Everybody’s looking at the California recall debacle as exhibit A in the unhealthy marriage of celebrity and politics, but the real story’s right here on the East Coast. HBO’s K Street is doing the impossible: lowering the already abysmal dignity of the political class. Congressmen and presidential candidates are crawling all over each other to get on the show, like the klatch of dolts who line up outside the Today Show at five A.M., desperate for a glimpse of Al Roker.
In the first three weeks the show was on, it featured cameos from Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, Senators Nickels, Santorum, Hatch, Boxer, Hagel and Schumer and congressunits Dreier and Bono. In a half an hour show, that’s one politician walk-on every 10 minutes. Isn’t anybody back on the Hill spending our money?
Stephen Soderbergh and George Clooney, the show’s producers, through the use of pols playing themselves and a production schedule akin to just-in-time-inventory, aim to create an unsettling blend of reality and drama. In the first episode, James Carville preps Howard Dean for a primary debate and feeds him a laugh line about Trent Lott–a line that Dean used in the real-life debate. The viewer’s left wondering what’s real–whether Carville came up with the line or whether the debate-prep scene was filmed after the fact. Maybe Dean figures that a postmodern approach to the truth didn’t hurt the last Democratic president.
That cute trick may have hurt the show, however. As Senate Rules Committee chairman, Lott has banned HBO from filming in Senate office buildings. Capitol Hill “is not a movie set,” Lott growled.
Oh, but it is–only without the glamour. It’s not just politicians jumping in front of Stephen Soderbergh’s camera. Almost every pollster, lobbyist and scribe that steps on screen to deliver their lines woodenly, is a real life political operator. Oh, the excitement! This seems to be a show built on the premise that viewers out in flyover country will thrill to the sight of Howie Kurtz in the flesh.
Nobody, it seems, is too influential and connected to be above hobnobbing with George Clooney. In episode three, neocon empire-builders Bill Kristol and Ken Adelman take a break from plotting the conquest of Syria, for a pair of whiny-voiced cameos via phone with Mary Matalin. And putting Carville and Matalin at the center of the show was an inadvertent stroke of genius. They embody this town: a long-running argument so screechy and grating that you’re almost convinced there’s some matter of principle at stake. It’s the narcissism of small differences.
I’ll say one thing for Soderbergh and Clooney: they’ve captured downtown Washington in all its authentic inauthenticity. The K Street corridor is as antiseptic and lifeless as a shopping mall, only with less commerce. Question: why bother filming “on location” at the 15th and K Starbucks if, when all is said and done, you’re in a Starbucks? A few blocks away you can find a Chinatown that consists of six Chinese restaurants, a Ruby Tuesday’s, a Fuddruckers, a Starbucks, and a Hooters (complete with Chinese characters that translate to “Owl Restaurant.”). It’s little wonder that MTV will probably do “Real World Topeka” before it deigns to film here.
I’ve lived in D.C. for most of the last decade, and I thought I’d come to terms with the kind of town it is, morally and aesthetically. But K Street is giving me pause. Lord, I feel like moving to L.A. True, the movers and shakers out there are just as shallow and self-aggrandizing as they are here. But at least some of them are pretty.
Gene Healy is a writer living in Washington D.C. His Web site is www.genehealy.com.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire