Amidst these barbs from the left and the right, Jimmy Kimmel Live ran a bit called "six of one" on October 2--the day after the start of the shutdown--that is the perhaps the best possible representation of the worst possible aspects of U.S. political culture. In the bit (see below), a Kimmel staffer uses the "person on the street" interview style to presumably gauge the public's opinions about the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare which, as my incredibly well-informed reader no doubt already knows (if you read the first sentence of this post), are the same thing.
The bit is funny. And for that reason, it has circulated around the web at an incredible clip. In fact, the official YouTube site for the show indicates that the clip has been viewed, as of October 16, more than 3.5 million times--mostly, I assume, by the people who post and share things that appear on my Facebook feed. On its surface, the bit makes an important point: we, the American people, generally don't actually know what we're talking about and in our ignorance we typically fall in line in incredibly predictable ways.
More interestingly, I would argue, the bit underscores an important component of our contemporary political culture: the question between two things that are one and the same is often the question that we, the people, are asked to answer. When presented with only the illusion of choice we have no option but to be fools in the comedy of our so-called democracy. However, unlike the woman whose interview bookends the segment, we are rarely offered the redemption of realizing our foolishness and transcending our pathetic lot. We are not invited to share in the laughter of the self-righteous. We are fools constantly prevented from learning our lesson.
What is more, the bit permits us, as the audience, the privileged vantage point of the informed observer. It encourages us not to see ourselves in the fools on the street--and therefore partake of their redemption--but to see them as the exception rather than the rule. From a safe distance we laugh at those people and in so doing relieve ourselves of our own foolishness. Would you, dear reader, have known that the ACA and Obamacare were the same thing if you were asked to choose between them in a completely random situation? Really? I expect that Kimmel probably would have been able to pull one over on me.
Importantly, the "six of one, [half dozen of another]" joke-structure is premised on the notion that the poor fool in question will necessarily see difference where there is in fact only similarity. When the ACA and Obamacare are presented independently as possible choices, they appear to be distinct and, more to the point, in opposition with one another. This is our political culture in a nutshell. Issues (facts, reality...) be damned, we support our side and stand opposed to those people on the other side--even when we agree.