The Shallow Politics Of Digital Populism

What do you do when the masses threaten to turn on a high-profile and very controversial diplomatic deal?

Placate them with celebrities, it seems.

“Morgan Freeman, Jack Black and a host of other celebrities star in a video backing Americas’ nuclear deal with Iran, wise-cracking their way through an often surreal mixture of Hollywood, politics and diplomacy,” reports AFP. “The video uploaded this week onto YouTube comes as President Barack Obama’s administration tries to sell the agreement to the public and a sceptical Congress.”

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…the majority of the ambivalent and poorly-informed public are going to put a lot of stock in what Jack Black has to say about Iran. I mean, he is currently starring in an HBO dramedy about middle eastern diplomacy after all.[/mks_pullquote]

This is cynical and patronizing and will probably work, because I suspect the majority of the ambivalent and poorly-informed public are going to put a lot of stock in what Jack Black has to say about Iran.

I mean, he is currently starring in an HBO dramedy about middle eastern diplomacy after all. And Morgan Freeman has portrayed the President of the United States in film not once but twice. Who could possibly have more credibility?

Obama’s critics rail against his soft media strategy – whether it’s using celebrities to sell his diplomatic policy or enlisting comedian fake news anchor Jon Stewart as an ally or consenting to a fake interview on a fake interview show with comedian Zach Galifianakis – but why should the President care what his critics think?

We live in a world of digital populism where likes and tweets and shares and viral videos matter a whole lot more than what experts might have to say about a deal which asks us to believe that Iran won’t live up to its promises to wipe Israel off the map but will live up to its promises about nuclear technology.

When this sort of tactic is deployed – this video came from a group called Global Zero, not the Obama administration directly –  what is being tacitly admitted to is a pretty low opinion of the intelligence of most voters. An opinion that’s not at all unjustified.

Nor is this a liberal phenomena. Conservatives are falling for the same with Donald Trump, a ranting caricature of a presidential candidate who holds no authentic policy positions and has no real chance of ever actually being president but is enjoying frontrunner status in an absurdly crowded GOP field because his angry sound bites appeal to angry people in the conservative base. That Trump isn’t aiming to lead so much as sell books and book speaking engagements and satisfy his own enormous ego simply doesn’t matter.

This is not a thoughtful age we’re living in.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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