I have no blogginghead, and I must scream

bloggingheadThe bloggingheads format presents us with relatively intimate medium close-ups of two faces, side by side, as though of two people in a conference call. We ourselves, however, cannot participate. The two speakers appear to be looking directly at us, but are in fact looking at each other. They will be discussing matters presumably of some public or general interest, but the camera remains fixed on their faces – a static, almost always ill-lit, low quality shot – while, to the extent either face conveys what a countenance conveys, the visual information will be largely irrelevant to that public or general interest, and minimally communicative even within the immediate context. In short, unless you happen to be the proud parent or yearning lover of one of the two individuals in closed dialogue, the video element of the presentation will cease being interesting within seconds, under a constant implication that even the smallest amount of the most primitive editing or camera movement would radically relieve the visual tedium and quite possibly enhance the content: The only reason that there is no alternation between the two faces, are no additional angles on the speakers, no zooms in or out, no exhibits introduced by interpolation, overlay, or inset, or as point of view, and so on, is that the bloggingheads form is a lazily narcissistic and cinematically completely naive mode of presentation. The idea of someone treating the product, even if not quite seriously, then with any significant attention, is apparently out of bounds. As for the verbal content, a different order of defects are involved, possibly originating in the widely held but largely false democratic assumption that everyone has something interesting to say. The rarity of references or citations to internet video chats seems suggestive, even if there are no doubt many users who prefer off-the-cuff audio to literature, or hearing to reading. If I were planning a long drive or a day of housework, say, I’d much rather listen to music or an audiobook.

(These notes are a treatment of mostly old thinking – somewhere I have additional notes on the subject and more specific suggestions on cinematizing internet dialogues, since it was a major subject of that fallen-through movie project of 2011 – was prompted today by tweets from Elias Isquith and Lee M.)

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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