Politicians Go Pop: The Rise of Pop Politics

pop politics

Oh, pop politics is so avant-garde! http://www.smithsonianmag.com

Our nation is moving toward a phenomenon we can understand as “pop politics”. We are seeing our political culture and our popular culture merge in ways it never has before, resulting in new and problematic attitudes regarding important issues faced by our country.

During the 2013 People’s Choice Awards, host Kaley Cuocco announced to viewers that 475 million people participated in voting for the show’s award winners. That is 3 times more than the amount of people who voted in the 2012 presidential election. Cuocco went on to say that according to a loophole in the Electoral College, our new president should be Taylor Swift. Although no such loophole exists, what does exist is our country’s growing need to be entertained, even when facing issues that we wouldn’t normally perceive as needing to have an “entertainment value”. The tidal wave of pop politics has reached our shores.

Related Article: An End to the Electoral College

pop politics

Those moobs are hypnotizing… http://www.visualnews.com

Although we may ‘never ever ever’ seriously consider a ‘Swift 2016” presidential campaign, the idea of pop-culture icons having a place in the political world is nothing new.  What is new, however, is the amount of pop-culture we are continually saturated with, and how this saturation is affecting the way we relate to political and social issues.

According to Nielson Ratings, the first presidential debate between President Barrack Obama and republican challenger Mitt Romney drew in 67.2 million viewers, the most viewers for the first of the three debates since 1980.

Who would have thought that Romney’s attack on Big Bird and Obama’s nap could make for such riveting T.V.? But pop politics strikes again, and that’s what we remember, and that’s what viewers unconsciously tune in to see. The slips ups, the mishaps, we watch the debates and discuss them with the same “omg tone” that we use when discussing the latest elimination on American Idol.

Consequently, due to pop politics, the line between what is important and what we keep in our lives for entertainment value has become increasingly distorted. This distortion is problematic as pop politics becomes more important than regular politics.

Related Article: Team Red=Team Blue, the Syria Episode

According to a Pew Center for the People and Press study published in September 2012, those in the 18-to-29 age demographic are the biggest consumers of satire and entertainment, but score the lowest for consumption of news and factual information. Our pop-culture has always had fun at the expense of politics, but due to the new and overly pervasive nature of our popular culture, our country faces a crisis of changing priorities.

pop politics

No one. abcnews.go.com

A change in priorities to the tune of pop politics doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. For example, when my favorite reality show comes on, I always make sure I stop whatever I’m doing so I can watch it. My favorite reality TV show is the presidential debates. I loved the part during the last episode when Romney talked about having binders full of women, but I think my favorite part was when Obama got all aggressive and told Candy Crawly to check the transcript. If the evening’s twitter feed was any indication, my favorite parts were pretty much the same as everyone else’s favorite parts. Seemingly, pop politics affords an incentive for staying up to date with politics.

However, while all of the commentary was entertaining, did anyone remember what they actually debated? This is part of what contributes to our larger issue. This new pop politics method of political participation runs the risk of causing us to base our vote not on what really matters, but on the superficial aspects of each candidate that our popular culture encourages us to focus on.

During an October 2012 broadcast on National Public Radio, author and television critic Bob Mondello argued that,

We have spent the last decade training the public to watch contests on television and then vote.  American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, they all start with a field of candidates who compete against each other and then the TV audience determines who’s won.

The debates are set up similarly to reality competition shows. In both situations we are encouraged to watch for the purpose of reacting, but in only one situation does our reaction have the power to impact our paychecks, jobs, and personal liberties. The debates have always been set up this way, but only in the last 15 years have we experienced this onslaught of competition reality television.

Related Article: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Are the World’s Biggest Liars: Fact

Now, we talk about debate performance, but not the issues debated on, and performance is what our culture has been conditioned to remember. Were they smiling or smirking? On a scale of Paul Ryan to Marco Rubio, how much water did each of them drink? Why do we care? As Mondello goes on to state,

We’ve left serious political discourse and entered White House Idol territory.

pop politics

America’s most cherished educators. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com

Could it be that pop politics has left our minds warped? Now all of this isn’t to say that satire and social media are negative additions to society’s political conversation.  In a 2009 survey conducted by the USC Annenburg School of Communication and Journalism,

Those individuals who got their news from sources like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were actually the most informed individuals in the survey.

