It is a fact that 66 per cent of Americans say television is their main source of news. It is also a fact that God has smote Tampa, Florida with Tropical Storm Isaac, the Republican National Convention gets under way there Tuesday, not today.
Next week, it's the Democratic convention. Thus, it's yet another fact that the U.S. presidential campaign really gets under way this week. And, by the way, it's also a fact that some in the GOP would see the arrival of Isaac as the Man Above smiting them for something or other. After all it is Isaac, son of Abraham, straight out of the Old Testament.
Anyway. The schedule calls for Ann Romney, wife of her man Mitt, to give the first big ole speech, now on Tuesday. An opportunity for her to come down off her high horse (she does have one, name of Rafalca, recently featured at dressage in the Olympics) and assert that the Republican Party is way friendly to women when it isn't busy having arcane discussions in which party mucky-mucks sit around and argue, like cranky Taliban codgers, about women's bodies and displaying their ignorance thereof. That would be useful and timely of her, message-wise.
Mind you, Ann Romey's speech would not have been on network TV if as originally planned, it was delivered tonight. The three major U.S. broadcast networks decided to ignore the first day of the Republican convention, but will air an hour every night of the shorter Democratic convention next week. (Events in Tampa will be on the all news cable channels, including those in Canada, and CPAC is offering wall-to-wall coverage. Starting Tuesday, NBC, CBS and NBC will air prime-time speeches at 10 p.m.) Before the cancellation of today's start, CBS loftily announced it was going with a repeat of Hawaii-Five-O instead.
Business is business, you know. It seems there is less public interest in the conventions than there was four years ago. Back then, both parties had gone through bitter and dramatic primaries, and the arrival of Sarah Palin had intrigued people. Look what happened with that.
With less mainstream TV coverage unfolding, it is all the more vital for the candidates to get face time on TV with those 66 per cent of Americans looking for info and impressions. In the end, you can have your Twitter. It's TV that gets people elected.
Thing is, being on TV isn't enough. It's what you do on it. Television can destroy. And television has, maybe, already destroyed Mitt Romney. Not through any bias, but through the dynamic of the medium's delivery of the message. (Of course, Republicans will inevitably assert bias, and do it with the same fervour with which some of them assert their outlandish opinions on how women actually get knocked up.) For enlightenment we turn, as we must, to our old friend Marshall McLuhan.
In McLuhan terms, on TV Barack Obama is still cool while Romney is relentlessly hot. Hot is bad. TV is a cool medium. Yep, by McLuhan's definition – and he was correct in so much – hot is very, very bad.
See, for all his hard-plastic handsomeness, regular features, bright smile and wealth, Romney on TV never appears fully at ease in his own skin. He grins but gives the impression of being utterly humourless, and the constantly flashing smile makes viewers wonder what the heck he's smiling about. There's the suggestion of innate smugness, a trait that is simply off-putting on TV, though politicians often mistake smugness for self-confidence and poise. In Romney's case, it's a matter of intensity and exertion to impress. That exertion creates the heat of energy and, when seen on TV, it makes people uneasy. Guy's trying too hard. And if he's that rich and successful, why is he coming across like a slightly desperate, grinning huckster?
I've said it before and I'll say it again – Barack Obama on TV is a classic example of McLuhan's definition of TV as a cool medium. Cool media benefit a candidate who is utterly relaxed. Cool media require effortless completion by the audience. The viewer can project a great deal onto certain people on TV, people who understand its "cool" quality. People on TV, in their relationship with TV cameras send a message. In Obama's case, the message is that he's confident, unruffled, at ease with himself, and has nothing to hide. He doesn't generate the heat of trying.
There is no tide of "hope" and "change" to help him raise this time. There's disappointment and despair about the economy. But on TV he's serene and thoughtful, not defensive or desperate. That's key.
This is not to say that Romney is totally toast. The deluge of TV attack ads aimed at Obama can undermine his campaign in a way that no amount of his serenity on TV can defeat. It is a fact that 66 per cent of Americans say television is their main source of news and it probably includes the maelstrom of poison and malice that is the attack-ad war. That deluge is neither hot nor cool but as destructive as Isaac, and who smote U.S. politics with that?
ALSO AIRING TONIGHT
There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (HBO, 9 p.m.) is a deeply disturbing doc about Diane Schuler, a 36-year-old woman often described as a supermom, who in 2009 caused a collision while driving her minivan the wrong way on a New York State highway.
She killed herself and seven others, including her two-year-old daughter, her three nieces and the three men in the vehicle that she hit head-on. The autopsy results determined she had consumed a vast amount of vodka and smoked marijuana.
What's disturbing in Liz Garbus's documentary is the abiding refusal of Schuler's husband and family to acknowledge that she was drunk or stoned. They reject all the evidence. And while Garbus pokes around in Schuler's history, she too fails to find an explanation. This is not easy viewing.