The American Candidate

Comment

Nancy K. Dutton

Over the last few years, I’ve threatened to emigrate more than a few times. There was the stolen election of 2000; the first time I witnessed weddings on reality television; and perhaps that tragic moment I first observed our President’s penchant for the word “nucular.” But, though these episodes were certainly disturbing, they take a backseat to what I’ve just learned—Kelly Clarkson, the illustrious Idol, has a chance at winning the presidency. Well, sort of.

In a new reality-based TV show, producers plan to stage pseudo-election events that real presidential hopefuls undergo while on the campaign trail. Contestants will be your Average Joe, and they’ll be subjected to typical affairs that mark competitive campaigning. According to The New York Times, these include being “filmed as they campaign, attend real political events across the nation and produce political ads that will be shown on Showtime and possibly other networks of Viacom, whose CBS News is covering the election.” It all seemed like good fun at first glance—what better way to inspire otherwise-apathetic Americans than by shamelessly pandering to their vices? However, after emerging victorious from a process strikingly similar to that of American Idol—viewers will vote weekly until one player remains—a real danger arises as the new “candidate” can actually compete for the presidency.

My knee-jerk response to this golden piece of programming was: “Wow, Fox has stooped to a new low.” But for once, Fox didn’t mastermind this bizarre new program. (In my defense, however, this happened after reading that the network’s notoriously lowbrow line-up is to include a new show called “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé.”) This time, the perpetrator is a premium-cable network with an obvious conflict of interests.

In an almost unprecedented display of hypocrisy, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has, according to the Times, come forth alleging that the show’s producers will skirt election rules because their “plan to feature real political candidates campaigning would wrongly allow Showtime’s parent, Viacom—which has political action committees and lobbies in Congress” to unfairly promote their politics. Of course, it’s classic that the NRA, the infamously powerful lobby whose contributions sidle into the pockets of candidates willing to blindly oblige its wishes, has come out so strongly against the show. However, the unsavory organization is right.

Because Americans have become so enamored with “average” icons, it’s not implausible to think that they just might elect some good-natured, telegenic personality with whom they can relate. And as Showtime assumes complete control over their candidate’s image, it’s reasonable to assume that producers might employ some sly manipulation to give their candidate an edge. Though it’s hard to imagine the prospect of a manufactured candidate actually stealing a presidential election, we’ve already witnessed a highly unqualified—yet famous—figure convince the public that on-camera charisma might translate into political competence. Just look to our Californian compatriots and their recently elected ex-Terminator.

So, despite being barraged with conjured images of Kelly Clarkson at the helm, there are more considerable concerns than once again embarrassing ourselves on the world stage or further entrenching our television wasteland. I certainly don’t think that the American Candidate’s chance of becoming the American President is too farfetched—and, in the event that this befalls us, my bags are already packed.

—Morgan R. Grice is an editorial editor.