Gnomicon 115

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  115
Saturday 1 September 2012

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In government, one actress is enough.
María Eva Perón (7 May 1919 – 26 Jul 1952)

Whatever one may think of her husband, three-time (1946–52, 1952–55, 1973–74) President of Argentina, Juan Perón (8 Oct 1895 – 1 Jul 1974), and his flirting with fascism, here I am concerned only with what ‘Evita’ (herself a not uncontroversial but without question a hugely popular figure with a huge social conscience) had to say.

The epigraph is, I am imagining, susceptible to a number of interpretations.  It may of course just be an unvarnished statement of fact by a woman who was deeply involved in Argentine politics and in actuality was an actress, first in radio, then in film.  I read her comment differently – and of course do not impute to her my personal reading of her words.

But they just seemed to good to pass up unused in these fevered days of late summer 2012 and our political conventions leading up to elections just over two months from now.  It is in particular the theatricality of the election process that Evita’s words inevitably call to my mind.  And no shame in that … didn’t we just have a famous actor in the White House during most of the eighties?

There is certainly a histrionic quality even to local electioneering, and all the more so at the state and especially the national scene (to use a metaphor from the stage as old as Athenian drama of the fifth century BCE).  Who can deny the sheer political theater of the Republican convention just over with, complete with that symbolic (?) if inadvertent storm named Isaac? the signs and placards, the screaming fans, the irrational exuberance as it were of opening-night?  Remember that presentation by Mrs. Romney?  Governor Christie’s muscular denunciation of the current administration?  And Mitt’s own bring-the-house-down laying down of the gauntlet last Thursday?  (And how about that hoary hoot of a hero, humorist Clint Eastwood?  Of course, he is an actor!)

Should we expect less theater at the Democratic spectacle starting on Monday in Charlotte?  I think probably not.

What I’m thinking about Evita’s little one-liner, then, is that – to my mind — it accurately captures something foundational about modern politics, and that is the supreme importance of how it is all presented, how it is ‘packaged’, how it appears to the audience, in short, how the principals … well … act!  Remember how Nixon’s sweating lip in the (then novel notion of) televised debates with JFK is supposed to have cost him the election?  how the handlers are genuinely concerned about Romney’s ‘wooden’ speechifying when set off against Obama’s electrifying mastery of presentation?

In an age when we have become so used to finding out what we ‘know’ about the world and politics from beautiful people flawlessly reading scripted news from a television screen, the histrionically challenged are clearly at a devastating disadvantage.

Perhaps the inferences I have elected to draw from Evita’s words imply – for better or worse — that no small part of electoral (as well, perhaps, as transactional) politics is mere thespian illusion.

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