That Debate

America, it has often been said, has given the world three great things; Jazz, Comic books and movies. As with most epigrams, these three things are probably the trinity upon which most can agree; those who would add fast food, or the infotainment industry (which began in taverns before America, and which I suppose both Barnum and Dagger John exploited), or media bishops, or great big thematic novels of contemporary history could probably find only passionate and partisan accomplices, rather than agreement. You can forget about mentioning the blood America spilt in European and Asian wars, which many will just view as essentially for its own benefit and less than that expended by those lost in various Imperial slaughters. I wouldn't, by the way, but am just sayin'; so, Jazz, comics and movies it is.

However, these things can be adapted. You only have to think of Japanese Manga, say, or the merseybeat to understand that America's projects are no more culturally exclusive than an Holbein skull.

The adaptation of American-style political 'debates', which are usually highly ritualised monologues interrupted by Calvinist pretence to the correct interpretation of received wisdom, is therefore very interesting. American political debating arose in the wake of game-show scandals, when networks wanted some cod-Roman seriousness and found in Kennedy and Nixon the perfect foils, especially given the serendipity of the centennial of the Lincoln-Douglas contest. The form here is to read out something someone else has written whilst pretending to care, and to wave some emotional and inappropriate issue to demonstrate 'passion'. I suppose, in the wake of the British expenses scandals, that the debate corresponded in both pathology and aetiology to its American ancestor.

On that cynical measure, David Cameron--a green-tinged patronising former drug person and faux conservative whom I loathe without ever having met him--won last night. On all other measures, he lost.

But we all did too. It's early doors yet, of course, with two debates to go, but what was interesting to me was the very British delicacy with which, like dog breath in the air or Grendel in the night, big issues were briefly acknowledged or simply ignored. Leaders parrotted lines about 'our brave soldiers' (though I notice that the soldier who asked a question was the only one left out of the name-checks at the end). But only Gordon Brown hinted at a reason why they should be up some mountain in a savage place shooting at nutters whilst attempting to build a Weimar Kansas. Brown, too, noted that he would be banning all immigration from outside the EU, as though skilled Australian electricians or Korean engineers or Canadian farmers would be rushing here anyway. But he didn't say why he couldn't deal with, say, Romanian or Danish criminals, or negligent doctors drummed out of Alsace. No one, in fact mentioned that the reason was that the EU runs this country now, and not even behind the arras. Trident was mentioned; but the way in which Britain's nuclear deterrent provides funds to the American companies who service it and a kind of kickback to Bae systems, which then supplies the British armed forces, was ignored.

Is all politics lies? I found myself musing, as I watched Clegg's rather good, if sub-SuBo audition through a cloud of cold pills and Japanese Whisky, that half the problem is the voters who allow the media to say that they do not wish to hear the truth. How do we actually know that? The facebook discussions that I had with old friends afterwards didn't suggest a hunger to be lied to, and nor did the viewing figures (though as Dr North points out today, these declined very significantly through the programme). Who is this 'People' whom the media erected? A corporate entity? Some sort of Hobbesian golem? Speak, I ask you, speak.

Except it won't. We'll go on from here to a media Festival of silliness that connects with Rousseau only in its self indulgence. Then our bought and paid for media will order us to vote as they wish, or at all.

The most revealing thing was a small gesture. It wasn't Cameron's linkage of the two tyrannies sitting in pretend-ancient cultures in China and Iran, though I noticed the mental linkage of an instinctive neo-conservative with the nuclear issue. It came at the end. It suggested something of Brown's obsessional quality, as most of the best metaphors do. He practically fell off the stage to go and shake hands, bridge doors locked and controls set for the heart of the sun, grasping perhaps at the real hope that Liberals would now take from Tories and deny them seats whilst freeing him from New Labour in a coalition.

The interesting thing about it, though, was the attitude of the two middle-class white boys, Clegg and Cameron, who stood on the stage looking bemused and sympathetic, and then realised that they had to go and patronise some people too. I suppose that you can Americanise the boys all you like, but set them up on a stage, in an American artform, they'll be English and defined by their class and J.Gordon Brown will be a Scots Calvinist tank in any world or universe, whatsoever.

UPDATE: The Liberal Democrats have been propelled, by their Leader's performance into a second place position in the polls. I think that they will struggle to maintain that; but, given the vagueries of the British election system, if we see the three parties within ten points of each other, we're looking at a 1923/29-style range of election outcomes. Wouldn't that be ironic, given that we are all waiting for the 1931-style crisis?


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