The Festivus of Politics
"Welcome, newcomers. The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're gonna hear about it."
This was how Frank Costanza opened the traditional Festivus dinner in the Seinfeld episode, The Strike. For the uninitiated, Festivus is a holiday Frank created to battle the commercialism of Christmas. There's a dinner, an undecorated aluminum pole because he found "tinsel distracting," the Airing of Grievances which starts immediately after dinner is served, and Feats of Strength, where Frank picks one person to wrestle and Festivus doesn't end until the head of household is pinned.
Seinfeld writer, Dan O'Keefe, brought the holiday to life from his childhood for the show. Recently, he shared the story in-depth on the Fever Dream podcast, and it's a much darker story than what we see on television. Today, the "holiday" is usually celebrated on December 23rd, both seriously and ironically.
The modern political and media worlds have readily embraced the traditions of Festivus that have translated into the modern political and media world. So that we're clear, the idea that there are different business models for mainstream media, independent media, or politics is fiction. As I write in Outrage, Inc., the motto is "[d] on't get them to think, get them to react."
In the Geneaology of Morals, Fredrich Nietzsche popularized the idea of ressentiment, that your suffering or failure directly results from someone else's doing. In other words, the have-nots create a moral play where they are good, and the haves are the evildoers. It is unquestionably psychology of blame and easy for some people to adopt. Nietzsche has flaws in his logic in many places, but one doesn't have to embrace his writings to see he might have a point here.
This morality play is pushed on us by the hour from endless sources. The global pandemic has created a rich source of grievances for all of us to choose from - and we have. So what does the Festivus of Politics look like?
Airing of Grievances
Modern politics is nothing more than an airing of grievances as fuel for Acts One (Fear) and Two (Anger) in The Four-Act Play I discussed earlier. The grievances take several forms, and we should identify them if we see them in the wild.
The Bogeyman. This is the classic one. Something is happening, and there is one bad actor in the whole story. The Bogeyman somehow has far more power than they possess and is, of course, corrupted by their position. The worst cases of this are when the president or a member of Congress does it - the people who actually have power. Last I checked, there are no mentions of a bureaucrat in the U.S. Constitution. Typically all we get are words and no action. Hold them accountable for that.
The Outrageous Outlier. This is a favorite of the media. "Representative [Fill in Name Here]: Just said this, and it's what the [Party Affiliation] believes!" Would you please stop falling for this? By "exposing" the stupid things the Outlandish Outlier says, the media is getting you to react and share it. Then there's a response and a demand that every member of a particular party denounce it or agree on what they said. What happens is they slowly create a monster that says more stupid things and fundraises off of it.
Hypocrisy! Technology gives us an incredible opportunity to hunt through the vast ether of political content to find two quotes from the same person that directly contradict themselves. I'm not dismissing hypocrisy; it should be acknowledged. Situational ethics drives politics, and the byproduct is hypocrisy. Situational ethics deserves its treatment, and we will get to that.
Whataboutism. This is the evil twin to our friend Hypocrisy! In this case, political figures find a time when "the other side" exercised their situational ethics and are now doing something different. This example gives "our side" the excuse to be as bad as them, but a little bit more. In short, the ends justify the means. You don't have to treat every bad act as precedence for future bad acts. By doing so, politics continues to be an escalation game that leads to progressively worse outcomes.
Feats of Strength
Now that the Airing of Grievances is complete, the feats of strength take on a professional wrestling flavor. The "face" or good guy has now created the "heel" or bad guy, cut a promo, and they are ready to rumble.
Please note that professional wrestling is not fake; it's predetermined. The same is true here. If the face wins, then all is right in the world, and we have justice until the sun rises, and a new heel appears.
If the heel wins, it was only possible because he used a chair, brass knuckles, or got help from a fellow heel. The cheating outcome sets the stage for a cage match or tag team match at the next
pay-per-view congressional hearing or election. Read any fundraising appeal today, and there is a face and a villain and an airing of grievances.
If you haven't noticed, none of this has anything to do with public policy. It's an outright distraction from it. Much like Hollywood, Washington is devoid of any new good ideas, so you're simply getting reboots and superhero movies. The media plays its part to amplify the airing of grievances and broadcast the feats of strength. I'd like to say we're on the losing end of this deal, but so many of us keep participating in the Political Festivus, maybe I'm wrong.
On that note, Happy Festivus to all who celebrate!