Politics and show business seem to have become industry. Do you agree with this? Consider the ‘media-‐ization’ of politics in your answer. Should the media or the politician be ‘more responsible’?
The media had a very important role in shaping the world of the twenty-first century as we see it today, as a huge theatre. Media have being building our image of the world, which is so much as building the world itself in our minds. For many things, it does not matter if what we think is real or not, but which our beliefs and attitudes are. The importance of the media is such that they have made our world to be one only stage in which everybody can be the audience. Lots of individuals want to be players, but there is no time for everybody to act. If you don’t act, you do not exist. Everything happens under the light of the media. Media are not media any more. They are not in the middle between politicians and society or between citizens and reality. They take part. They have interests or they are owned by people that have interests. The growing intrusion of media into the political domain in many countries has led critics to worry about the approach of the “media-driven republic,” in which mass media will usurp the functions of political institutions in the liberal state.
However, political institutions in many nations have retained their functions in the face of expanded media power. The best description of the current situation is “media-ization,” where political institutions increasingly are dependent on and shaped by mass media but nevertheless remain in control of political processes and functions. The forms of politics began to change very quickly since Kennedy´s elections in 1960, reaching its climax in the current elections. The mediatization of politics is absolute. The trips, the hobbies…, everything the politics do and not do is published, or at least known by the media. Everything is determined by its media impact. There are three radical changes: the use of the marketing resources to “sell us” the candidates, the selection of natural media channels as television for the expression of political messages, and the recruitment and influence exerted by imported consultant professionals professional for the design of the campaign strategies.
When it comes to contemporary media coverage of politics, some thinkers come up with “the media malaise theory”, pointing out the public disenchantment toward the leaders and the institutions. In our visual society, politics build their image through television, playing with the boundaries of “infotainment”, satisfying people who watch news as entertainment. It is often suggested that politics has become a minor form of show business, which is a term for the business of entertainment. Some people answer to this argument that all the voices should be represented in a democracy, which is the justification of the existence of some show business programs. The question to asked is then how should the media contribute to the functioning of a representative democracy. And how should the media position themselves between the state, the market, and the society. It can be wondered whether there is a risk of feeling more than thinking. This essay will consider the media-ization of politics and see to what extent the criticisms have been justified and how the system has responded.
The responsibility of the media will be pointed out to understand to what extent the concept of the citizen has been replaced by the consumer. In the battle of “romantic pessimists” versus “pragmatic optimists”, it will be showed that some kind of regulations play the role of safeguards. To finish, evidence of ways to resist will be put forward since the medias are not the only to blame in the media-ization of politics. In a way of thinking, it can be argued that politics has become a minor form of show business because of the media-ization of it. The signifiant role played by the media in contemporary Western politics raises the question of whether there is a crisis of public, or civic communication. Defenders of democracy are sometimes pessimistic and point out the commercialization of politics by the media, the rise of infotainment or the role of political leaders.
In 1997, when Diana, princess of Wales died in a car accident caused partially by the paparazzi, the media coverage was massive. The way that the media dealt with this political figure was more similar to a way to deal with a pop idol. In the new publicity game, it can be wondered if there is still an ethic, but it looks like right now the predominant ethic is the one which reports more money.. Roles have shifted and politicians who are looking for the best visibility sometimes have to take part in some entertainment show. In 2003, Blair appeared on MTV for his campaign regarding the war against Iraq. It can be stated that this strategy was good to reach some people who do not watch political programs but the debate is necessarily less interesting in this kind of situation as tough questions are just non existent. It is inevitable that politics should be commercialized because it is the way that the media work, the change in the economics of media impacts change in politics. The media want to maximize their profit and their audience size, to achieve these goals and to not bore the audience they sometimes turn politics into show-business.
False events become a prominent part of political news coverage, leading sometimes to the partiality of the news. Politics is turned into melodramas. Exoo (1994, p.53) explains that political news are sometimes dramatized, pointing out “the horse race of preference polls”, “the handicapping of the race”, “the soap opera of attack, gaffe and scandal” and “the hoopla of pseudo-events and photo shops”. It can be wondered who chooses this system. The hegemony theorists state that television is an instrument of capitalist theory that is not informing as exact and precisely it should inform the world of serious problems. There are many situations worldwide where you can observe how media is the perfect accomplice of politicians, when a new important law that is very discussed by society, or when some big mistake is made by some important politician, media can act both ways: emphasizing these “bad law” or this big mistake, or doing exactly the opposite, not paying attention to these news and giving more importance to something that should be irrelevant.
