Senator Ted Cruz's stunt proves politics is show business for ugly people
"I fired a manager after he said to me, 'Do something crazy and it'll get on YouTube and your career will take off!'" comedian Christopher Titus told me in an interview this summer. "I looked at him and was like, 'Really, that's your plan? Really?'"
Ted Cruz spoke on the Senate floor for 21 hours for no apparent reason.
While Titus may be cynical about creating a phony exhibition as a method of infiltrating the public consciousness, media-savvy Republican Senator Ted Cruz found success using the same tactic last week when he staged what could be mistaken for a post-modern performance-art piece on the the Senate floor, but has become known as his "faux filibusterer."
Just like sex scandals, weird religions and criminal investigations, the political media machine loves a good filibuster. Jimmy Stewart turned the bureaucratic protest into an act of humble heroism in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and it has since been used as a dramatic plot device on The West Wing and for comedic tension in Amazon's new Alpha House series. Non-stop speeches with no breaks for meals or bathroom visits, filibusters have been championed as a somewhat demeaning physical challenge. Senator Strom Thurman currently holds the record with his 24-hour monologue against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, a feat that was nearly duplicated by Cruz last week with his 21 hour rant -- if only he were performing an actual filibuster.
Titus's former manager may have been a shallow moron, but he wasn't wrong in his suggestion that a little synthetic drama goes a long way. Titus assumed that the public was far too intelligent to believe in a staged drama, filmed on an iPhone and placed on YouTube, but he was giving the public far too much credit. Even though the two have nothing in common, the words "filibuster" and "Ted Cruz" can currently be seen in headlines and tweets across the Internet. And even though he offered nothing new in the debate against Obamacare, and probably even hurt his party's chance at effecting change on the issue, the Senator himself was a featured profile on Sunday talk shows and is being hounded about a possible 2016 run for the White House.
Like Miley Cyrus twerking on a Beetlejuice-attired Robin Thicke during the VMAs, Cruz's exhibition was a meticulously constructed media-grab, replete with SEO-friendly pop-culture references and Obama-is-like-Hitler sensationalism. Exchange the word "filibuster" with "meltdown" and it's no different from any other hysterical talking point on the E! Network.
Comedians deal with this conundrum all the time. Dave Chappelle would probably still be regarded as a comedy legend if he'd never gone off script and insulted his audience on stage, but he wouldn't have received half the media attention that he has. While the incidents that have been reported with the word "meltdown" next to his name were probably unstaged, it would've made a certain sense if they had been.