Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Marathon (wo)Man

(Warning: this column contains excessive use of pointless Oscar references)

Last Sunday, the American Film Academy hosted its award show and handed out Oscars. I tried to watch the show -- I really, really did! -- but it was just too much for me. Three hours and forty minutes of self-indulgent hullabaloo were too much, causing a partially Lost Weekend. At the first sign of trouble (that would have been the first 45 minutes, actually, when they did everything except announce a major award), my hand reached out in panic, in search of the remote control device. I did switch back every few minutes, but I spent most of the evening studiously avoiding it, out of justifiable concern that I might have my brain sucked dry by the lack of entertainment value. Opinions of others whom I respect, who still sat through the whole show, indicate mine was a wise choice.

There ought, for our sanity, to be a strict time limit on these pointless pageants. And I’m not just talking about awards shows.

Election day is not until November of 2008 -- heck, the primaries aren’t even for another year, and here we are in the first days of March of ‘07 trying to make up our minds as to which jackass we want to replace the current one. We have four hats in the ring -- and another already withdrawn. Why are we thinking about this now? To my mind, it feels a little like discussing Oscar potential for an unfinished, unsold screenplay. It’s starting to draft your doctoral dissertation while you’re still only in eighth grade. It’s picking Miss America while she’s still in diapers. It’s getting engaged before you’ve actually spoken your first word to your betrothed. That may work in a Great Ziegfeld fantasy, and it may work in an aristocracy where merit counts for nothing, but it’s generally not a good idea in a free society.

The marathon run these candidates have started may tell us a lot about them, but we don’t know enough about our future to know precisely what kind of leader we’ll need for those next four or eight years. We can’t necessarily gauge which one of the many we will most need. All we know is what has happened so far -- and a very limited amount of that, to be certain.

Even knowing the history of our nation’s struggle to free ourselves from Great Britain’s rule, the day has come that I envy The Queen’s subjects. They actually have a time limit on campaigns. Nothing can be released as campaign material until a month before elections, and they have a spending cap, as well. This means that, were we under their laws, for the next year, we wouldn’t have to hear from anybody but actual, newsworthy individuals. No listening to nonsense about whether the Mormon guy is “electable despite his religion,” or whether “America is ready” for a woman or a person of color for a whole nother year. No suffering the calls from various headquarters of campaigns asking for your time, your money, your input, et cetera until this time next year. And then, after the primaries were over, we’d get some quiet time before they could start in with the ads telling us how eeeeevil the other guy is. The only commercials we’d see would be the normal, marginally offensive ones for regular manufactured goods... um, that is, for products not walking upright and kissing babies. Wouldn’t that be loverly?

As a believer in our Constitutional right to free speech, though, I can’t actually say I would approve of our adopting anything like what the Brits have. Deep in my heart, I know that we can not restrict political speech, no matter how annoying, no matter how painfully prolonged the message. That would mark the end of all other freedoms, as well. A Gentleman’s Agreement wouldn’t hurt, though.

Still, no matter how solid and rational I am about Constitutional protections, I dream of the day when election campaigns run less than a year, and the Academy Award ceremonies last only two hours. I dream of the day, in each, when quality outstrips quantity, at all levels of both. I dream of the day when I no longer cringe, at the polls or as award shows are aired.

I dream the Impossible Dream: there’s got to be a Morning After.

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