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Republicans Take to Reality TV

Donald Trump is “absolutely thinking about” running for president, and while that while a rich man running for the highest office in the land is certainly nothing unique, the fact that he’s achieved most of his recent fame as the catchphrase-spewing host of a reality show certainly is.

But by 2012, the landscape for the GOP nomination may have changed considerably, and Trump may be joined by Sarah Palin, whose daughter Bristol is a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” and who herself will host the reality-documentary series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on TLC next month.

Reality TV is derided, among Hollywood’s scripted entertainment class especially, as a crass domain of overnight fame seekers, but it’s also unabashedly populist entertainment, a genre that has lasted despite many predictions of its demise. In the Los Angeles Times today, Noreen Malone has a perceptive piece on how the GOP has embraced reality TV to a greater extent that Democrats, whether by coincidence or by choice.

She quotes The Atlantic’s Michael Hirschorn, who has produced reality shows.

“Both Republicans and reality-show stars are contractually minded — it’s a marriage of convenience,” He notes, “recently conservatives have been less prissy about using really popular media. ‘Real’ Americans don’t think reality television is beneath them. Maybe New York and D.C. do, but that’s a way in which they’re behind.”

He told Malone the imperative of reality producers is to “find people just this side of disreputable, colorful characters. If Clinton had been elected in the reality-TV era, Roger Clinton would have been on ‘Dancing With the Stars.'” Casting isn’t necessarily based on party affiliation, he added. “Right now, there just aren’t a lot of fun liberals out there.”

A decade ago, as reality was taking off, with shows like “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” a wave of scandals involving some contestants caught networks off guard and, in the eyes of many in the media, threatened to put an end to the genre in much the same way that quiz shows died in the wave of scandal of the late 1950s. Nothing of the sort happened, and the notariety that contestants and reality stars get for their outside lives and extracurricular flaps are more publicity assets than anything else: Youy love them or hate them but you are reading about them.

The coming midterms will be a test of just how much voters embrace reality-esque notoriety, and whether the blemishes in their backgrounds are treated less as baggage and more an aspect of being human.  A former “Real World” star, Sean Duffy, is running for Congress as a Republican in Wisconsin and is endorsed by Palin. But certainly Christine O’Donnell, never a reality star but who carved out a career seeking fame, saying outrageous things on shows like “Politically Incorrect,” also fits the mold. And her new, spare and simple ad, below, is just the type of spot designed to appeal to resentment of the cultural elites and convey the embrace the imperfections of everyday Americans. Yes, she has to deny being a witch, but she also ends by looking right in the camera and saying that, “I’m you.”


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