Monty Python explains our presidential debates

Summary: This Monty Python skit perfectly captures the absurdity of our presidential debates, which seem designed to keep us uninformed (even stupid). Unfortunately they are the spectacles we want. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Editor: a person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed.”
Elbert Hubbard (1914).

From Monty Python’s Flying Circus, 15 December 1970

The news is a product designed to attract the attention of the outer party (America’s managers and professionals), the large body of people interested in current events and with the income to either pay for it or to attract advertisers. They are politically impotent, divided amongst themselves and busy with the routine of their lives. They want simple stories of good guys and bad guys that provide entertainment and catharsis. Cheer our team! Thrill at tales of the bad guys’ dastardly deeds! See the certain doom that lies ahead!

So we are shown Campaign 2016 in terms of what hats vs. black hats, almost devoid of issues and political philosophies, devoid of any context in American history. In other words, as spectacle — emotion devoid of meaning. It’s what we want, so what we get.

Look at the transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to see how far we have fallen (also see Wikipedia). They are longer, more complex and sophisticated than the “debates” of today, which are largely candidates volleying sound-bites with journalists.

Clear vision

For More Information

Hat tip on this video to Paul Campos (Prof of Law at U CO-Boulder) in a post at Lawyer, Guns, and Money.

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. See all posts information & disinformation – new media & old, about journalism, about Campaign 2016, and especially these about our political debates…

Suggestions about getting a better view of the world: A time-saving tip when reading the daily news and Suggestions for your daily info diet. You are what you read! Also see Finding insights in the seas of information & misinformation.

6 thoughts on “Monty Python explains our presidential debates”

  1. It’s rare in any debate that anyone says anything that’s going to change minds. Everyone looks back to the Kennedy/Nixon debate, but in truth, wasn’t it really decided by the makeup? IIRC the radio listeners gave the decision to Nixon.

    Everyone talks about the effect it had on America from the perspective of the Kennedy presidency, perhaps, in some ways it’s effects have been more damaging and pervasive because of the way it changed political debate by showing that style is at least as important as substance…

    1. Steve,

      All good points about the Kennedy-Nixon debate. But I agree with your first point, that debates don’t change minds.

      The point here is not that we conduct the debates in a clownish fashion, but that this is a symptom of how the Outer Party has become alienated — or more accurately, disinterested in bearing the burden of self-government. The debates service our needs well by providing spectacle.

      I know many people passionate about one of the candidates. Such as Sanders (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area) or Jim Webb (I know many in the military community). They’ll gush about his wonderfulness, and the great things he’d do for America. I ask “what have you done to support his election?” The answer is almost always “nothing”.

      It’s as if I asked what they’ve done to help their local football team win the Super Bowl. A silly question.

    2. FabMax,
      Thanks for the link. An interesting read too. I’d never really thought about it, that Nixon was only four years older the Kennedy. Incredible I’d always assumed he was 10 or 15 years older. So the programmes did have an effect.

      In our last UK general election there was a lot of huff and puff from politicos and press about style and number of debates. It was as if they were trying to make them relevant to the campaign, when in fact, at the end of it people just went out and voted how they would have voted anyway.

      But then we’ve grown entire classes of people who exist solely to make mountains out of molehills. Douglas Adam’s ‘B’ Ark made real.

  2. “Bear the burden of self government”, my goodness things just roll along quite well, yes? And I am ……quite so busy and yes….. And what about that Suite Karl almost won! Simple brilliant stuff that’s too accurate.

    Was it really this bad in the 60-70’s?. Perhaps but not to this degree as evidenced by the Flying Circus itself. Cleese and co. we’re well known and welcomed by relatively only a few, even then.

    To access that humor today is probably beyond the mindset of only a very few. So far we have slipped in even a few Election Cycles.

    Point well made about the emotions for a Candidate and so little action on their behalf. Here in CO we did see during the antiquated Caucus events a large turnout, relatively, for March 1. Yet still a small percentage there of. Imagine what serious social dislocation it would take to arouse the Outers?

    Thx for the reminder and perspective from back there and then.


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