and what you've been watching, it's another good time to say, "Thank you, Olympics, you have made me a better viewer."
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao shows up pretty well on TV. Maybe a little stiff; but, man, did he have the necktie and voice modulation thing right.
After his performance, he should be on a nice three-day holiday, laughing with the wife, taking the congratulatory calls and generally feeling like the cool-guy head of a big government with clear People magazine potential. But Tibet and Taiwan, smog and trade no-no's and the whole human rights thing in general are all sitting there to bug him when he gets off the post-Olympics high.
The McCainiacs and Obamans have lots of friends in high places who can give us really good shows, but what about the stuff that's, well, tougher. Will any American problems have really been addressed or helped when the show is over and the lights dimmed? I, for one, am thinking, no.
What do You Want? The Right Age or the Best Performance?
OK so I do not know how old the Chinese gymnasts are. I am not sure they know. I do know that, whatever the age, the performances were stunning. Sure, there are rules and regs. And the Olympics has a process to sort all of this out.
Now, with our friends at the McCain Inc.'s and Obama.com's offices of Spin Central, age is all the rage. Make Barry Obama a Paris Hilton contemporary: That shows real presidential grit Capt. McCain. And not that it formally endorsed the Hilton response, but Basketball Barack's camp gave a gleeful wink when Paris Hilton bitch slapped McCain as that "wrinkly, white haired dude," and asked, "Is HE ready to lead?" Hmm, maybe Barack is a little bit too much the pop icon.
Voting with the remote
Which brings me to the final thing the Beijing Olympics had to teach us. "If you don't like the sport, turn the channel." In the 1960s roughly 60 percent of the voting-age population went to the polls for presidential elections. From the '70s on, the percentage it has been in low to mid 50s.
Even our occasional friends the French are in the 60 percent range now and the rest of Europe goes higher with Iceland topping the list at 88 percent. In case you think that is because there is nothing else to do there but vote and eat white fish, Italy where there is a lot to do is second at 87 percent. So, grab your remote and hold on. Because instead of real health care solutions; sensible energy, foreign, education or (fill-in the blank) policy or policies; a real conversation about age, race or gender in America; and any of a host what might be called real discussions, we are about to get sold hard on candidates who won their league titles and are warming up to play the big game.
Steve Lawler is a St Louis based writer, organizational psychologist and Episcopal priest. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, “Father FX Explains God.” He teaches leadership at Washington University.