Marketplace democracy theorists think that popular culture is chosen by the masses because it serves their interest and their needs. Hegemony theorists consider that rather than being proactive, the public is reactive. He totally agrees with the fact that News Corporation is in the entertainment business. Politics is often closely linked to popular culture: Blair appeared on photographs with Bono or Galagher, said that he loved the Beatles, did a speech on Bowie’s music in 1966. He is perfectly embodying the concept of endorsement and typifying the belief that politics is becoming a minor form of show-business. The idea is that the popularity of these pop idols will rub off on politicians such as Blair. Politics is as well a reality show program on the internet now with the “youtubification of politics”. While entertainment influences politics, politics influences as well entertainment.
There is as well an infiltration of media actors in politics such as Reagan, Berlusconi, Schwarzenegger or Stalone. For instance, Jay Leno is a political star. People watch him and people like him, so they are open to listen to his message. When Leno endorsed Schwarzenegger when he was running to become Governor of California. Surely, it affected the decision of some people for that election. When we have seen George W Bush entering Leno´s programme on a motorbike to have a chat with his pal Jay, that’s politics. Then, at least, presenters that have a lot of personal charm and can decide on the contents of their programmes have a lot of political power. In Spain, Javier Sardá tried to follow the line of Leno´s programme in “Cronicas Marcianas” broadcast by Telecinco. During 2003 he was very hard against the Government of José María Aznar. A former collaborator, Manel Fuentes, started a show called “La noche de Fuentes”, also on Telecinco and he invited politicians to talk about everything but politics. Some jokes about politics and a lot of other questions, that showed the audience how the politic was in his/her true life.
Politics that passed through this could be heard by the public, but in this theater no one knows if the public is going to applause at the end of the show or if they are going to throw tomatoes to you. Everything can be watched, so politicians are in the same position as the contestant of reality-shows as “Big Brother”. Even if they do what they would do in natural contexts, they are acting for the show business. They act, because people are watching. It does not matter if they want it or not. In this moments, the development of the technology that we use to transmit information and the extension of the political field to virtually everybody supposes a significant change. In old days politics was the activity of a few and there was not much chance for an outsider to know what was happening. Wright know there is so much information that there is no correlation between news density and news quality. There are more and more publications but obviously it does not mean that the content has a better quality.
The media still has to have a code of conduct when it comes to publishing some stories. They are sometimes not being responsible enough, forgetting that they should perform different functions such as information provision, electoral mobilization or watchdog. Relaxation of regulatory regimes, consumerist decisions making, growing power of advertisers and the big volume that journalists have to produce make sometimes the responsibility of the media vanishing. The freedom of the press have necessarily to be pointed out, but the media are still responsible about their content. There is a dilemma in whether the media is each time serving different interest than the ones for what it was created, and each time more, the media are transforming into businesses with the only finality of increasing benefits, instead of offering a better public service. In a competitive market, some regulations are sometimes necessary to constrain the media to have quality programs. “The basic ingredients for the renewal of the policy debate over press regulation are still there: a competitive and shrinking newspaper market; journalists’ fascination with human interest stories; and public obsession with the lives of celebrities and elite figures” (Deacon, 2004, quoted in Kuhn, 2007, p.140).
Hallin’s model theorizes where the debate can take place: he distinguishes the spheres of consensus, controversy and deviance. It is about how much the media are willing to talk about and how much the audience can handle. For instance, Diana’s last pictures have never been published in a magazine even if it is not true on the Internet since it is very difficult to control who and what it is published, due to its transnational nature, the amount of data uploaded about Diana´s death, can clarify how the accident was . On one hand, it can be argued that popular news seeks to provoke and question power. But on the other hand, it can be wondered whether it is responsible to deal with politics in a show business. The media-ization of politics has damaged public life since entertainment removes the real question from discussion. Blumer and Gurevitch (1995, quoted in Kuhn, 2007, p.264) analyze what is the bad consequences of the poor responsibility of the media: “The watchdog role of journalism is often shunted into channels of personalization, dramatization, witch huntery, soap-operatics and sundry trivialities.
