On with the show

Now that the society of the spectacle reaches into every corner of public and private life, turning viewers of any-damn-thing into hordes of voyeurs à la The Running Man, we just have to rate the current presidential race on production values. First off, did you check out the makeup jobs on George W. Bush and Al Gore for the first debate?

As far as stage presence goes, Bush seemed like a scared little boy for most of the showdown — but his makeup gave him (horrors!) a hint of five o’clock shadow. Or was that a Steve McQueen-esque ploy by his handlers — you know, the pomo cool of the unshaven underdog? In dramatic contrast, some crazed queen had overdone the rouge on Gore’s cheeks, giving him (gasp!) a Ronald Reagan look — that Godzilla-as-Gene Autry allure of the old Western hero. What irony: Bush as adolescent outsider and Gore as superman-megalith — Bush as trembling, brain-damaged innocent, whining “fuzzy math, fuzzy math” over and over, and Gore as thick-necked WWF CEO, trying to cut little Bushie back down with rhetorical body slams.

The costumes? Both presidential, in identical dark blue suits and lively red ties.

And the acting? These wannabe quarterbacks, in their desire to appear decisive, fearless-leaderly and as friendly as a proctologist over center, hammed it up like they were playing to the afternoon soap crowd. But maybe that’s where the swing votes are.

In the vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman swung the aesthetics way over into au naturel. Casual clothes, invisible makeup, intimate roundtable format, jokes, nonconfrontational acting — it all added up to a relaxed evening at the movers-and-shakers club. Like, you could just read underneath it all: “Hey, Joe, how’s business over in the Senate?” “Well, Dick, as soon as we get this crap over with, we can get back to making some gelt.”

Then if you watched either the Fox News or Charlie Rose PBS interviews with Ralph Nader, the tube seemed to change back into something we remember vaguely from the past: a medium of communication, a conduit for ideas. Without makeup or acting, Nader’s just a schmuck like you and me, dressed like you and me. He has a stiff lip when he talks and his eyes just stare in a fixed kind of way. He doesn’t seem to know much about showmanship, but he knows a lot about corporate control of American life, including what’s left of our democracy (he and Pat Buchanan weren’t given parts in the two episodes of “Rulers of Our Lives” discussed above). And he wants nothing better than to take on the power-horny actors we’ve been following in this endless sitcom.

And Buchanan? Every time you see him, he’s just more and more the lonely old coot, sort of like Walter Brennan but in a real bad mood.

The Hot & the Bothered was written by George Tysh. E-mail him at [email protected]