While I followed the Canadian election with great interest, I must say the early American presidential race has had me glued to my TV for its mere entertainment value.
Even though I am hooked, I must say thank goodness we are comparatively boring in Canada, because the age of celebrity in the United States has overtaken logic and good sense. Ideally, politics should be about clear thinking people presenting themselves to the electorate without the notion of celebrity attached. Celebrity is the equivalent of the politics of cheap thrills.
I so vividly remember watching Bill Clinton in his first presidential race in the early 1990s, playing a mean saxophone and wearing cool sunglasses on one of the late-night shows. It was the first time I really noticed him. What a way for Clinton to starting cultivating and branding a new generation campaign theme.
Two decades later, Donald Trump fathered his theme of discontentment by calling illegal Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. The brash Trump knew best how to exploit the media by grabbing all the attention and managing to maintain it. That is his genius. Trump was already a celebrity from his TV show and from countless other endeavours and, somehow, he has hung on to the bridle of political stardom as well.
America has its own unique way of producing an appetite for celebrities. It is an appetite that is quickly satisfied. Carly Fiorina is one of the far too many candidates vying for the Republican Presidential nomination. She was almost totally unknown six weeks ago. Today she is a rising star.
Her story is about how – with spunk and smarts – she distinguished herself from the huge pack and determinedly became a frontrunner. With improving poll numbers, she was invited onto last month’s prime time Republican debate stage. She stole the show, and her campaign took off, swept up in the vortex of the U.S. celebrity factory.
Late-night shows, morning shows, newspapers, magazines and social media all fell in love with Fiorina, giving her all that face time. Meanwhile, the news networks keep producing polls that say she is getting more and more popular. Another star is born. Talk about polling and self- fulfilling prophesies.
In the U.S., good polling numbers turn to growing polling numbers, especially when the appetite is there for celebrity. It is part of their culture. Whether it is athletes, movie stars, singers or politicians, good or bad, they feed the goat of celebrity. From the Kardashians to O.J. Simpson, the craving is obvious.
In Canada, we understand that our public figures are well known. But does that make them celebrities? To me, that just makes them politicians who, by the way, just love to be recognized on the street or at an airport. And I can tell you it actually gives TV reporters the same kind of buzz. But, again, in Canada does that make either politician or journalist a celebrity?
We are a lot more humble and we don’t jump on the bandwagon either as quickly or as absolutely. We have our icons and we cherish them – but we don’t want too many of them. What sets some people apart from others, for us, is how they truly worked their way to the top of their profession.
In Canada, we know the difference between a gifted writer, musician, artist or athlete and a politician. We don’t mix things up. We don’t need to make new celebrities and we don’t have late-night talk shows to facilitate it. Almost every attempt to produce a successful late-night talk show in Canada has failed miserably. There has never been an appetite for that kind of celebrity culture here.
You could argue that Justin Trudeau bolted onto the Canadian political scene as a celebrity. For sure, he is a really good looking guy whose father was a worthy historic figure. And, while that helped, no well-oiled machine necessarily set out to turn Trudeau into a celebrity.
The American way is, of course, good business, too. Trump’s mere presence at the CNN Republican debate amassed a record-setting audience of more than 20 million viewers. It was like a political Super Bowl.
It was also just like apple pie.