All the Wrong Details

The three presidential debates are in the books.  In less than two weeks, we’ll go to the polls to vote to see which of the two competitors in these riveting encounters will be president when the sun sets on January 20th.

For those who missed them, here’s a helpful recap of each debate, viewed from the perspective of the average Facebook user.

First debate:

Second debate:

Third debate:

In summary: Derp, derp, derp.

A generation ago, when I was a child observing the presidential elections of 1988 and 1992, commentators lamented the fact that television had eroded our attention spans to the point that a candidate’s message had to be reduced to 30- or 60-second “sound bites,” often obscuring nuance and detail.  This criticism was lobbed most frequently at younger voters who had had the “misfortune” of growing up during MTV’s heyday, their impressionable minds saturated by wave after wave of ever-changing images, trained to digest information in short, flashy clips replete with perpetual edits, effects, and other shiny objects.

Now?  Merely concentrating long enough to listen to an entire 30-second clip of a candidate’s message seems like a tall f***ing order.

Engagement is a problem.  Focus might be a bigger one.  Or, at least, focus on something that we can’t relate back to ourselves.

If television was gasoline on the fire, the internet is diethyl ether.

Looking back on the three debates, the Big Bird thing was an insignificant facet of a minor point, the “binders full of women” was an odd word choice, but little else (and people who decontextualize it to try to read more into it are reaching), and the remark about bayonets and horses was just a mildly-silly turn-of-phrase that din’t really make the point the president intended to make[1][2].

But my point is that it seems that most folks are eager to dispense with any concrete analysis of what was actually said (at least beyond the point of clinging to their previously-held beliefs about the candidates), and, instead, focus on a terse phrase that can easily be adapted into a “funny” picture that serves as a sort of shorthand in an attempt to ridicule the option they dislike.

And that’s where we are.  A phrase (with a funny picture – LOLZ) is about all we can muster.  We have less and less RAM all the time.

This also begs the question of where we’ll be in another 20 years in terms of how much (and what kind of) information we’re able to handle before we get bored or give up.

My best guess?

The candidate’s last name coupled with a loud farting noise.

Of course, any time I get too frustrated about the current state of affairs, I remind myself that the competing slogans in the 1884 presidential election were “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the Continental Liar from the State of Maine,” obviously referring to James Blaine, and “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?,” referring to Grover Cleveland’s fathering of an out-of-wedlock child.



[1] I think the president’s underlying point (We don’t need as many ships now because of their efficiency and technological superiority over potential enemies) was potentially valid, but the analogy to something like horses doesn’t work at all.  It would only work if we had developed a “superhorse” over the last 100 years that was as effective as dozens of 1917 horses.
[2] Interestingly, even though the logic doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, and Romney isn’t even the one who used the phrase, the challenger still somehow took the brunt of the internet’s scorn over the comment.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?
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2 Responses to All the Wrong Details

  1. Chad Dreyer says:

    While I don’t disagree with your point, I feel the average Facebook user you are presenting is still part of the Democratic base or even leaning hard towards the Isle of Blue. President Obama’s widely panned performance in the first debate was notable not for what he said, but for his general lack of any real message, counterpoint, or energy whatsoever. Had Mitt Romney not given an unlimited arc softball for liberal pundits to hit out of the park in the visage of Big Bird, I’m sure they would have found any some other avenue, however trivial, to attack.

    Point is, most of the anti-Mitt blasts provided were from voters who had already decided years ago they are voting party line, and that the Republican choice should be dismissed by default. You may have some independents who are taking these soundbites and relaying the meme in an effort to seem ‘with it’, but is anybody actually swayed by this silliness anymore than by Rock the Vote in decades past?

  2. Brian says:

    Agree…though applies to both sides (see: Fox News endless cycle of conspiracy theories, out-of-context quotes and character assassination). I wonder what steps we could take to push the debates and the media coverage more to the policy issues. Somehow I see myself agreeing with Sarah Palin’s quote on our culture of ‘gotcha journalism’!

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