Monday, October 27, 2008

Amateurs... a week from Election Day

Radio is not the best example of The Ascendancy of The Amateur.
Once, there were people who actually wrote for radio. They carefully researched, wrote, recorded and edited stories. Radio stations and networks employed talented and imaginative dramatists, like Harold Pinter, Douglas Adams, and Orson Welles. Of course, that was before teevee and by 1980 radio dramas were anachronistic oddities, but those were the people I aspired to join.
But I ended up writing commercials instead, operating hopelessly out-dated equipments, doing the work of lazy or conniving account execs, producing talk shows while dodging spittle from local pols as they took calls from illiterate constituents.
While working with a dwindling (literally, dying) staff of radio professionals at a radio station, I became the waterboy for a management that wanted to give well-meaning amateurs airtime.
It had been widely surmised by listeners that the rest of the on-air staff enjoyed having clumsy buffoons there to make them sound good. But then again, they never actually sounded "good" to begin with.
Radio was a wasteland when I walked into it, but I worked with professionals who had been part of radio's heyday. So it is an insult to those professionals that part-time egomaniacs take the to the airwaves everyday, giving Americans another reason to be embarrassed by ourselves. Because they're lousy, they do lousy harder, so they can excel at it. When Punky McMushmouth and his "uhuhuh" and ''ummmmmm'' hiccups take to the airwaves, he's there because he "wants it."
And wanting is as good, apparently, as studying and working at one's profession.
In the Cult of the Amateur, wanting is the currency.
For professionals, amateurs are not the kind of challenge that encourages growth and innovation. Amateurs are the reason that professionals start unions. When your peers don't share your toolkit, it's hard to build anything of any worth.
And that's what's happened to a lot of politics.
Time was: Civic-minded people got involved in order to help their communities, our democratic system, and serve all of the people by knowing and respecting and protecting our Constitution. You studied, excelled at knowing and working for your community, and you progressed in the system.
But now we have some misinformed dimwits who believe a candidate can just slide into Congress by convincing the half-interested that he's a "good American." who doesn't like something he mistakenly calls "socialism."
Amateurs rarely comprehend the gravity of a situation, because they have only an imaginary stake in its outcome. I trained amateur volunteers in many "beloved avocations" -- boats, homes, museums, theaters -- and I was always thrilled when one or two of them would cut through the romantic claptrap or technical bravado and exhibit talent along with some sense of ownership. Others couldn't see past the end of the watch.
Democracy is not a board game for idlers who refuse to read the rules or understand and follow them. Although they can be entertaining and sometimes momentarily inspiring, "Rogues" and "Mavericks" have no place in the real world of fathoming the frail, fastidious and obscurely complex human equation, because mavericks are isolated, selfish, aloof, unsocialized, and possibly sociopathic.
And we've seen the Snowbilly Diva work that drift. It takes a lot of friendless years to build that thick a hide. Tracy Flick. But she gets what she wants, doesn't she? You betcha.
What sort of shortsightedness waits until there's a banking crisis, removes the chairman of the house financial services committee, and throws in an ineffectual homophobic twerp who mows lawns and wants to abolish state income tax.
(Much in the same way that some delusionists believe that repealing the income tax will make legislators run the Commonwealth "better." You'd better think that one through again, and then: DON'T.)
Or, with a Democratic majority in the cards for the Senate, who would replace one of the Commonwealth's longtime Democratic Senators with a harebrained rent-a-cop? And sit back to watch the Commonwealth get shoved aside by the actual working part of the Senate and ignored by everyone else on Earth? Don't want earmarks or pork? Don't worry, you'll never see any.
Sure, we could all be elected officials. Says so in the Constitution. But we don't have to be.
Nor should some of us want to be.

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