or I Can’t Believe I Watched the Whole Thing
The June 8 election has come and gone, and now, with the exhale of relief as the primaries fade, comes the gasping inhale of sheer exhilaration as the California general election looms. From now until Nov. 2 it’s campaign free-for-all season. Some of you are pretty excited about this; some of you dread it like a root canal. Still others are making that confused golden retriever face right now, muttering “election?” Being a fan of overworked clichés, I’d like to say I’m as political as the next guy, but here in Santa Cruz that can be a dangerous statement. Some of the next guys are much more informed, embroiled and passionate than I; some of the next guys don’t believe in voting.
Some of the next guys will rant your ears off on issues that only exist in their beautiful spotless minds. I personally don’t tend to wax political, even in an election year. Let’s just say, to borrow a phrase from the art world, I don’t know politics, but I know what I like. This generally leads me to the candidate and issues I support. But one thing I know for sure—I don’t like campaigns.
As campaign season gets underway, so will the slews of similes. Campaigns are like locusts; they come every few years, make a lot of noise and leave a mess. Campaigns are like childbirth; nine months of discomfort, a night of screaming at one’s closest support staff, resulting in at least one crying baby. Campaigns are like baseball; aficionados assemble fantasy teams while the rest of the country tolerates highlight reels. Campaigns are like a cheap buffet; all you can eat, but nothing you can stomach. Campaigns are like Van Halen; someone’s got to sing, and it’s not always David Lee Roth.
I’d like to throw another simile into the ring for consideration: Campaigns are like Popeye cartoons. Not merely because they are poorly colorized and include veiled support for the tobacco industry, but for a host of intricate parallels, to wit:
Campaigns and Popeye cartoons have been around since we were kids, since our parents were kids, and so on. We take them for granted. They are an American tradition.
Campaigns and Popeye cartoons display social behavior not widely tolerated in real life. Name-calling, scheming and deceit, sexism and class-ism and the bending of truths (all by adults), are de rigueur on the trail or in Sweethaven.
Campaigns and Popeye cartoons demand your attention, with dizzying aftereffects. Whether surfing channels or web headlines, it’s hard to resist the tomfoolery, the creative use of the English language and even the soundtrack to either a classic campaign (“Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow …”) or a classic personal motto (“I’m strong to the finich …”).
Campaigns and Popeye cartoons are difficult to explain to your children. No, that’s not how we talk about people; Yes, they’re speaking English. Yes, that was disrespectful to women; no, she’s not making good decisions. Yes, he should use his words; no, his words are not making sense. No, not all men act like that; yes, all men act like that.
“Ah,” you are thinking, “but campaigns are necessary for our government and society to carry on in the prescribed manner set forth by our forefathers, whereas cartoons … aren’t.”
On the surface this appears to be true. However, take a brief moment to indulge in the historical and current successes of cartoons, through generations of Americans and pendulum swings of social vernacular and relevance, and you will see powerful evidence that cartoons may not be necessary for our society to carry on, but they are absolutely an established vehicle for carrying on. Popeye cartoons were marketed to the adult viewer, much like a host of animated guilty pleasures today. From Fritz the Cat, Bugs Bunny, and The Flintstones to Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, The Simpsons and South Park, cartoons (now dressed up as “animated television series”) are here to stay.
So how do we, The Voter, fit into this ungainly pas de deux?
In the 1930s and 1940s, the voting public, dependent on easily manipulated print and radio media, may have been likely to fall under the sway of an impressively outlandish or strong-armed politician’s zeal. These voters, fittingly represented by Olive Oyl, may have even blushed at the fuss made over them by incumbent Popeye and challenger Popeye (“You saved my life, you great big hunk of hero!”).
Today, a similar voting public, deadened to smoke-and-mirrors by instant and gluttonous media access, is more likely to be jaded and unimpressed. Today’s voters, aptly represented by Dr. Girlfriend (The Venture Brothers, Jackson Publick—if you don’t already, please watch it), all savvy and cynical swagger, may well banish the battling politicos, Monarch and his grudging Venture, into the backyard to wrestle it out like tussling siblings. (“He’s a lawyer and a super villain. That’s like a shark with a grenade launcher on his head.”)
What does this portend for the cynical voter? Do we pour another bowl of cereal, awaiting the moment when one candidate or other eats the predictable can of spinach? Do we align ourselves with the first pitifully super-powered candidate who proposes socio-economic marriage, and adopt his arch-enemies and henchmen? Will we ever again notice the real Pow! Blammo! or Kablooey!?
Personally, I’ll keep my television tuned away from campaign coverage, immediately recycle the shocking amount of printed politi-junk, and wait for a handy-dandy spreadsheet with columns and checkmarks, letting me compare side-by-side the factual stances and voting history of each candidate. Until then, to paraphrase Popeye the Sailor, “Bring me some des(s)ert without any sand.”
Kim Luke votes early and often, a trick she learned in Chicago. Email [email protected]