It is difficult for unconventional opinions to break into the established “market place of ideas”, and political arguments are often reduced to slogans and taunts”. Politicians must accept to become show business figures if they want to introduce themselves into the system and to have the possibility to express their political views. So, it can be asked whether democracy is in danger. People tend to pick up what culture has already defined for them and understand politics with those ready made stories, without sometimes understanding how public institutions work. Exoo (1994, p.75) this situation is quite pessimistic since “the relative deprivation of knowledge leads to the relative deprivation of power”. If some lower status group do not perfectly understand what the politics say, they will be less able to vote in their own interest. There are alternative perspectives of the media. Dahlgren and Sparks (1991, quoted in Wheeler 1997) explains that from a liberal point of view, there should be a free market, a self-regulation and the media should distract the people.
From a marxist point of view, the media system is capitalist, non reformable and they have a benefit perception of entertainment. Communists are in favor of public ownership, they want a liberalization reform and prefer enlightenment to entertainment. The good side of this situation, is that thanks to the growth of the media, new channels of communication have been opened up between politicians and the public. Politics is not only dealt in a “show business” way. The sources of information have been expanded while the diversity of content have increased and the access has incremented. The media raise important issues of public concern, communicating, informing and having an agenda-setting function. The medias sometimes publish some newsworthy stories relating to malpractice or corruption. It is as a result more and more difficult for a politician to manipulate the people and to hide some inglorious aspects of their life. Some people argue that it is not that clear that politics has turned into show business.
Brants (1998, quoted in Kuhn, 2007, p.271) states that while “we might see a slight tendency towards a popularization of news, there is little evidence that politicians and politics are dramatically more personalized and sensationalized than before”. According to him, a wide range of programs can be regarded as legitimate outlets for civic communication. Some kind of programs, such as chat shows may even be better than other more formal kinds of program in order to see what are the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate, considering that personal characteristics of a politician has to be considered as well during an election. Diversity in kind of programs and points of views should be the main criteria to judge quality of political journalism. Legitimate programs are not only the ones that are considered as mainly informational. That is why a wide range of programs are available, in order to inform and entertain. Nevertheless politics is about performance and politicians have understood very well that making image is a key factor.
Kennedy was the first politician who used the TV as a mass communication tool. He managed to be more popular than Nixon by working on his image and this is partly how he won the election. Nowadays, it is totally common that parties and politicians, organize themselves trying to please the media. In an age where image is extremely important, political parties are often personalized into one single person who is highly exposed in the media. Foley (2005, quoted in Kuhn, 2007, p.204) calls this phenomenon “leadership stretch” to describe how political leaders have stretched away when it comes to popular awareness and media attention. It is almost like the politicians have no choice: they are public figures and as a result they are sometimes drawn in the show business sphere. Thatcher, leader of the Conservative party in the seventies, learnt with the media guru Reece how to come over well on television. The media-ization of politics benefits to the politicians since it often works as a leadership projection.
Annual party conferences are well packaged and they have become “spectacles designed for the maximization of positive press coverages” (McNair, 2003, quoted in Kuhn, 2007, p.208). The politicians accept and benefit from the system. But political marketing results in a couple of negative consequences such as the repetition of a single message rather than an explanation of what they are doing or of what they are willing to do. It has to be wondered as well to what extent it is possible to talk about politics. For instance, in France, in 2008, Sarkozy’s divorce has been hugely covered by the medias. Some of them where accused to enter too far the private life of the president but they answered that the issue was political since the private life of a president has an influence on his professional life.
If some people lost faith in the politics, it may be linked with the way that the media deal with politics. If we admit that there is a media-ization of politics, it might be a good thing. Media have become the main political arena, they are now the key institution of the public sphere and the quality of both are intimately linked one to the other. But the media are not the only parties involved in the public sphere: citizens have to act responsibly as well. One should not take as granted everything seen in the media. The media-ization of politics can contribute to some people´s interests, that’s why, vigilance is the most important aspect that citizen should develop since they are all watchdogs.
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