Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reacting to Question Time in America

Yesterday I went to a very different kind of show than the musical variety I frequently ramble on about on this page. I was in the audience for the most watched political show on the BBC, Question Time. They normally shoot in different parts of Britain, but this week they had a special U.S. episode on the election. 

On this show, the host, David Dimbleby, moderates as members of the audience ask questions of a panel of guests. Tonight's panel: Elizabeth Edwards (health care advisor to Obama and wife of John), Christopher Nixon Cox (McCain campaign exec. director in NY and grandson of Dick), Clarence Page (Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune), Simon Schama (the only Brit on the panel, a professor of history and art history at Columbia U. and author and tv presenter), and Cheri Jacobus (Republican strategist and possibly spawn of Satan). 

The audience of 150 was supposed to be evenly distributed between Reps and Dems, but it didn't seem that way at all. Based on how I got a ticket for this, which was to just sign up on their website and get a call from them 5 minutes later that I at least existed and had a brain, all two days before the show, I don't see how they could've possibly planned out the audience demographics and political preferences. To do their sound check, the exec producer chose five volunteers from the audience to sit in as the fake panel. Wouldn't you know it, all five were conservatives and McCain supporters. Then there was a mock discussion with the audience asking questions and making comments. This is when I realized I was not in the DC that I know, but some alternate reality DC where there are a crapload of Republicans saying ridiculous things and whooping loudly when other Republicans say ridiculous things. I was scared that this crowd was going to be the face of America to millions of people around the globe. "We're not all like that!" I wanted to shout out when the cameras were rolling.

David Dimbleby came out, followed by the panel. The banter was typical of what I'd expect to see in an American TV talkshow debate: Republicans reciting talking points (including accusing Obama's foreign policy stance of being only talking points), Democrats being flabbergasted by outrageous and erroneous comments by the Republicans and trying to be heard over their counterparts, and the crowd booing, cheering, and heckling. It was quite a raucaus affair.

I was glad to see that the liberal panelists were the clear intellectual and oratory superiors of the group. Schama in particular was extremely witty and insightful. When one Republican jerk, who claimed to know that America was well liked around the globe because he'd been to 55 countries, said that Schama was a "typical professor," Schama countered that the man was a "typical blowhard." That was brilliant.

Another highlight of the hour was when Jacobus said that Obama's plan to reduce taxes for 95% of Americans will be a handout to people who hadn't worked to earn this. The audience was shocked. Dimbleby was also shocked, and he quieted everyone down to ask her if she wanted to clarify what she said, AND SHE REPEATED THE SAME THING.

The farsical nature of the Republicans' policy proposals (like giving people the freedom to cross state lines to get their healthcare... if they happen to be one of the lucky few who can afford it or fighting to attain VICTORY in Iraq .... uh, how do you win a war when the result is everyone being worse off than they were before, if they're fortunate enough to be alive anyway) was only surpassed in shockingness by the large number of people in the crowd who cheered so enthusiastically for them. These people looked like any other sane people we see in our daily lives, but they are clearly not sane people.

When I got home, I checked the show’s website to read the viewers' comments, and was really disappointed by what I saw. Several commenters said it was the worst episode of Question Time they’d ever seen. They rightly ridiculed the Republicans, but they also took the disorderliness of the crowd and the panel as some sort of sign of American inferiority to the prim and proper Britons. 

"I'm sure they didn't improve their battered American image withtheir usual ignorance and arrogance but that's just it with a lot of them - They don't care what anyone else thinks," says L Thomas from Croydon. Well, L, it's funny that you should bring up the words "ignorance" and "arrogance," because that is precisely what you've displayed in your comment. Ignorance in your blanket generalization about Americans through one television program that featured some idiot Republicans prominently, and arrogance in allowing such a program to validate your obviously preconceived hatred for Americans. 

It's also funny that you should mention that we don't care what anyone else thinks, because you know what? We don't. This is the election for the President of the United States of America. When you ask us who we want for Prime Minister, we'll ask who you want for President. Fair is fair. L, I'll admit that there are a lot of Americans out there that are ignorant to the world around them, but you are proving yourself no better by failing to recognize that, WHOA, Obama is actually favored to WIN this election, and that would have to mean that these people you speak of are in the minority. And that would also have to mean that you are guilty of exactly what you criticize Americans for: being ignorant and arrogant. Take a look in the mirror, L.

So, this post took a turn there, didn't it? I don't mean to belittle the fact that, for the past eight years, our nation's government has been run by a bunch of assholes who do indeed act arrogantly in the world community. But these assholes are not America. The only thing American about them is that they took an idea and created an extremely effective innovative use for it. Unfortunately for the world, that idea was deceiving the American public in order to give more power and money to the corporate devils who have taken over this once great nation. I hate what America has done in the past eight years. I am ashamed of it. I understand the world's anger. But it's almost time for the world to put that anger aside and welcome an America that will finally be moving in the right direction again under President Obama.


Dave said...

Dude, that's troubling. Our image in the world has certainly suffered, and for good reason. Like you, I'm hopeful that this election will undo some of it.

Edward said...

Also worth pointing out that this show was no more rowdy than a QT would be in UK one week before an election. Your average British QT discussing the quality of school dinners and politician's sexual encounters is bound to produce a less pasionate debate.
I would say as a Brit that while we do not have a right to decide the US election - it is understandable given the huge influence of the US (an influence that America makes a concerted effort to maintain) that we feel strongly about it. The flip-side to that is that we try our best to understand America beyond the standard stereotype. I agree that this show would not help anyone wanting to do that.