Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Elections are coming up in Germany. A bit prematurely – they were only supposed to be next year – but chancellor Schröder decided to dissolve parliament recently and elections are in two weeks time. As the public sentiment isn’t too positive vis-à-vis the current government and as the previous conservative government we had (Kohl) sucked but didn’t destroy the railway system like the Tories did in the UK, it looks like we’ll be ‘enjoying’ a conservative-liberal government coalition soon, whose leaders will be conservative leadership dream figures, being a woman and gay respectively…

And before elections you like to see the politicians fight for votes. So there was a TV duel. Only one because Mrs Merkel – Angie as they say these days, complete with Rolling Stones music, of course – isn’t too fond of or too talented at political speaking. With a scientific background she’s probably more a facts person who wants to get the details right rather than someone who can persuade people. On the other hand, chancellor Schröder loves public speaking and he’s quite good at it.

Before things could start, TV stations battled about who could broadcast the ‘debate’. And the stupid compromise was that four TV stations, the two main public ones and the two biggest commercial ones would broadcast the debate. With each of them contributing a host to the show – giving us two politicians and four mediocre journalists on screen on the four most popular TV stations. I forgot to check how this ended but in the discussions beforehand, the public stations also wanted to broadcast the discussion on a smaller channel with a simultaneous ‘translation’ to sign language – but the commercial stations wanted to block this as it wouldn’t be fair…

Uh-huh, so there we were. TV like Back in Communist Russia with all channels showing government related television. And instead of making it interesting for people to switch channels by offering different cuts or camera perspectives on each one, every single channel showed exactly the same images. Well, there were differences: ZDF seemed to be split second earlier than the others and their picture was more colourful; and the commercial stations of course were louder than the public ones as usual. But essentially it was all the same.

Did I mention the ‘journalists’ they had were mediocre? They didn’t ruin it completely but they didn’t even try to ask agressive questions either. I’d have traded the bunch of them for single British journalists. One of those who pushes people to actually give the answers that people are interested in rather than rambling down their pre-set statements.

And how did the candidates do? Well, Mrs Merkel was OK. She didn’t make any big mistakes (both candidates did seem to have problems distinguishing cents and per cents in the beginning but that was a tie). And that was better than most people expected. So her party declared her to be the winner, of course. But she wasn’t. In fact, they didn’t even teach her to look at camera to look at the viewers beforehand. Irritatingly she preferred to look slightly past the camera which was quite irritating. She also didn’t look very interested or good when she happened to be filmed in the background. At some stages she launched little surprising attacks, but those weren’t sharp enough and more than covered up by her going into too many details for this form of debate.

Her opponent, Mr Schröder, was quite different. He’s one of the persons who has a love affair with the camera. Always looking at the right places. And – more importantly – almost consistently finding the right level of language and details for this kind of debate. I’m tempted to say he’s even better on telly than Blair is as Blair always seems to be a bit of slick creepy bastard whom you shouldn’t trust while Schröder speaks to people on their eye level rather than speaking down to them.

And the debate itself? It was depressing. Taxes here, unemployment there, taxes again, pensions perhaps. No visions, nothing that isn’t related to money. While Schröder made one tiny attempt to stress that things aren’t all bad and that he likes working for the good of the country, even that wasn’t very convincing and the impression the candidates left is that they’re applying for a job of crisis-management. Shifting a few taxes up or down and having different ideas about how to do that, for sure. But nothing new, no vision, no ‘one more thing’.

And from just watching the debate you can’t tell who is right anyway. So many factoids, endlessly spun to match their respective ideas of what is right. Even contradictory factoids, based on different statistics without it being made clear what the differences are and where they come from because it’d be too complicated for a TV debate. In short, it didn’t help too much. But it kept twenty million people entertained for two hours.

September 6, 2005, 0:09

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