Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Politics and theatre

At Media Nation, my friend Dan posted his thoughts on last night's speeches at the Democratic National Convention by Sen. Edward Kennedy and Michelle Obama. Some of the comments mentioned the whole scripted, stage-managed aspect of Obama's speech.

Well duh! Of course the political conventions are manufactured drama. People act like that's a big revelation. In a way, politics is theatre. Speechwriters, like songwriters and playwrights, make an appeal to people's emotions. The words they use, the images they construct, are all designed to conjure a specific picture in the minds of the audience.

Sure, it would be nice if people made their choices after spending hours watching C-SPAN and poring over position papers, but they don't. At least I don't. I mean, I know something about where a candidate stands on the issues, certainly. I read newspapers and magazines and catch snippets of speeches on television.

But honestly, I think it's less of a reasoned decision and more of a gut reaction. Whether or not you feel favorable toward a candidate, especially at the national level and especially when voting for president, depends on how the person hits you in the gut. It's a matter of which candidate you connect with.

I realize that there are more concrete aspects, too, like which candidate has a better plan for the economy or bringing the troops home from Iraq. Still, you can't really know how that candidate will act in every situation. But you can have a sense of which person shares your values, which candidate will do a better job protecting the things that are important to you.

And really, is it so different in the theatre? Isn't that part of what hits us with a play or musical that we love, because something about a performance or a subject resonates?


Dale said...

It's exactly like theatre and on a very grand scale, good point Esther.

Esther said...

Thanks Dale! It just amuses me that people dismiss speeches like Michelle Obama's on those grounds. But you know, we're human and we react to a daughter talking about her father or children waving to their father on a giant video screen. Things like that help us make a human connection, just as they do when we're sitting in the audience at the theatre. Of course the issues matter. But the presentation does, too.

Vance said...

There's def. a connection thing, in politics and theatre like you said. Sometimes I buy a performance by an actor that i just like, looks good, dances well, sings well... politics is the same dance and song and sometimes it's just that glimmer in the eyes that can win my vote or not.

Amanda said...

Hey Esther, did you see Ms. Jady made her blog private? I guess my cranky blog did some good in the world. :)

Esther said...

I just saw it, Amanda! Maybe I should e-mail her asking if I can be on the invited list, although I doubt she'd have me. ;-) The sad thing is, I don't think anyone was nasty or disrespectful. She simply couldn't take it when people didn't agree with her view of the world. Apparently, she only wants to hear from people who totally agree with her.

Esther said...

Yeah, I agree Vance. Sometimes it's the difference between whether someone appears sincere or just a little too slick. Sometimes it's the language - whether it's inclusive or exclusive. I think we often remember the style more than a stand on any one issue. Like you said, it's a glimmer in the eye, the sense that someone seems well, "real."

Amanda said...

Hey, I'm just happy she won't be spouting her nonsense to the whole world anymore. She and like friends can read that babble.

Kevin Daly said...

Politicians are actors have been rehearsed in every action they do. Esther your post was spot on. You'd think from the way they spoke that the people speaking didn't have a team of writers behind them and just chose to go off the top of their heads!

Esther said...

Thanks, Theatre Aficionado!

Of course, just like acting it's all in the delivery. If you listened to Mark Warner's keynote speech, well you would have fallen right off to sleep. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, gave a rousing speech that really rallied the troops.

And like a good piece of theatre, it also depends on the quality of the writing. I was at Bill Clinton's first inaugural, and I don't remember one word of his inaugural address! On the other hand, everyone knows a little bit of John Kennedy's inaugural address.

I don't think these speeches are insincere just by virtue of being scripted by a team of writers and rehearsed. I think they can be very heartfelt and moving. I don't think it's valid to criticize them "because" they're scripted and rehearsed. That's pretty much a given these days, especially in the presidential campaign.

Also, I think you can have a great political speech without a stable of writers. I bet Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address pretty much on his own. ;-)