The Republican Field As Reality Show Cast, Or, Fandom as Politics

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

Stephen Bannon’s doing everything he can to promote The Undefeated, his Sarah Palin documentary — including trying to start buzz by forcing viewers to vote to get the movie to their local theaters. The interesting thing will be less where the movie gets screened than the total number of votes cast overall, which I’d be rather surprised if Bannon ever released. I’m not particularly interested in Sarah Palin. But I am interested in the convergence between our politics and our entertainment, between methods of fandom and means of demonstrating political support.

In the age of Obama, he of preternatural control, of the tight haircut, of the perfect wife and beautiful daughters, there’s something fascinating about the disintegration of the Republican field into the cast of a roommates show like The Real World. Palin and Michele Bachmann are the pretty, popular girls with boyfriends back home, Donald Trump is the guy convinced of his own greatness who is headed for a fall, Mitt Romney is the religious virgin seduced by the camera, Gary Johnson is the politicized stoner. There’s something fast, loose, and out of control about this crowd, a mesmerizing messiness.

Reality television is irritating, but so far, it seems as if it’s here to stay, and if it’s capable of evolving. Individual shows may come and go, but as a means for sorting people into categories, and for evaluating those people, it’s a resilient rubric. I generally expect that someone rational will emerge out of the maelstrom of Iowa and New Hampshire. But I dont’ think this is the last time we’ll see a lot of outrageous candidates get taken seriously, even if it’s just for a minute. Dennis Kucinich just made his runs for president a couple of cycles too early.