The Intersection of Politics and Pop Culture, from JFK Jr.
Whew. For the most part I’m happy with last Tuesday’s results. I’m pleased that Liddy Dole lost her seat to someone who actually lives in North Carolina. I’m shocked that Pat McCrory didn’t do better in his bid for governor. And I’m excited that North Carolina flipped over to the blue column — though some of that is just self-interest, because it means we will be a stop on the presidential campaign trail for years to come. And I’m glad that won’t be for another
four years. This is the longest presidential campaign of the modern era, begun two years ago in eager anticipation of the end of the Bush era. But in many ways it began long before that, in 1995 with the publication of George magazine. George was the brainchild of John F. Kennedy Jr., his attempt to meld politics with pop culture and bring it to an audience beyond the wonks and pundits who know all the players and follow elections like the Final Four. It’s an apt comparison — Kennedy said he wanted to make a magazine that covered politics the way Sports Illustrated covered sports. Kennedy published George from 1995 until his untimely death in 1999, when Hachette Filipacchi bought it and kept it running until 2001. Under Kennedy’s guiding hand, the magazine featured a political column from former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY), dating advice from Ann Coulter and a photo feature on former California Rep. Sonny Bono’s widow Mary — an early GOP hottie — as well as writing from Norman Mailer and Al Franken. It was an idea ahead of its time, and perhaps a poorly
executed one at that — George never really tackled President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and former staffers admit that Kennedy wasn’t much of an editor. But now, nearly 10 years after Kennedy plunged his airplane into the sea, the concept has come to fruition. Think about it. Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert and Bill Maher have built empires on the fusion of politics and humor. Huffington Post, Drudge Report and Politico have entered the internet mainstream. Bill O’Reilly is a household name. Keith Olberman is a bigger star now than he was when he was an anchor on ESPN, and the two worlds of politics and sports collided again last week. The night before the 2008 general election, the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Washington Redskins on “Monday Night Football.” It was an interesting contest because both teams were in need of a win, and there is an urban myth stating that victory for the ’Skins the weekend before a presidential election means the incumbent party will win the post. It’s not exactly true — Bush won reelection in 2004 even though the Redskins lost to the Green Bay Packers 28-14 the Sunday before, but that’s the only time that’s happened since the Redskins formed in 1936. It was also important because ESPN’s Chris Berman interviewed the presidential candidates at halftime. The fare was as light as anything run in the pages of George, with the meat being a question, naturally, about sports: What would you change about them? Obama said it was about time for college football playoffs. McCain stumbled his way through something about steroids. Whatever. The point is that our Monday night slamfest was, however briefly, infiltrated by politics. And 10.8 million people saw it. There’s more, of course. Oprah Winfrey got involved in this election, as did Hank Williams Jr. Barack Obama danced on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and his wife did time with the ladies on “The View,” as did John McCain. “Saturday Night Live” became relevant again after punching up their political jokes and impressions. TMZ, both the show and the website which made its bones by showing pics and video of starlets flashing their vaginas while exiting limousines, actually covered the campaign in its own way — with paparazzi-style footage of the candidates and critiques of their wives’ wardrobes. Even YouTube, that internet video repository of Sonic mashups and people tripping on salvia, played a major role in this election, used to widely disseminate the word of Rev. Wright, the many incarnations of Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin’s pageant foibles. And Palin may be the most mainstream of all the political candidates this season. Within 24 hours of her the nomination for vice president, she became ubiquitous, spawning imitators, jokes, entire websites and the most popular Halloween costume of the year. But the final straw was the announcement made by Larry Flynt, the rolling sleaze behind the Hustler magazine franchise, that he would be crafting a pornographic movie based, loosely, on the nominee with the working title Nailin’ Palin. Because these days, pornography is mainstream, too.
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