Ghosts on the Screen

Politics on the national and international scales are broadcast across television stations in an endless drone. Estimations and over-dramatizations create a sense of urgency in viewers that the world has gone awry, and draws battlelines between nations, states and political parties. We trust that the people on the television are telling us the true stories, that the journalists reporting on current issues and politicians have some contacts on the inside and can reveal to us the entire picture. The media maintains an authority that makes us trust what we see and, more often than not, fail to ask questions or find the truth for ourselves. For as long as figures like Barack Obama or John McCain are figures on the screen, they are mere abstractions distanced from our everyday lives spouting their philosophies over the airwaves. Unlike a neighbor or a family member, they are as intangible as the waves they are broadcast on, and as depthless as the two-dimensional nature of television.

On October 29th, 2008, I was among hundreds of other eager collegians and local citizens in Lincoln Auditorium here at UMF, anticipating Howard Dean’s promised appearance and rallying speech. Having never met in person anyone that I’ve seen on national television, I took the opportunity not only in an effort to further my understanding of the Democratic Party, but to lift the veil that separates us who sit at home hearing about the world from our television sets and those who are actually out in the world making it on their own, making policies, and making national television. After a surprise speech by our state Congressman Tom Allen that resulted in a charged political hype reminiscent of what I’ve been told was the “1960’s”, Howard Dean appeared as promised.  As if transcending the hyperreality of television and depthlessness, there was the newsmaker, the screamer, the doctor, the former governor and most importantly the physical man Howard Dean. I caught him on my camera’s rapid-shot and saw him walk in through my viewfinder. Distrusting of technology, I lowered my camera to confirm with my eyes what I was seeing. He wasn’t an illusion or a hologram or some phantom of mass hysteria, but just a person. His speech was as eloquent as it was stern, playful, and determined.

After the rally while some guests and professors crowded on stage in a show of curiosity and respect, I dragged my friend with me so that I too could transcend the hyperreality of television. In a show of friendliness he made it over to us and we had a group photo taken. My hand was on the back of his nicely pressed and flawless suit, and I could feel the physical truth behind it all that immediately smashed all my doubts. He re-emphasized that he wanted us to get out and vote tomorrow in the early voting day going on in the Farmington town hall, and then quickly dissipated out of sight like a vaporous mist caught and spread by the wind.

This experience may seem trivial and my response not very well thought out. Of course Howard Dean is real, he’s on TV! Just as the French Post-Modern theorist Baudrillard claimed that the Gulf War never happened, I believed even just slightly in the possibility that somehow, much of what I was being force-fed was a lie, a mere illusion of life, and that either the characters that shake up our world were imaginary or so high and powerful that never could I come in physical contact with them or witness them without the aide of television. I am not alone in this notion. Excited by the rally and my picture with Howard Dean, I called my mother early the next afternoon. I proudly described to her my “buddy shot” with the politician she had heard so much about over television. At first, she thought that I meant I photoshopped myself into his picture, or even that I was with a cardboard standup, as I had jokingly done in Arizona with John Wayne. After telling her over and over again, I was finally able to explain that it was the real man, not an illusion. Without knowing it, she was displaying the same sense of doubt that I had been before all of this took place.

Since this rally, I’ve felt empowered in much more than the Democratic way. This is powerful evidence of the world beyond the television that is indeed tangible and real, and a powerful reason for me to discover these things and experience them in the real world. Don’t misunderstand me here: I almost never watch television, nor do I own one. However, I do frequent the internet. I am not a reporter on the front lines, so like almost everybody else, my information comes from electronic or other media where my only option is to trust it. Like the title of my blog, I’m going to be a wayfarer as much as I can and continue on breaking free from and transcending the hyperreality television and mass media. I’ll post what I can on here about my daily wanderings and discoveries of our Real World, on top of the poetry and art I already post on here.

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