Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert: Flipping the Script

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NBC Photo: Paul Drinkwater

What do the strike-era late-night talk show wars and the election have in common? As I say in my current print Time magazine column, “the analogy between politics and the late-night talk shows breaks down eventually.” But in both arenas over the last week or so, we saw that there were some benefits to dropping one’s usual script. And the always interdependent late-night shows and politicians were reunited just when they needed each other most. It’s no coincidence that Leno returned with Mike Huckabee, the religious-right candidate who has done better than anyone at using pop culture to power his candidacy so far this election, a fascinating development I’ll be writing more about soon.

I’m going to be doing more of these pop-and-politics columns as the election goes on, so allow me to wax defensive for a minute. I know that there are more salient issues than how well a politician does on talk shows. But as someone who believes that pop culture matters, I think it’s true–and worth examining–that the public responds to similar things in both pop culture and politics. God knows that that can lead to facile armchair sociology–which I may be guilty of sometimes–and it shouldn’t replace coverage of, you know, actual politics. But to ignore it altogether is to blind yourself to a big piece of the national picture.

Anyway, judge for yourself. Just don’t pile on. That hurts my feelings.