Autopsy Of A Non-Event: The German ElectionDirk vom Lehn
In mid-October, the Germans were asked to choose what policy they wanted for
their country for the next four years. A "Policy without beard" was offered by
Big Man who is the present Chancellor. His challenger, Slim Man, wears a beard
(as the Big Man's staff emphasizes). In all the TV talk shows, the Big Man
presents himself as Germany's Dad who has reunified the family and will take
care of them in the future. The Slim Man delights in showing television
audiences his beard and drawing the spectators' attention to his strange-looking
glasses. Days before the election, Big Man looked like the sure winner, at least
according to all the pollsters. Although Slim Man hurried to say the pollsters
were probably correct about the looming victory of Big Man, Slim Man continued
to fight for more acting time on TV, to the point of trying to double his media
time by bringing along his wife to all the shows.
The Prognosis?In the weeks leading up to the election, the pollsters
and focus group researchers occupied the media with careful explanations of
their predictions for Germany's future. On TV shows that were expressly
organized for purposes of polling the pollsters, they were certain to indicate
that the decision was clear...and also not clear. The pollsters always ended
their televisual presentations with a big hurrah for the German voter, and a pep
talk about how important it was for everyone to participate in this non-event.
Although Big Man surged ahead in every poll and Slim Man straggled behind,
there were still some political parties who tried to bring disorder to the
German simulacrum. The so-called Liberals hadn't noticed that they were already
dead. They continued to present themselves on TV, even on late night talk shows
so that all could see that they were still breathing.
The Greens were sure to return to Parliament. But after their youthful fling
in the outlaw zones of German democracy, the media were no longer interested in
what they were doing. Consequently, network cameras only focussed on them when
they repeated their intention to be part of a new Government headed by Slim Man.
The Greens signified their seriousness in support of Slim Man by wearing ties.
The "Red Socks," as the former Communists were stigmatized by other political
parties, focussed their electoral efforts on the burning issue: How to get
enough votes without having enough voters. Not that they tried to cheat, but
these political "smarties" finally find a tiny electoral path that could
possibly lead to Parliament. Finally, days before the election, the neo-fascists
committed political suicide by overthrowing their leader. A classic "losers'
Policy?There are no differences of policy contents, only different
strategies concerning how these contents are to be presented on TV. In the
period leading up to the election, Big Man takes to the airwaves to present
"Policy without beard," and Slim Man counters by taking to the ether-net as the
man with beard and strange-looking glasses, thus demonstrating to everyone that
there is a visible difference with regard to policy. The way of acting on TV
will determine the results of the election. When Slim Man wears a beard and
strange-looking glasses, he is capable of presenting himself as the candidate
who produces "Policy with beard", even intimating that his strange-looking
glasses are helpful to see the world more clearly. But in these times, policy
isn't important. Since the difference between "Policy with beard" and "Policy
without beard" is only measureable by the number of hairs on the candidates'
faces, the ability to see clearly is insignificant. The hulking silhouette of
Big Man on the TV screen trumps Slim Man's strange-looking glasses.
TV?As the election is wihout real alternatives, there are no
alternative TV programs. On every channel, the politicians are unified against
the dark and missing mass of the televison audience: with and without beard,
black, green, red, and dead. Everybody zooms up on the TV-net, thanking voters
for doing their duty on election day. And it's a problem. The voters seem to be
discontented with this virtual election. But when they indicate that they are
bored with the political class as the new (TV) acting class, they are
immediately stigmatized as cynical and ill-humoured. So, on election day, they
do their TV job: voting among a menu of pre-programmed choices, feeling angry
all the while about the TV show and its boring actors. For voters, election-day
is a like a day on which they can vote for the content (although there is none)
of the TV program, but there is nothing to choose. The German election, then, as
an autopsy of a non-event.
It was Election-DayBig Man is back in office.
Slim Man has been
chosen as leader of the opposition.
The Liberals crawl back into Big Man's
The Greens stow away their ties...
The "Red Socks" are finally in
Parliament as outsiders, but they know how to play the game of the alienated
A law court decides that overthrowing the former leader of the
neo-facists is illegal...so he will be allowed to restage the losers' revolt at
a future event.
Everything is reordered. Every party is a winner, and a loser. The pollsters
resume their regular jobs, probing the TV audience for weekly updates on their
cynicism, and waiting for the next big electoral campaign. Proportional
representation goes electronic: the TV networks pledge to give the parties and
politicans as much air-time as they have won electorally. The voters are still
grumbling about the TV program and its non-policy. But still the German election
was a great success. It reminded everyone that there is still some- thing called
"Democracy" that needs to be electronically resuscitated from time to time.
Editors Addendum:Stop the electrons! It appears that the Free Democrats
(Liberals) have got wind of this analysis, and have begun to hyperventilate.
They now refuse to take their place in the shadow of the Big Man. Demanding
instead their spot in the political sun, they insist on transforming the
election into an event after all. Or is this just one more ruse in the sign form
of a simulacrum that runs on empty?
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker
Dirk vom Lehn is a graduate student in sociology at the
Otto-Friedrich University in Bamberg, Germany. His thesis is titled "Virtual
Reality and Public Discourse."
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