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Culture, Reality

A Vulgar Dance of Power

by Ben Fogel / 09.11.2012

The US election is over. Thank the god of your choice. An eighteen-month spectacle, full of such highlights as Donald Trump’s ill-fated candidacy, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann’s theocratic blether, a bunch of old white men issuing rape apologetics, the usual bellicose threats aimed at the usual suspects and endless statistical quibbling among the chattering classes. These, I can assure you, are but a few highlights of the great American experiment in democracy © 1776.

At the end of this marathon soap opera, voters were left with the choice between a plutocrat with a brood of Patrick Bateman-lookalike sons and a black guy from Hawaii with the middle name Hussein, who consults St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for moral guidance before he orders a drone to blast away yet another “suspected militant” read 15-year old Pakistani kid—and his family. The total bill for this? A cool $1.6bn for the presidential race and nearly $6bn when we include spending on congressional elections and the cash gifted by such altruistic organisations as Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs and Monsanto.

Being of a generally cynical nature, and generally more interested in the conjuncture and turmoil present in our own country, I didn’t really pay that much attention to the US election. I read a few articles, made sure to catch up on the most absurd bits from my American friends, and did some hating on Facebook. My personal highlight of the campaign was Romney’s attempt to attract the Hispanic vote by darkening himself with fake tan for an appearance on the Spanish language television channel Univision. Donald Trump’s call on twitter for a “revolution” after hearing news of Obama’s victory, runs a close second.

I set myself the task of watching a whole night of election coverage both out of a sense of misplaced duty and as part of a tradition established when I was in high school and cared more about these sorts of things. I spent much of my childhood in the ‘Home of the Brave’ and later spent a year undercover studying in South Carolina, and thus have quite a close connection with the USA. I can also claim to have invested way too much time in attempting to understand the statistical soap opera which is American politics.

The trick to understanding the coverage of US elections is viewing it as a sport: It’s like an NFL season in which various pundits attempt to assess trends, identify the key performances, while they report on the high drama and strategies employed during the contest. As anyone who watches American sports can testify, Americans love statistics. Sports science is taken very seriously. People obsess over the most minor details, from the kinetic energy generated by the quaterback’s throwing arm (or some shit like that) to the linebacker’s running yards in his junior year at some hick Texas school somewhere outside of Dallas.

The same applies to elections: endless fucking numbers and predictions and dull trivia—only, instead of running after a ball constantly (although that plays a role as well), candidates are assessed on whether or not they put mustard on their cheeseburger, and on who professes the most love for Israel. In the end both have to make the same appeals to American exceptionalism and the greatness of “the American people”. The most awful example of this was Obama’s vague victory speech, which lacked any substance and consisted mostly of self-congratulatory pathos. I’ll bet on Obama announcing an austerity program aimed at curbing the deficit, cutting debt and helping the bourgeoisie accumulate a little capital in the next six months. (Oh, and 24 Somalis got blown up a by a drone this week already.)

Okay, back to my election viewing. Due to the poverty of DSTV’s offerings, we South Africans cannot watch the glorious organ of Murdochian propaganda known as Fox News or its timid liberal equivalent, MSNBC. This left me with only CNN, and some weird foreign channels like Al Jazeera, the BBC and RT, through which to observe a functioning democratic process. CNN sucks: It’s awful, it’s fucking terrible, it’s the worst, it’s boring, it drives me to drink and I hate it. Every time the odious Wolf Blitzer announces another obvious result, like the Republicans winning in Alabama, in his terrible orgiastic squeak, with his motionless face, a part of my soul dies. Wolf eventually hands it over to his Canadian chum John King, whose sole talent consists of bringing up various computer-generated graphic maps and graphs, before explaining them to Wolf. Then we get their carefully-selected panel, equally divided between hacks who support the red team and hacks who support the blue team, who then try explain why it is their team which will emerge victorious, cup in hand.

I was not one of the legions of South Africans, furiously updating their Facebook statuses out of fear of the apparently apocalyptic prospect of a Republican victory or urgently patting Obama on the back for his “record” on gay rights (what record is that, incidentally?) or willingness to think of women as more than baby receptacles, while ignoring his war crimes abroad. It struck me that many South Africans seem to know more about the spectacle of US politics than the politics of their own native land. People are generally enthralled by American politics and wish that our own vulgar dance of power and corruption could be more like theirs. This despite both Democrat and Republican willingness to whore themselves out for corporate geld, and despite Obama’s willingness to stuff his cabinet full of Wall Street sociopaths and (which is even worse) ex-Goldman Sachs executives. Another interesting fact is that Obama’s most loyal voting bloc, the African American community, has seen its living conditions, employment levels and income drop the most under Obama’s tenure, while the “1%” have seen their share of the country’s wealth get even higher.

Personally, I prefer South African politics. The honest corruption and greed of our political class, to the American self-righteousness, moralism, religiosity and faux civility. I would take any day the transparent and brazen corruption of our ruling class over a country which simply legalizes it instead. American elections are more awash with dirty money than your friendly neighbourhood Teazers. American corporations are free to donate millions under the constitutional protection of freedom of speech. And say what you want about Zuma, but he’s never invaded Botswana or used to drones on the Republic of Zillestan. Also, we have Juju and in America their dancing sucks. Oh and finally, something left out of most of the coverage, barely 50% of Americans voted…

Benjamin Fogel writes shit; you can contact him at benfogel@hotmail.com

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