The Media and “Meh” Candidates

As a resident of California, my involvement in the upcoming 2012 presidential election will mostly be meaningless. But I will still do my best to seek out a candidate worth voting for, and I will vote. My initial thoughts as I observe the election drama unfold, however, concern the way that widespread and constant media in our lives might make it hard for us to get excited about any candidate.

Is it possible to be truly sold on a candidate in this world of wall-to-wall political coverage (on TV, in print, on blogs, on social media, etc)? For any given candidate, we’re liable to see hundreds of tweets, blog posts, soundbites and snarky late-night TV jokes that deconstruct their every faux-pas and spin them in a variety of conflicting directions. For any given candidate, about every perspective known to man will be broadcast, tweeted about and linked to by someone in our social network. How can we help but not become hopelessly confused, cynical, and unenthusiastic about all of our options, when each of them has a million vocal enemies crowding our thoughts with perspectives of every sort on a daily basis?

Now, one could argue that the cumulative effect of this is just that we are wiser, more informed consumers–that we know every ounce of anything there is to know about a candidate and thus are better judgers of who is fit for the job. But the likelier result is that we are more reserved in our support of anyone. When every candidate is demonized by some corner of the media and proclaimed to be a zealot or communist or warmonger or fascist or something else egregious, we can’t help but temper our enthusiasm for voting for any of them. The media’s cumulative onslaught just makes me feel “meh” indifference for the whole field.

Even if we dismiss the most extreme rhetoric against our preferred candidate, the ubiquity of talking heads and garrulous commentators ensures that we’ll at some point hear more measured, calculated, believable deconstructions of our candidate, their policies and their past. Which is fine… but over time it kind of wears on you. Are there no heroic, solid, exciting candidates out there? Does every candidate necessarily please only half of the public, and terrify/annoy the other half?

2012 will likely be the most contentious, mud-slinging, feverishly partisan election we’ve ever seen. And though I’m loathe to blame it all on media/technology, I think we can safely blame some of it on the media.  And yet what is the solution? Turn off or ignore all media during election season? No. If we do that we’ll have no information at all with which to make our voting decisions. We need the media. But we also must be critical consumers of it, and independent enough to not be convinced by one particular perspective or media channel.

My hope is that, even though every candidate I might get excited about will certainly be torn to shreds by some opposing corner of the media, I will nevertheless be able to collect enough information to make a choice that I can be happy about. Even if my vote won’t matter at all anyway.

One response to “The Media and “Meh” Candidates

  1. I hear you, Brett. In our increasingly polarized and sensationalist media environment, it can be a challenge to avoid succumbing to cynicism and apathy while remaining somewhat engaged and informed. Plus, there’s a tremendous amount of self-control required to avoid taking the bait when it comes to the unending stream of juicy gossip in circulation via social media.

    In the rush of non-stop scrutiny and appeals to visceral triggers, I fear we end up striking down far more than we build, conveniently forgetting there are no perfect candidates (in substance or style) or perfect voters in any election. We all bring our backgrounds and baggage to the process of selecting our leaders.

    It’s taken me a while to become comfortable voting for people that don’t personally excite me or have the ‘it’ factor, but I’ve found it helpful to keep expectations low, submit my ballot with a sober gratitude for the simple right to vote in a stable democracy and then get back to sharing life with those I care most about, many of whom probably voted for the other guy.

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