From Lewis H. Lapham’s Feast of Fools, a fiery and honest essay on the “ritual performance of the legend of democracy”:
On political campaigns:
They stay on message with their parsing of democracy as the ancient Greek name for the American Express card, picturing the great, good American place as a Florida resort hotel wherein all present receive the privileges and comforts owed to their status as valued customers, invited to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping, to select wisely from the campaign advertisements, texting A for Yes, B for No.
The cable-news networks meanwhile package dissent as tabloid entertainment, a commodity so clearly labeled as pasteurized ideology that it is rendered harmless and threatens nobody with the awful prospect of having to learn something they didn’t already know. Comedians on the order of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher respond with jokes offered as consolation prizes for the acceptance of things as they are and the loss of hope in things as they might become. As soporifics, not, God forbid, as incitements to revolution or the setting up of guillotines in Yankee Stadium and the Staples Center.
On the most expensive dramatic productions ever:
Happily, at least for the moment, the society is rich enough to afford the staging of the fiction of democracy as a means of quieting the suspicions of a potentially riotous mob with the telling of a fairy tale. The rising cost of the production—the pointless nominating conventions decorated with 15,000 journalists as backdrop for the 150,000 balloons reflects the ever-increasing rarity of the demonstrable fact. The country is being asked to vote in November for television commercials because only in the fanciful time-zone of a television commercial can the American democracy still be said to exist.