August 6, 2013

American Politics from a Different Perspective

Working as an intern at Talking Eyes Media, I have had my finger in many pies, but certainly one of the most interesting projects I worked on was the documentary Bring It to The Table. This is an ongoing project that aims to break down partisanship in America and promote free, unfettered discourse on the political issues that sit at the heart of this country. It proved a particularly interesting experience for me, as unlike my native-born co-workers, I am a London-born, British national. Though I am a close follower of American politics and I certainly hold my own personal beliefs, I cannot profess to have any real stake in the issues that are so important and consequential to millions across this nation. While this might not have given me complete objectivity in approaching this documentary, I do believe I was in a unique position to understand and appreciate the range of beliefs that occupy the American political spectrum. In the same way that the spectator, unlike the player consumed in the heat of the action, sees more of the game.  

A key aspect of my work was researching not only examples of partisanship being perpetuated in the media—by news anchors and politicians alike—but also evidence of why we should really be concerned. Though Bring It can be identified more as a campaign to encourage the voting populace to engage in active conversation with each other and examine their own beliefs, it is undeniable the role the media and politicians have in shaping and defining that discourse. I found an abundance of videos of senators bravely standing up in Congress against partisanship. Their rhetoric was inspiring and hopeful, but their actions rarely mirrored their sentiments and, more often than not, went in direct contradiction. Take this video of John Boehner passionately arguing against partisanship on the floor and then here shamelessly admitting he believes Congress should be judged by the laws they repeal rather than the laws they pass. The inertia of the legislative process, the polarization of party politics, and the dramatic rise of the filibuster, were the consistent, gloomy headlines that came across in recent studies and statistics of the Capital.

In researching American media and news organizations I was perhaps most struck by the unashamed theatrics of it all. There certainly seemed an equal, if not weighted, duty to entertain rather than inform across all news stations. Of course I was familiar with the stridently partisan Fox News before beginning this research, but what shocked me the most is that this was not unique to the right. MSNBC clearly promoted a left wing, partisan agenda. Although with my liberal sensibilities the talking points of MSNBC felt a lot more reasonable, one can certainly hold them guilty to much of the same editorializing and partisanship as Fox. Even if organizations such as CNN can be excused from being partisan, too often the content and quality of their discussions still left much to be desired; as Jon Stewart said in this historic indictment, ‘you guys are hurting America’.

So from this you may conclude that my research drew for me a hopeless picture for the future of American politics, with polarization in Washington and a mainstream media lacking in integrity. But that is truly not the impression I was left with. Yes the system is broken in many ways but for me this just underlined the importance of the individual in the political process. And that is what I feel Bring It to The Table is all about: Taking responsibility of one’s own beliefs, not just owning them, but rigorously challenging and questioning them. If this mindset can be instilled in the young minds of this country, I believe American politics still holds much promise. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose when it comes to concertedly sitting down and listening to the other side.