Politics and the art of distraction

This just in: men absorb less news when the anchor is an attractive woman. It's not that we're not paying attention, it's just that we're paying it in the wrong place.

This just in: men absorb less news when the anchor is an attractive woman. It’s not that we’re not paying attention, it’s just that we’re paying it in the wrong place.

In a recently released study, a professor and a graduate student at Indiana University found that men watching the same woman news anchor absorb less information when she’s dressed in sexy clothes.

Is anybody surprised by this news? We already knew that a bit of female flesh can be a major distraction for the average male. But even if we were unaware of this shortcoming, it should be obvious to even the most cleavage-distracted observer that for the general public the news goes in one ear and out the other. How else to explain the state of the world?

Consider Canada, for instance. You can’t open a newspaper today without being exposed to speculation on when there will be a federal election, who stands strongest in the polls, and what will be the deciding issues. On the latter front, the current favourite is – get this – a Liberal promise to roll back tax cuts for the rich.

OK, take your eyes off that newscaster and think for a moment. If the Liberals get elected, will they keep this promise, or will they cave in to the onslaught of corporate lobbying that will ensue the minute they touch down in the halls of power? A Liberal leader promising to stick it to the rich has all the credibility of a fish promising to walk on dry land.

It might be possible, we suppose, but where is the precedent?

But instead of laughing the Liberals off the court, the Conservatives respond to the promise as if it were believable, and trot out all their reasons for maintaining the cuts.

We the electorate, if we happen to be listening at all, accept this as a real debate. Aha, we think, an election issue: corporate tax cuts.

Why are we hearing about highly improbable roll backs on tax cuts for the rich? For the same reason newswomen are dressing up like fashion models. It’s a distraction. The two big-money parties want you to forget that they have been functioning as a de facto coalition for five years, every move the Conservatives made supported by a cowed and frightened Liberal opposition. They want you to forget the Conservatives ran up record deficits even before the recession began, and the Liberals helped them do it either by voting in favour of budget after budget, or by staying home in droves.

While you’re forgetting, it would be good for the Con-Lib coalition if you forgot they managed to weasel out of the Speaker’s ruling that they release all the documents related to Afghan detainee torture. It should be easy enough to forget, the whole story has just about dropped off the edge of the Earth since the two implicated parties cut a deal to keep the most damaging documents secret.

We may never know if senior politicians from both sides are guilty of war crimes, and as far as the coalition is concerned, that would be a good thing.

Also off the election agenda, or so it seems, is the possibility that human greed may turn the only currently available planet into an uninhabitable pile of rock in this century. Heard a Liberal reference to global warming lately? I keep hoping to hear that someone with a hope of forming a government has a plan that will actually reduce emissions in my lifetime, but if such a story has aired lately, I must have ogling the newscaster at the time.

Don’t expect Senate reform, that old Conservative bugaboo, to dominate election discussion any time soon. Both sides of the coalition have packed that institute of higher gold-digging with the party faithful, and they’re not about to defecate in that cushy nest. Failure to reform the Senate is one of Harper’s most obvious broken promises, but you won’t hear a whole lot about it from the Liberals.

Canada is in the process of creating the kind of justice system the US would like to get out from under, one that swallows human beings and chases them down with million-dollar bills. The system has proven itself to be cruel, useless, and absurdly expensive, but it doesn’t show up as a major election issue, possibly because the Liberals already let the legislation pass. It’s hard to campaign effectively against something you could have stopped by voting against, but didn’t.

We stand in grave danger of returning Harper to office in the next election. The only hope offered for avoiding this possibility is that we saddle ourselves with Ignatieff instead. These are depressing times. No wonder the newscasters’ legs get more attention than the news.

Let’s bring back the business suit standard. From now on, let’s have all anchors, male or female, dress like Peter Mansbridge. I know, I know, we will still be a thoughtless, distracted, complacent electorate, the real issues will still slip from sight while the spin-masters at Lib-Con headquarters manufacture phony disputes, and the pace of progress on the things that should matter will still be glacial at best. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

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