Friday, November 28, 2008

COLUMN: Election Night

I received an e-mail this week from the editor of a little monthly newspaper based out of Fairfield, IA called The Iowa Source. They're an independent publication with distribution throughout the state (though not in this area at all.)

Apparantly they're putting together a big election recap for their next issue and looking to publish a montage of essays. They've asked a smattering of Midwest writers to submit short pieces about election night -- where we were, what we witnessed, and how we felt as the next President-elect was decided. I was excited and downright humbled to be asked to contribute to such a neat concept. Finally I could show off my writing prowess in a consortium of my peers, no?

Only one small problem: I did NOTHING on election night, and I mean NOTHING. I was on the verge of coming down with a cold, so I spent election night sitting around with a small group of friends blowing my nose and feeling sorry for myself. Not exactly a page-turner. I could tell the riveting story of how I sat on my living room floor eating cold pizza and single-handedly (or single-nosed-ly) causing a rift in the global supply of Kleenex. Something tells me, though, that they're looking for something a bit more poetic.

This was, after all, a night when history was made. An evening that allowed all of us -- man, woman, and child -- to come together and witness an event some never thought possible. An event that could change the very shape of the world for years to come.

I speak, of course, about CNN's holograms.

There are really only two times when cable news networks get to shine: Hurricane season and election season. And come voting night, that's when the news nets pull out the big guns. Fancy computer-aided graphics, panels of analysts, celebrity guests aplenty -- just make some popcorn and pull up a seat.

Marshall McLuhan was a famed communications theorist who once wrote a book called "The Medium is the Message." It's the notion that WHAT you see and hear is always influenced by HOW you see and hear it. Well, if that's the case, based on the mediums I watched that night, the message was, clearly: "We're all super crazy."

Now, I won't get into the real or perceived biases of the various cable news networks. That's a discussion best left for our online forums, where people are probably arguing about it this very second. It usually goes like this: The liberals accuse Fox News of being conservative. The conservatives accuse CNN & MSNBC of being liberal. Then a bunch of Ron Paul constitutionalist types show up and accuse everyone of everything, presumably taking the stance that the only unbiased form of communication involves Paul Revere and a horse.

Me? I'm not about biases; I'm about showmanship, and the nets were full of it Tuesday night. First stop was MSNBC, where the anchors stood about weighing election returns amid a CGI backdrop that looked half Roman coliseum, half Mortal Kombat. I was hoping for a McCain v. Obama Beyond Thunderdome battle royale, but no such luck. Instead, the icing on the cake: A giant US map in the skating rink at 30 Rockefeller, where I'm pretty sure Obama took the state of New Hampshire with a graceful triple lutz.

The mood was a lot less carnival over at Fox News, where a somber and astute Brit Hume (you could tell because he was wearing his somber and astute glasses) had the unenviable job of covering a clear McCain defeat to the fair-&-balanced demographic. For what it's worth, I thought he did a decent job -- just a boring one, which is why I flipped to the king of election night hype.

CNN brings it. The overly-caffeinated team of Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper delivers the best 1-2 punch of over-the-top antics for your entertainment dollar. Elephantine TV screens, incomprehensible maps, and analysts at the ready like James Carville, who gladly flew in from his home planet for the occasion. It couldn't get better... until I saw the holograms.

Discontent with merely broadcasting interviews with talking heads, CNN upped the ante this year to full-on talking bodies, using hologram technology to make guests from miles away appear as they were standing in the studio. It was comedic genius, as it was painfully clear to everyone in the real world that Anderson Cooper was staring at and interviewing an empty expanse of air in the studio.

And who do they decide to "beam in" via hologram? Why, important figures. Like, umm, musician from the Black Eyed Peas. Because if there's one person whose perspective I require in order to fully understand the Washington political machine, it's naturally the creator of "My humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps."

As for the election itself? Heck, I dunno. I'm bad at grandiose statements and I don't like writing about politics -- that's a job for people far more qualified than myself. The notion that my political opinion could be taken seriously by, well, anyone is kinda spooky. Suffice to say that I've never hid my blue-state leanings, my guy won, and I'm happy. Now here's hoping change turns out to be more than just a word. And hey, maybe by the time we reach the far-off land of 2012, technology may evolve to the point that Anderson Cooper and could just beam right on in to my living room. I'll be sure to save them some pizza.

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