This makes sense because the jokes in these shows aren’t funny if you don’t know what they’re talking about. While shows based on satire shouldn’t be the only tool we use for information, they are a great stepping stone to get the public engaged in issues that really matter.  Thanks to technology, we have many avenues of information available to us, but we need to make sure we are choosing the source of the information wisely, and not solely based on the pop politics trap.

If you get your news mostly from conservative or liberal centered news sources, why not change the channel or open another internet window and check out what a news source from the other side has to say? Better yet, read anything and everything you can get your hands on for a more well-rounded view on the issues.

pop politics

A natural born leader. malialitman.wordpress.com

In addition, we need to remain cognizant of the line between the things we say to poke fun at candidates, and the comments the candidates actually make. For example, Tina Fey’s impersonation of 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, made quips like, “I can see Russia from my house” part of the cultural lexicon. Unfortunately, many Americans actually believed that Sarah Palin had said those words.

Related Article: TVs, Brains, and Zombies Oh My: TV’s Effect on the Mind

As in the case of Tina Fey and Sarah Palin, we may misunderstand information that has the power to change our entire perception of the candidate. We need to pay attention to what the candidates actually say and believe, and then we can listen to all the satire we want without fear of being misinformed. We will be able to embrace “pop politics” and make our new cultural reality something that works for us, not against us.

As we reflect back on the role pop-culture plays in our political consciousness, here is one last thing to consider. A January 4th 2013 petition posted on the official white house website is calling for the Obama Administration to authorize a recurring C-SPAN reality show featuring Vice President Joe Biden and his interactions with elected officials, foreign dignitaries, and everyday American families.  Personally, I think this all sounds like a bunch of malarkey, but it certainly proves that the relationship between politics and popular culture has reached a new level. As the 2016 election season approaches and political parties consider who they want to represent them, the best choice to me seems pretty clear: vote Biden/Swift 2016.












Al Gore Calls for an End to the Electoral College

A little late Al, but it makes sense that he would be in favor of ending the EC since he in fact won the popular vote in the 2000 election.

According to Gore, “many Americans are disenfranchised and some states are ignored because of the Electoral College, and it’s time to abandon it.”

Although I recognize that the EC was put in place to ensure weighted and fair representation for all states, basing elections purely on the popular vote does make a lot of sense.  The popular vote  ensures that each person gets their vote counted for the candidate they want to see in office, instead of having their vote transformed by their state’s overarching political preference.

I’m sure the EC isn’t going anywhere soon, but maybe one day each and everyone’s voice will truly make a difference in the ballots.

An End to the Electoral College


A little late Al, but it makes sense that he would be in favor of ending the Electoral College since he in fact won the popular vote in the 2000 election, despite losing to Bush.

According to Gore,

many Americans are disenfranchised and some states are ignored because of the Electoral College,  and it’s time to abandon it.

The electoral college was put into place in opposition to common suggestions that congress should choose the president. Some delegates like James Madison preferred a popular vote, believing it would be most ideal.  However, there was a problem

of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.

That and,

The people are uninformed, and would be misled.


Seeing as how the American public has access to easy-to-understand sites like Wikipedia and Factcheck, ignorance has largely become a choice.  So, Mr. Madison, we don’t have slaves, and we can think for ourselves, what do you think of the popular vote now?

Although I recognize that the Electoral College was put in place for good reason at the time, basing elections purely on the popular vote does make a lot of sense.  The popular vote  ensures that each person gets their vote counted for the candidate they want to see in office, instead of having their vote transformed by their state’s overarching political preference. We would be able to vote as individuals, instead of as all consuming groups. It might even allow more than two parties to become active in American politics, heightening ideological and strategical diversity.

I’m sure the Electoral College isn’t going anywhere soon, but maybe one day each and everyone’s voice will truly make a difference in the ballots.



National Journal: Al Gore Calls for an End to Electoral College

Library of Congress: Congressional Debtes

Yale Law School: Madison Debates