A few days ago, I posted a note here saying I would not deign to pay attention to the debates. Last night, after a dinner date with my Brooklyn College colleague, Corey Robin, during the course of which I remarked, ‘Debates are to you what sports are to me’, I returned home, intending to watch the New York Yankees take on the Detroit Tigers in Game Three of the American League Championship Series. My intentions were honorable; some school work required my attention, so the plan was to sit on the couch with my laptop on, well, my lap’s top, and watch the boys of summer play in the fall while I did some distracted work.
Things didn’t quite go as planned. Like most afflicted by ‘Net distraction, I have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and on an instinctive, nervous, automatic reflex, I checked the twin feeds issuing from those pathways to perdition. Soon enough, there was a stream of chatter and commentary, witty, caustic, and sometimes unhinged–issuing forth. I checked it out but stuck to the baseball. Unfortunately, there are innings breaks in baseball, taken up by commercials, and I’d sooner poke my eyes out with a tuning fork than sit through those. So I switched channels to the debate, intending to switch back when the game resumes.
It didn’t quite go that way. For the rest of the night, I stayed stuck on the debate. In part, this was because the Yankees were sucking royally. They seem destined to be swept by the Tigers in this series, and with their bats as silent as ever, there seemed little chance that I would see anything other than whiff and whimper. But I’d also succumbed to the temptation to throw in a whole bunch of silly two-penny contributions to the Twitter and Facebook ticker-tapes. My first missive from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious was to note the evasiveness of Obama’s reply to a question about the glass ceiling in the workplace. Thereafter, it went steadily downhill, as one snarky remark followed another.
The morning after, it still feels pretty depressing. (Yes, I feel dirty!) I might have ‘paid attention’ to the debate, but it seems all I did was use it as material for low comedy. And this use was prompted by pretty much the same considerations that had caused me to disdain them earlier; there really wasn’t any substantive ‘debate’ in them. Not that there could have been, given the format and the staging, and the incorrigible proclivity of candidates to indulge in folksy yarn-spinning and irrelevant digressions in their time-limited responses to questions. If there is any comfort in all of this, it might be that I wasn’t the only one using the debate as fodder for spinning off goofiness.
There shouldn’t be anything inherently disquieting about the spectacle of a supposed cornerstone of democracy–the discussion and debate of political difference–used for such visible ridicule. Satire and parody are important components of politics. But still, the suspicion lurks: perhaps such levity would not be on display if the debate offered more than mere vapidity.
PS: The Yankees lost.