The writ gets dropped and along with it any ounce of sincerity among the numerous candidates eyeing one of the 49 seats in the New Brunswick legislature. I understand the race towards that grand prize of over $110,000 a year. I, too, would plaster my grin all over red, blue and orange signs for a chance to pay off my student loan twice in one year. As ugly as it may get, the Canadian election is one of the greatest pieces of theatre we get to see — if only once every four years.
An election has both superb actors and the most ideal audience. While the cast performs, the audience takes it in. If it’s a really good election — like, Obama or Pierre Trudeau good —the audience walks away from the performance high on the experience. We enjoy both dramatic and election theatre for the same reason: in the moment of the production, we willingly suspend disbelief to enjoy the show. We take in the stage, the script, the performances and believe for a brief instant that the world upon the stage is the one we’ve existed in all along.
And that’s why an election is such good theatre.
During a New Brunswick election we talk about which party will give voice to women in New Brunswick, which political leader will ascend from the mire and bring New Brunswick with him (him, because we don’t have any women running as a party leader this year).
That statement deserves a word outside of brackets: at some point, take a look through the past and present leaders of New Brunswick’s current and defunct political parties. It reads like Deuteronomy.
Right, theatre. When we go see the latest Disney flick or the most recent Godzilla, the reason we enjoy it is because we give up our typical faculties, our ability for reason for a few hours to take in something extravagant. A world where a giant lizard saves mankind from an electric moth or a jungle where lions, monkeys and other safari animals sing some of Elton John’s greatest works. It’s all so fun because we decide to ignore logic and reality and instead fall into a scenario far better than our own.
Leave the theatre and the world is still sitting there. Your student loan debt is still a guillotine, your job prospects are still bleak, your exam is still the next day and you still can’t remember what happened this past weekend.
An election ends and it’s still No-Funswick, the drive-thru province. A few months will pass and we’ll still chat about the various scenes and acts. There will be a couple of stand-out performances to reminisce on (I mean, at least one old, white male has to say something stupid about our lack of abortion access, right?). Overall though, everything will go right back to how it was. CBC article commenters will continue to enlighten their viewership on “libaral propagandaz” and Charles Leblanc will still get kicked off the front lawn of the legislature. The political voice of this province’s women will still be marginal, resistance to “resource development” will continue to be criminalized and our post-secondary system will continue on its path to become one of the province’s largest corporations.
The reason nothing will improve is because we put so much faith into a pantomime, a show. We placed the responsibility for change on the back of actors. It’s nothing against actors — it’s just that when you play Abraham Lincoln for a month, it doesn’t mean you’re Abraham Lincoln. Elections and politicians fail to provoke real vibrancy because they can’t. They can only pretend to and hope that through some stroke of luck things turn out their way.
If we want to get around the apparition that is an election, we need to start treating them like just that. The minute a citizen votes for a party, they are buying into the illusion; they are suspending disbelief to say “this candidate will make things right.” We’re believing Guantanamo Bay will close if someone says “if I’m elected, Guantanamo Bay will close.” Deep inside our psyches, in this cynical day and age, we know it’s not true.
So let’s change how we vote. Why not spoil a ballet? Don’t write a single thing on it. As long as there’s no dick-butt or some other scribble, the vote is still counted. It just doesn’t count towards the actors.
The strongest action we can make towards our government and election candidates is to say “we are not a docile audience. We won’t buy into your show.” If nothing else, would it not be an amazing moment in New Brunswick history to be sitting at the Fox, watching the results roll in, and then see the shocked face of some politician, of some announcer, say that spoiled ballots have surpassed actual ballots cast for a candidate? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see the show ruined?
I’m not saying don’t vote. Sure, democracy, elections, parliaments, elected members and all that. Great. What I am saying is the same thing your parents told you when you were a child: stop sitting in front of the TV and go outside for a while. That TV’s going to scramble your brain.