BOOKS

Janna Hutz
Courtesy of Comedy Central

By Bernie Nguyen, Daily Arts Writer

The political debates of this presidential election have been
dignified, polite and civil in every way possible. Time limits,
restrictions on answers and audience — all the rules and
regulations of the debates have shown to the world that American
politicians can be cordial and focused, concentrating on
issues.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t last outside the debate rooms.
Today’s political scene is a seething mass of furious faces,
loud-mouthed personalities whose fame lies in their ability to aim
literary darts at the opposing side. The number and popularity of
political books on the market has risen drastically. Ann Coulter,
Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage serve as mouthpieces for the
red-faced right, while Michael Moore and Al Franken take up the
banner for the left. Outside of their literary circles, these
authors have done everything but literally sling mud at each other:
they criticize, shout and carp about how the opposition is either
stupid or arrogant, hillbilly or snob, liar or deceiver. The
division between conservative and liberal has grown, a phenomenon
easily observed by the most casual voter who tunes into FOX
News.

Everyone writes a book these days — politicians have
finally found a way to make an honest buck. All they have to do is
slap their picture on a biography and it sells. Hillary
Clinton’s “Living History,” Bill Clinton’s
“My Life” and former New York City mayor Rudolph
Giuliani’s “Leadership” are all perfect examples.
Though this may be construed as a positive sign of growing
awareness in the electorate, it is more likely a manifestation of
the human desire to be confirmed correct.

Valdis Krebs, an analyst Organization Network, orgnet.com, has
found that the purchasing patterns of political books adhere to a
strict division. Conservatives buy conservative books; liberals buy
liberal books. Very few books bridge the gap, purchased by
disciples of both sides. From the fanatical to the casual, books
are being bought by people who use the prose to confirm and
reinforce their existing beliefs. The buying pattern is just as
polarized as the nation is, according to Krebs’ study for
orgnet.com. Those swing voters that each side is desperately trying
to win over aren’t buying as much as those who are already
red-hot over their candidates.

Strangely, the increase of political virulence in the printed
word has coincided with an increase in voter apathy. Over the last
few decades, the turnout for American voters has dwindled
drastically. The 2000 election saw a turnout of less than 60
percent of the U.S. electorate. Some have argued that party loyalty
is dying out. An unusual conclusion can be drawn from this
information: fewer people vote, and most of them are already
entrenched in a political camp.

Perhaps the reason that moderates aren’t flocking to the
booksellers to buy the latest Ann Coulter is because of the nature
of many of these books. Instead of cool logic and factual analysis,
these books are hodge-podges of bitter accusations, fierce
defensive arguments and unrestrained finger-pointing. Just look at
some of the titles: “Treason,” “Stupid White
Men,” “Shut Up and Sing” and “Lies and the
Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” With such negativity shrieking
from all around, it is little wonder that the main buyers of these
books are those who are already convinced that they are right.
Swing voters are assailed from all sides by opinions that resound
with anger and choruses of “We’re right! They’re
wrong!” This arrogance of conviction has served two purposes:
to reinforce the beliefs of those who already shout their own
viewpoints and to drive away people who are attempting to learn
about politics.

Besides the existing electorate, the large number of first-time
voters has resulted in a pitched battle over their votes. The
incredible amount of interest in the youth vote has resulted in a
campaign in which P. Diddy tells young people to Vote or Die, and
the daughters of both John Kerry and President Bush make
appearances at the MTV Video Music Awards to encourage people to
vote. This has resulted in basic pop politics, with rap stars,
actors and athletes tell kids to go to the polls. They are geared
toward young people, with witty, sometimes crude humor on late
night television and glossy book pages. Historically, however,
shows that the turnout for young voters has been low and their
affiliation fickle.

Politics seems to be invading every arena of modern life, not
just books. Whole TV networks are either conservative or liberal;
radio waves are filled with the loud voices of Sean Hannity and
Rush Limbaugh. People are being bombarded from by the combined
voices of both sides. The question is whether this is effective in
persuading people to vote. Perhaps voter apathy can be ascribed to
the mass confusion that is politics today. Partisanship, already a
problem, is exacerbated by the flood of new political commentary
that has fallen upon the mass media. Some of these books are based
solely on opinion, without fact or statistics to back them up. Upon
entering these waters, one is thrown into the middle of a fight
that has only one end — Nov. 2. Instead of a choice between
political candidates, it has turned into a choice between
lifestyles: liberal or conservative. The lines have been drawn, the
battles have been fought. All that’s left is to put a face on
it. Bush or Kerry. Make your decision.

 

TELEVISION

By Doug Wernert, Daily TV/New Media Editor

Since its inception in 1996, Comedy Central’s
“The Daily Show” has always been about one thing:
making fun of anything and everything related to politics. The
Emmy-Award winning program is a perfect blend of news and comedy,
giving viewers their daily dose of the happenings in Washington
while always generating plenty of laughs. In this election year,
the show has been in the public eye more than ever, and it has
constantly delivered the goods, leaping into mainstream America
while still keeping the energy and ingenuity that made it so
popular in the first place.

The publicity is paying off. Sen. John Kerry made an appearance
on the program while on the campaign trail, showing his humorous
side and proving the program, although touted as a “fake
news,” is a strong voice when it comes to politics. Lovable
host Jon Stewart, along with the show’s quirky writers, have
even released “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to
Democracy Inaction.” Currently on the New York Times
Bestseller List.

