McCain as Nobody

31 07 2008

A recent John McCain television advertisement centers on the celebrity of Barack Obama, initially linking him, through edited imagery, with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears as “celebrity types.” What the makers of the ad clearly intended was to smear Obama with some of the moral disrepute that has oozed from the precincts of Hilton and Spears for the past year and a half, a disrepute that has been largely responsible for their current celebrity status. The linkages, however, say something even more basic, regardless of whether or not they (scurrilously) imply that Obama is morally tainted: they say, “Celebrity = Paris and Britney.” Further: John McCain is NOT a celebrity, he’s a serious leader of men.

But John McCain is himself nothing less than a celebrity, moreso now that at any other time in his career. His face, his moral posture, his analytical angle—these are all instantaneously available on his face, a face shown on magazine covers, news reports, entertainment shows, and the like. Yet the ad does not recognize this. The ad is saying, “Barack is a celebrity (like those questionable denizens of the quasi-underworld, Paris and Britney, whom you know so well), AND JOHN IS NOT.” John is not a celebrity!

So: we don’t know him, he’s essentially a nobody, he has no public face as yet. This can be taken two ways. First, it suggests a blatant lie, that he is not the man who has put himself up for a presidential post, a man on everyone’s mind one way or the other, indeed a man who has long courted publicity and who courts it still. And secondly, it suggests a deeper, and in some ways hilarious, truth: that McCain, in being above celebrity and its pitfalls, has actually ascended into a totally invisible sphere. He is completely NOT worth talking about.

All of this of course covers a deeper malignancy: that McCain is an unrepentant hawk, a man who wishes to carry Bush’s militaristic legacy onward while the economy and the social infrastructure warp and crumble, not to say a man representing a party without a substantial political platform, and that his advisors think deflecting attention away from all this by bringing up “celebrity” is a fashionable and sensible idea.

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