The Lipstick Loom

12Sep08

The job of the media in our society is an important one – it is expected to shine a light on government, forcing it to do the will of the people.

Today, though, in the age of affluence, we are a people without a will. The newspapers go unread, the news departments have been merged with the entertainment divisions, and journalistic standards have given way to ratings. The unemployed bright light of the media has been retooled into a disco ball, offering flash and excitement, scattering the national consciousness rather than providing clarity.

To win elections, campaigns have adjusted to the environment. In order to gain control of the fast moving flashes of light from the ball, they have learned to provide the news machine the fuel it requires. This is not a world in which facts survives, as it is a world where facts are not relevant. It is a world of messages and impressions – using subtle positioning to divide people into camps. Are you Dunkin’ Donuts, or are you Starbucks?

The short attention span of the era means that perceptions are absorbed by the accumulation of snippets. Not from 30 second commercials, but from portions of them – not from their entire messages, but from momentary messages within. The “truths” that campaigns seek to communicate are assembled out of scraps of data grabbed from the political universe. The data is the paint on the pallet of the message crafters – it doesn’t matter if the cause of a candidate’s statement may have been severed from its effect! The creators of the message are the starving artists of the time – fully prepared to externalize the truth of their inner eyes at any cost.

The McCain messengers are not bothered by nattering nabobs who run in circles complaining that we shouldn’t be talking about lipstick. Lipstick covers up Change, and Change is the word that the Lipstick artists must keep from being spoken.

They can’t know what Barack’s intention was when he spoke of lipstick and pigs – what’s important is that the linkage to Palin was too strong to ignore in the minds of viewers. The Hillary message is reinforced – Barack doesn’t behave well with women.

The Barack messengers aren’t hemmed in by their parties’ long commitment to fight discrimination – they disparage McCain for being old, proving the point by noting that he doesn’t use email.

It doesn’t matter, in their world, whether McCain does or does not use email – or whether such a detail is worthy evidence of presidential preparedness. What matters is that the feeling evoked by the very accusation – McCain is too old, too out of touch!

This is the how the tug of war of politics is fought today. For the past year, Barack got a free ride from the media, which promoted his message of change and hope with a free media campaign unrivaled since the development of the PR industry. For the past two weeks, Sarah Palin has taken over Barack’s endless summer, riding the wave that has gone, in a moment, from promoting Barack to pounding him.

A year ago, John McCain’s campaign was in shambles. He had been buried under the weight of the contempt his own party felt toward him for his practice of reaching across the aisle and forging compromises with the Feingolds and Kennedys. Taking great personal risk to affect change, he has climbed back from the drubbing to win his party’s nomination.

Now, McCain faces a candidate who has always put personal ambition above policy – he has never risked his career for any goal, and he has never affected change of any kind.

If the media was doing its job, it would be shining the light on the truth that McCain is the candidate of change, and that Barack’s lack of experience should really disqualify him from serious consideration for the presidency.

While we wait for that to happen, we’ll have to be content to enjoy the craftsmanship of the spinmeisters, pumping away at their looms, weaving the truth as they see it – no matter how hokey.



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