IT WAS CNN commentator Paul Begala who coined the phrase “politics is show business for ugly people” to describe the ego, talent and charisma needed to succeed in both high profile industries.
It reinforces the popular view that our leaders and legislators prioritise style over substance, like the film producers who keep hiring Megan Fox.
But here’s what you don’t hear: the media who are supposed to be holding these starry-eyed politicians to account are often just as complicit in this pantomime as the MPs themselves.
Journalism has gradually transformed from truth-seeking public service to a bit of light entertainment before Big MasterChef’s Got The Voice starts.
Issues of the day are now just content to fill broadscast hours and badndwidth, no different to the new trailer for whatever pre-Nixon administration comic book is being ressurected in 3D.
Take the spectacle of reporters asking Hugh Jackman’s opinion on the mass shooting of theatre patrons in Colorado (11 minutes in).
I know journalism students are taught “there is no such thing as a stupid question” but honestly, was he ever going offer anything other than than a boilerplate platitude about shock and sympathy?
As genuine as his answer was, it did nothing to further our understanding of the tragedy. We were none the wiser about America’s gun culture or the popularity of violent films. The only thing Hugh’s comments did was keep us in front of the TV long enough so we can have hamburgers and life insurance advertised at us.
Occasionally a journalist like Leigh Sales will draw attention by actually doing her job and holding Tony Abbott to account. But fear not, by the next day normal services resumed on The Project when Lehmo told Australian Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke a joke about an Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman.
The Project provided the ultimate example of showbiz/journalism synergy when Julia Gillard allowed herself to be interviewed by American comedian Will Ferrell, who was himself promoting a movie about the inanities of modern politics. Forget the backdown on the Pacific Solution, surely being quizzed by the star of Talledega Nights was the Prime Minister’s nadir.
Finally, what is the point of the token Government and Opposition MP on each episode of Q&A?
Any question directed at them is immediately redundant because they are working off their own script.
Every Liberal talking head dutifully parrots the standard line of how horrible the carbon tax is (though Malcolm Turnbull says it through gritted teeth) before the Labor apparatchik counters with an equally rehearsed defence of the policy while secretly wondering who will employ them after the next election.
The end result is like playing solitaire. You’ve passed the time but absolutely nothing has been achieved.
I deliberately used the term pantomime earlier in this article because it the genre of entertainment these “journalism” performances most resemble.
The assembled press pack is the man in drag asking “where is the manufactured scandal of the day?” safe in the knowledge the interview subject will dutifully cry “It’s behind you!”. Meanwhile the talking heads shout “Oh not I’m not” and “Oh yes your are” in shrill tones in the hope it will cut through to the voters.
Unfortunately it is the poor viewing public who will next have to cast a vote based on information, to continue the pantomime metaphor, coming from a horse’s back end.