The American media’s obsession with identity politics

There is much to complain about with the British media, but one respect in which they seem far better than their US counterparts is that they do seem more interested in the effect a politician will have on their country, as opposed to extremely patronizing identity politics.

For months now you hear pundits and anchors (the distinction gets more vague every day) on CNN and the other 24 hour news channels break things down into whether white people will vote for a black candidate, or whether black women are more likely to vote for someone that is the same color, or the same gender as themselves.

Isn’t it just possible that there are a few people in this country that might be voting for the candidate that will make the best President, regardless of gender or color?

Punch and Judy is a reference most British people will understand immediately, and most Americans will not. Its best described as an ultra-violent Victorian version of the Simpsons in the form of a puppet show, typically performed by a single puppeteer.

Punch is a deformed, child-murdering, wife-beating psychopath who commits appalling acts of violence and cruelty upon all those around him and escapes without punishment. Judy is his punch-bag/wife. It may shock people to know that the intended audience are small children, who find it profoundly entertaining (I’m not kidding). I should clarify that it may only shock non-British people, because in Britain it is so ingrained in the national psyche that its total insanity is only really appreciated when you point it out to people and force them to think critically about it for a moment. Here is a video to give you the general idea (starts about 14 seconds in):


Yes, I’m sorry but its true, the British are certifiable. Oh, and if any British people you know try to dispute this, ask them to explain how this got to #1 in the British music charts in 1993:

Anyway, I digress. I don’t bring up the subject of P&J to convince you that the British are certifiable, rather I bring it up because it provides a very useful simile, “Punch and Judy Politics”.

This is a view of politics that the media likes to promote, this is for a very simple and obvious reason: When you’ve got 24 hours a day of TV to fill (minus advertisements), they’ve found that a relatively simple and mindless way to attract recurring attention is to frame things in terms of a simplistic battle between two vicious fighters thrown into a cage and forced to battle to the death.

And so rather than looking at the real differences between potential political leaders that might have an effect on the country should they be elected, they focus on childish point scoring. They ask questions like: Did Hillary make a gaffe here? Did McCain make a gaffe there? Is Obama’s pastor just one big walking gaffe? How will this play out in the media?

But they are the media! They have a choice about what they devote their attention to, and they have an obligation to devote their attention to substantive matters. But they don’t, they focus on trivia. They then use the circular argument that they are focusing on it because its what the media (themselves) are focussed on, thus absolving themselves of any responsibility as to the subject matter that they choose to cover.

The media must acknowledge that they have a lot of control over the level of discourse, and it is their responsibility to use that power wisely, in a manner that will best inform voters, such that they make a good decision in the ballot box.

It is this higher responsibility that separates them from the Punch and Judy show, that means the difference between news and simple entertainment.

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