Random Play by Graham Reid


Hey, good lookin’

For some time we've been hearing how bloggers and the Net are going to change elections. Maybe. I have another suggestion as to what could alter voting patterns: plasma screens.

Last week I was in Australia and by coincidence they were tossing out a government by that charming method called democracy. Which meant lots of interviews on television for the prime offenders: John Howard and Kevin Rudd.

By my good fortune I stayed in a couple of hotels where there were plasma screens the size of my desk at the end of my bed. I love television and consider myself more well-viewed than well-read, but I haven’t made the leap to a plasma screen. Yet.

But we’ll need a bigger and less leaky apartment before I can watch boxing and really feel like I am in the ring.

I have had very few encounters with a large plasma screen, and I have to say watching these in Australia it wasn’t a pretty sight.

The first thing you learn is that old footage shot on video, so-called classic movies from the 70s and 80s, and anyone with poor skin tone or acne aren’t that pleasant to watch.

The televised debates between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy are considered milestones in how the small screen could swing the popular mood: Nixon was ill-prepared and looked unshaven and shady, JFK came off as good looking, poised and honest because he and his advisors understood how the small screen works.

Well, here’s my theory for what it’s worth: the big screen -- that 40” sucker -- is the new threshold for political parties to come to grips with. John Howard on a screen the size of a pool table wasn’t an attractive sight, and pasty faced Rudd who looked like he was made of margarine was not much better. But he was better and that was all that mattered.

There was an interesting election night special (I don’t know what channel, I just caught a few minutes before going out) which also illuminated another aspect of the plasma screen: men need to be scrupulously shaven, have every nose and ear hair plucked, and the ladies need to avoid fake tan and have a $1000 an hour groomer on hand. A few hairs out of place or a wonky false eyelash blown up big can be inordinately distracting.

My guess is that this technology means we are going to enter an age of more and more telegenic presenters, studio guests, commentators and, of course, politicians.

Consider our current representatives and ask yourself, who would you like to be so up close with that you could see every pore on their nose and every shaving nick, every rheumy eye or poorly applied lipstick?

Because that’s how close plasma screens -- and people are buying them like crazy these days -- take you. You will be seeing politicians closer and more frequently than you see you mum. It’s a scary thought.

Scary because I am guessing right now in party headquarters the puppet masters are also recognising this and maybe even suggesting that a smarter candidate should be nudged in favour of someone with better teeth and skin.

Given that Australia’s election took on the manner of a presidential race (Howard v Rudd) and that we are shaping up the same way, the look and sound of the leader will be as important as what they say. More so is my guess.

One morning I saw a breakfast television talking-head thing which allowed Howard and Rudd equal time as the winning line drew near. Howard wasn’t bad I have to say and of course spoke of standing on his record and the like (he has enjoyed an economy which was going to boom with or without him, but that’s neither here noir there). Then Rudd had his turn. It was illuminating.

He noted that Howard hadn’t articulated any new policies in the time he had been given -- then hammered home one phrase with nagging repetition, “positive policies for the future”.

As an economical phrase (which also doesn’t exactly say anything of course) it is hard to beat. Analyse just those few words: by implication they suggest the opposition’s policies are negative. “positive policies” suggest a thought out and appealing platform, and the whole tenor is of looking ahead rather than to the past. The phrase conveys excitement about the future.

It’s a very clever phrase and I’m waiting to see who here adopts it, or something similar.

Whoever it is though better look good saying it on a massive screen that would be unflattering to the best Hollywood make-up artists have to offer, let alone the hapless politician being projected into people‘s homes and sports bars about four times life-size.

“Pretty people for the future” might seem a more apt phrase.

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