Opinion

2020 preview: Oscar winner Barack Obama? Defense Secretary Stephen Colbert?

The once well-defined boundary between politics and the celebrity-media complex is already blurring beyond recognition. 

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It’s the year 2020. The world has changed a bit, but not as much as you might expect. Bono is the secretary-general of the United Nations. President Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Terminator in chief (yes, we changed the Constitution for him). Barack Obama has just won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony in the same year for his entertainment supersensation “Obama: the Musical Extravaganza,” which premièred in theaters nationwide and on MSNBC, Broadway, and iTunes simultaneously. Sarah Palin is a right-wing media mogul extraordinaire; her cable network, RogueTV, draws millions of adoring viewers nightly.

Mike Huckabee, recently reelected as governor of Arkansas, hosts a nightly political comedy variety hour from the governor’s mansion.

Jon Stewart is the speaker of the House, while Stephen Colbert is the secretary of Defense.

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“Superstar,” “policymaker,” and “pundit” are synonymous.

Sound far-fetched? It shouldn’t. Because as 2009 draws to a close, the once well-defined boundary between politics and the celebrity-media complex is already blurring beyond recognition. 

Take a look around you. Celebrities want to be politicians. Politicians want to be celebrities. With every passing day, another movie star decides to become a self-appointed expert on a pressing policy issue; another politician turns into the newest media sensation. 

Take the Obamas. Barack appeared on the November cover of Men’s Health magazine. Michelle will soon be featured in an episode of “Iron Chef.” A Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Flickr photo stream keep us abreast of their every waking moment, just like with the Kardashians – America’s favorite reality TV family. Overexposure much?

Or how about Jenny McCarthy? The former Playboy model and MTV host has become the spokeswoman for an emotionally heated and widespread campaign against childhood vaccinations. Using a special diet and health regimen, Ms. McCarthy supposedly healed her son of autism, which she contends – in defiance of the best clinical, substantiated evidence – was caused by toxic vaccines. By 2020, of course, we’ll count former nude models among our most revered medical policy experts.

Try tuning to cable news. When you’re not watching a show hosted by a former politician (Joe Scarborough, Mike Huckabee), you’re watching a pundit who has toyed with running for political office (Lou Dobbs, Chris Matthews). Back in the dark ages of the 20th century, politicians used to work as lobbyists between stints in elective office. In 2020, they’ll simply run the media.

And don’t forget about good ol’ Tom Delay. The former Republican House majority leader appeared on one of 2009’s big reality-contest hits, “Dancing With the Stars.” Try to imagine what he’ll be doing in 10 years… I’d rather not. 

In the year 2020, we’ll be used to all this. That’s not to say that we’ll be happy about it. It’ll be pretty annoying, actually. Picture it:

Secretary-General Bono refuses to take a realistic approach to anything at the UN. Those rose-colored sunglasses are really getting to him. President Schwarzenegger can’t get anything done on Capitol Hill because Speaker Stewart keeps making fun of him for the movie “Jingle All The Way.” Even Ronald Reagan wasn’t in any movies that bad.

When former President Obama was awarded the Oscar, the Emmy, the Grammy, and the Tony, “Obama: the Musical Extravaganza” hadn’t been released yet. He was still writing it, but we  all knew it would be the greatest thing of all time, ever.

And America is getting extremely bored of watching snowmobile races on RogueTV.

The era of political entertainment and self-righteous celebrities is not a proud one for American culture. Politics in 2020 is pure entertainment. Actors, musicians, and artists see themselves as specially anointed oracles for the unclean masses, and they are revered.

There isn’t much difference between Miley Cyrus (our new surgeon general) and Mitt Romney (he’s performing at the next Super Bowl; there are rumors of a possible wardrobe malfunction).

It’s impossible to watch C-SPAN anymore because Sen. Kanye West keeps interrupting Sen. Taylor Swift while Sen. Beyoncé looks on in horror.

Fortunately, however, there are no more White House party crashers like the Salahis. There’s no need, actually, because the contestants on “Real World: Washington, D.C., 2020” are crashing at the White House. 

You may be shocked, but the warning signs are all around you. So don’t be surprised when they give Joe Biden his own late-night talk show. That guy’s full of funny.

Jared Hall is studying political science and linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a columnist for the Daily Illini. 

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