With the election on the horizon, “The Daily Show”
serves as an effective way to both inform and entertain voters, and
the public is eating it up. Stewart has appeared on numerous
national magazines covers and even made a newsworthy appearance on
CNN’s “Crossfire,” when he called out hosts Paul
Begala and Tucker Carlson to improve the political dialogue of
their show. Stewart and company have no problem with that, as they
tackle the pressing issues in America and effortlessly inject
humor. Politics has never been so much fun.

 

FINE ARTS

By Sarah Peterson, Daily Fine Arts Editor

Instead of final papers, the students of the special topics
theater class, called Political Cabaret have produced a witty,
political satire of the same name that is showing at the Trueblood
Theatre tonight and tomorrow night at 9 p.m.

“People are using art now to communicate political
messages because you can reach such a large group at one
time,” explained Music School junior Chelsea Leinberger.

The show is full of familiar songs, like “You’re a
Grand Old Flag,” “Herod’s Song” (from
“Jesus Christ Superstar”) and “Seasons of
Love” (from “Rent”), but the words may sound a
bit strange. It was the task of the students to write new words to
fit the familiar tunes.

As a political satire, the topics covered in this show all have
to do with the Bush administration in the upcoming election.
Singing and doing skits about such politically charged issues, the
cast members had a lot to say on how they felt about the show, and
what they hoped to accomplish.

“It’s pretty heavy,” admitted Dory Mead.
“I was just thinking about this cabaret, and you just have to
laugh because it is too sad to cry about the state of things right
now. Being able to joke about stuff like the election is
important.”

Anna Heinl had a similar attitude. “I think that everyone
is taking the election so seriously, and they should, but it is all
of this argumentative stuff right now, and it’s just fun to
try to look at the funny side and laugh.”

“Humor is a really good way to highlight truth,”
added Mikala Bierman. “What we are doing is funny, but we are
trying to be true in everything we say. It is just a different way
of presenting ideas and our feelings. Instead of arguing about it,
we make a joke about it.”

While the show certainly draws on the ideas and feelings of the
people who wrote the words, the cast members were all adamant that
the show is as neutral as possible. Kyla Embrey explained,
“Our main goal with this show is to really get people excited
about politics and get people to vote. We pretty much make fun of
everyone from one end of the spectrum to another. So, we are not
trying to push a political agenda or say vote for this guy or vote
for that guy, we just want people to vote and to get involved with
politics because now is the time to start doing that.”

 

FILM AND MUSIC

2003

Tell Us the Truth Tour

Throughout 2003, Billy Bragg, Tom Morello, Steve Earle and
Lester Chambers traveled throughout the country under the banner of
the “Tell Us the Truth” tour. These socially conscious
troubadours urged the media to be more forward with the American
people, and fought to keep the current administration get so much
free reign of the airwaves. The Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA)
was a huge focal point for these musicians, who asked the fans in
attendance to travel to Miami to protest it.

2004

April 20: Rock Against Bush: Volume One

This album, released early this year, united many bands from the
punk scene against one man and his policies. The album was #1 on
the Billboard indie chart, and its popularity led Fat Wreck Cords
to release a second volume in August. While most of the songs were
taken from the bands’ previously released albums, both CDs
did include new songs from a few big-name punk bands like Sum 41,
Yellowcard and New Found Glory. Both volumes were sold for under
$10 because the bands involved, 52 in total, agreed that getting
Bush out of office was more important than money.

May 17: Control Room

The documentary “Control Room” examines how U.S.
television networks and the Arab satellite news channel Al Jazeera
reported about the early days of the Iraqi war. Directed by Jehane
Noujaim (www.startup.com), the film chronicles Al Jazeera reporters
— and to a lesser degree, those of CNN, FOX News and NBC
— as they attempt to remain equitable and objective in
reporting the war’s course, despite personal sentiments
against the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle
East.

June 25: Fahrenheit 9/11

The most successful documentary of all time and this
summer’s major pop culture phenomenon, “Fahrenheit
9/11” is Michael Moore’s most scathing documentary yet.
By connecting the Bush family with the Saudis and arguing that the
current Bush administration used the tragedies of Sept. 11 to push
its own agenda, Moore’s overall portrait of the president is
far from flattering. The heart of the film however belongs to
grieving mother Lila Lipscomb, who lost her son in Iraq. Topped
with astonishing footage and a plethora of interviews,
“Fahrenheit 9/11” just may be credited as the first
film to ever help get a presidential candidate out of office.

July 30: The Manchurian Candidate

A remake of John Frankenheimer’s classic thriller could
only be acceptable in light of present global affairs. Director
Jonathan Demme tweaks the plot to make the film politically
relevant and uses the first Gulf War as the film’s point of
origin. Denzel Washington takes on Frank Sinatra’s role with
great aplomb as a paranoid veteran. Meryl Streep’s caricature
of Hillary Clinton and the mocking tone with which Demme attacks
Washington politics make the film somewhat worthwhile.

August 13: Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on
Journalism

A documentary attacking “America’s most watched
cable news network,” “Outfoxed” rebukes FOX News
Channel’s “Fair & Balanced” label and accuses
the implicitly conservative network of everything short of murder.
The film is the most ferocious critique against the news media
since “Network” came out almost 30 years ago, and
though inherently biased, it’s an entertaining and often
informative skewering of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

August 17: Future Soundtrack for America

Organized by They Might Be Giants” John Flansburg, this CD is a compilation of artists ranging from Death Cab for Cutie to R.E.M. to Elliott Smith. The album is unique because, when released, all songs had been unreleased to the general public. Each track was a donation from the artist or band in support of the effort, with 100 of album profits going to liberal organizations such as MoveOn.org and Music for America.

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