Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Irony Vote (2004)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, JULY 23 - I wrote this piece for a local weekly in 2004, but it was killed before publication. Rocco has since survived a recall attempt, served his term in the OUSB, and was arrested last year for stealing a bottle of ketchup from a local university cafeteria.

This month's baffling election of Steve Rocco to the Orange Unified School Board of Trustees, won despite his intentional anonymity, defies easy explanation. If Rocco had been running for mayor or supervisor or even sheriff, his backdoor victory might ring true. But school board races are scrutinized contests, as important to the soccer moms of Orange and Villa Park as the race for the White House. What kind of loopy malfunction has vigilant parents, people normally versed in every sigh, cough and intestinal gurgle of their local school board members, voting to hand over supervision of over 31,000 students and $230,000,000 in operating budget to a sinister stranger known mostly for his conspiracy theories?

The answer may lie with the ironic vote. In a country where a rich ex-drunk can win the presidency by losing the election (and win reelection by tanking the economy and losing a war), mocking civic participation is a logical defense mechanism. And in the era of fake news and Billionaires For Bush, it is hard to dismiss the idea that more and more Americans are treating their democracy as an elaborate gag.

Ironic candidates are certainly nothing new. In 1938, the Democratic mayor of Wilton, WA., successfully ran a mule named Boston Curtis for Republican precinct committeeman to prove a point about voter apathy. Crackpots and bogus contenders surface in every presidential election and a good deal of the lower races, occasionally gaining entry into the more respectable sphere of "protest candidate". Jello Biafra's 1979 bid for San Francisco mayor may have been orchestrated for maximum yukks, but it laid the groundwork for more successful mayoral runs by Crucifucks vocalist Doc Dart (Lansing, MI, 1989) and Tit Wrench frontman Bob Beyerle (Chula Vista, 1990).

Rocco's candidacy wasn't satire. It is his victory that may mark an actual shift, the possible emergence of the citizen, not the candidate, as comedian. Although the eddies and tributaries that fed into this political development were, by nature, invisible - the disgusted voters that have scrawled bad words on ballots through the centuries did so in legal anonymity - the precedent is homegrown; last year's governor's race. Faced with a stupefying array of jokers and goofballs to run the seventh largest economy in the world, the voters went for the funnybone. When the leader of the free world doesn't care about tens of millions of people marching against his war, is it such a stretch to imagine that larger and larger constituencies are finally taking a long, hard look at participatory democracy and crying 'uncle'?

Just this February in Alpine, TX, a local professor's printed comments that his home town boasted "some of the dumbest clods on the planet" spawned a stunning display of mass sarcasm; Alpine townfolk banded together for a "pride parade", their umbrellas and toilet plungers held high as a "Proud To Be Dumb Clods" float ambled through the town's main thoroughfare.

Future voters of Iraq and Afghanistan, are you taking notes?