The Entertainment Factor of Politics

O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise.
(Hamlet, 3.2)

Lately I spoke on the street with someone who had recently retired. She told me that as a consequence of her retirement – or at least in step with it – she had developed an interest in politics, something she said was for her a new endeavour. I concluded that the leisure of retirement had afforded her the privilege of dwelling upon what for my entire life has been the inescapable though frequently negligible babbling of political pundits who chatter with about as much interest as the drone of a television advertisement. It may however be that the cultivation of a curiosity in politics is less the product of indolence and more the result of refined absorption, the sort of vaporization which one expects might only come with age and maturity. Even if I am wrong in attributing any sophistication to the dalliance, it would appear that politics is at the very least mildly more entertaining than staring at wallpaper. My companion in fact led me to believe that there was some intellectual value in the undertaking.

Whether the political arena is federal, provincial or municipal (a succession which is normally trotted out in order of diminishing interest and credibility) it is inevitable that the events precipitated by the respective actors are destined to provide considerable fodder for something approaching a stage production. Indeed in many instances the drama incorporates traditional theatrical themes of influence, greed, bias, comedic relief and, on a good day, maybe even scandal. In spite of their commercial attraction, it is undeniable that those same politicians are regularly held up to ridicule by the very observers who fuel their notoriety (and who are even likely to have voted for them in the first place). It would be a truly vain candidate for public office who imagined that he or she should not at some time or another suffer vilification. Alas this is part and parcel of the gory detail of show business.

It is too platitudinous to acknowledge the well-deserved pleasure of the populace in the diminishment of those who hold themselves out as potential leaders. The abuse is almost a rite of passage and anyone who pretends to have what it takes to act on the political stage must be prepared for the repercussions of any recruit before an audience.

I understand that in the good old days the enactment of a Shakespearean play was characterized by far more than today’s standard of polite involvement of the audience. Apparently the spectators of yore consisted of classes which on the one hand echoed the wealth of its patrons but on the other were metaphorical for the closeness of the observers and the pretenders. The “groundlings” (as those closest to the stage were called) were boisterous, loud and hot-tempered. Those who were removed by complacency from the fray of this association were nonetheless equally delighted by the activity when viewed from afar. If nothing else politics has such a wide and indiscriminate appeal and is so completely ambivalent that it enables almost anyone of whatever qualification to weigh in upon its merits. Politics is at once harmless and venomous but always gripping as any good show must be.