This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com
If I hear one more radio or TV journalist or pundit tell me what Mitt Romney must do, I think I'll scream. Election 2012 is still 14 months away and yet the nattering commentators, the Iowa straw poll -- we were told it was meaningless and to prove it 800 reporters showed up from a downsizing media -- the first "debates," the instant rise and fall of possible candidates (and the ignoring of others) have already been part of the scenery for months. If the job of journalists is now to tell us what Mitt Romney or any other candidate must do, then we, the viewers or listeners or readers, essentially become millions of mute political advisors in an endless campaign.
I mean what do I think Mitt Romney must do, now that what's-his-name is on the rise and Michele Bachman's advisors are jumping ship like so many proverbial rats, and what about that crowd in the Ronald Reagan library cheering Rick Perry's Texas execution record, or the idea of social security as a Ponzi scheme, and -- sorry to harp on it -- but really what should Mitt do about the Tea Party, or evolution, or Obama-rama-care? Or really, at this point, who cares?
And don't think you can find relief by visiting oppositional websites online. They're already geared up 24/7 to feed off mainstream "reporting," while discussing what Mitt and his pals have done -- their gaffes, stupidities, idiocies, etc. -- presumably for the next 14 months. And here's the shameful thing: they're not even making real money off it!
For the mainstream media, especially TV, it's another matter. In fact, it's one of the great, unmentioned conflict-of-interest stories of our time. If, in a different context, someone was selling you on the importance of a phenomenon and at the same time directly benefiting from it, that would be considered a self-evident conflict of interest. For campaign 2012, TV alone is likely to have close to $3 billion in ad money dropped into its electronic lap -- especially if news shows can drum up attention for the eternal election season as the political event of a lifetime. So whenever those pundits go on about Mitt and his musts, they are functionally shilling for their owners' bottom lines, though no one in our world bothers to say so.
Focused on picking and handicapping candidates, the media version of the political campaign is a process which now begins the day after the previous campaign ends. As a result, elections have become the political equivalent of our ever-expanding, increasingly overlapping sports seasons. If you don't mind logrolling at three in the morning, sports is never absent from our onscreen lives, and it looks like the same may soon be said about electoral politics.
These days, of course, every crisis or alarum in American society -- take the most recent terror alert that coincided with 9/11 coverage as an example -- can be transformed with remarkable ease into eyeball-gluing screen fare and so into a money-maker for some complex or other (military-industrial, homeland-security, media-industrial, etc.). So endless months before the first vote that counts, we get polls pouring in, elections coming out of our ears, and constant chatter. But democracy? In a country where, in the best of times, only 60% of its citizens actually vote, don't make me laugh. The people's representatives? Please!
My apologies to the Roman Empire, but politics is now part of bread-and-circus time in the increasingly chaotic American version of empire. The circuses are, of course, for us, the bread (and I mean dough, moolah) for them. They grow fat. We remain riveted to our many screens. Meanwhile, out there in the real world, where towers are falling all the time, even American decline is undoubtedly being gilded, and readied to be put up in lights, and sold as yet more fun for the masses: disintegration, the last word in on-screen entertainment. With the magisterial Mike Davis's eulogy at the graveside today, TomDispatch switches off the TV and embarks on a triple look at American decline. (Michael Klare and Pepe Escobar will tackle other aspects of the subject in the coming weeks.) Tom
Edward Gibbon at America's Grave
What the Future Will Remember About America's Decline and Fall
By Mike Davis
1. Twin Towers
Two years from now the staffs of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker will move into the most haunted building in the world. There, the elite of American celebrity photographers, gossip columnists, and magazine journalists may meet some macabre new muses.
Aloft in the upper stories of 1 World Trade Center (where Cond- Nast publishing has signed the biggest lease), they will gaze out their windows at that ghostly void, just a few yards away, where 658 doomed employees of Cantor Fitzgerald were sitting at their desks at 8:46 AM, September 11, 2001.- Advertisement -
Not to worry: The "Freedom Tower" -- the boosters reassure us -- will be an enduring consolation to the families of 9/11's martyrs as well as an icon of civic and national renaissance. Not to mention its dramatic resurrection of property values in the neighborhood. (I confess that I find this conflation of real-estate speculation with sublime memorial unnerving: like proposing to build a yacht marina over the sunken Arizona or a Katrina theme park in the Lower Ninth Ward.)
One World Trade Center, in the original design, was also meant to restore vertical architectural supremacy to Manhattan and to be the tallest building in the world. This global phallic rivalry was won instead by Dubai's Burj Khalifa super-tower, completed last year and twice as high as the Empire State Building.
In a few years Dubai, however, will have to surrender the gold cup to Saudi Arabia and the bin Laden family.