The Year in Preview: There Will Be Gaffes
Lots of things happened in 2013. President Obama was sworn in for a second term. We got a new pope and a new royal baby. Two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon and scared a nation. The Supreme Court stripped power from the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act. But these are all stories we've heard before, and if you haven't, you certainly will in the millions of "Year in Review" pieces set to be posted between now and New Year's. Over the next two weeks, our writers will instead preview the year ahead on their beats, letting you know far in advance what the next big story about the Supreme Court—or the environmental movement, immigration reform, reproductive rights, you get the picture—will be. You're welcome in advance for not making you read a dozen more retrospectives on Ted Cruz and Twerking and fiscal cliffs and shutdowns and selfies. First up, the news.
As we all know, this is the age of information, when the entire media world changes every week or so. We're about to enter 2014, which will surely be a year of transformation and reconfiguration, of cascading synergies and exponential upendings, in which the hidebound old ways are cast off and the day belongs to those who plug in to the rushing river of revolution. If you're going to be prepared to grasp it all and not be left behind like some pathetic dinosaur, you'd better strap in, bite down on your mouth guard, and get ready to have your paradigms exploded.
What will happen in the political news media in 2014? There's one thing you can be sure of: Games will be changed. Almost every day someone will declare something or other to be a game changer. In fact, the game will be changed so often you may find yourself saying, "What game is this, ChangeBall? I can't keep up with all the game changes." To which someone might reply, "That question was a real game changer." That person will be an idiot. As for you, you'd better keep your mind on coming up with your own game changers, so that the game, once changed, will change in your direction. You don't want to be left on the sidelines, sipping your energy drink and looking up at the scoreboard, while meanwhile somebody else is in there changing the game.
But it won't just be game changers. After an exhausting search, we will find the new hot demographic sure to tip the midterm elections, heir to the Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads and Office Park Dads and Angry White Men and Waitress Moms and whatever it was last time we had an election. Perhaps this year it will be the Scrapbooking Spinsters, or the MMA Meatheads, or the Downmarket Dominatrixes. Reporters will seek them out in their natural habitats, then trap and tranquilize them so they can be focus-grouped in drab conference rooms with one-way mirrors, then eventually released back into the wild, their atrociously ignorant yet electorally invaluable insights plumbed for any evidence of a game about to be changed.
And that's not all. There will be gaffes, oh will there be gaffes. Each one will provide vital insight into the twisted mind of the politician who uttered it, as he inadvertently peels back his carefully shaped outer shell of insincerity and reveals the hideous beast slobbering within. The content of these gaffes is one of the great unknowns of each political season. Who could have predicted "legitimate rape" or "47 percent" or "You didn't build that"? Perhaps this year a candidate will blurt out his love of the Black Eyed Peas, or get caught by a hot mic at the state fair saying, "If I have to spend another hour with these deep-fried rubes I'm going to frickin' kill myself."
But not just politicians—their aides will gaffe as well, in ways inevitably more hard-edged, saying despicable things about the other side and offending who knows how many fine Americans. Their comments will cause deep, profound pain among their targets, pain that can only be salved with three days of appearances on cable news.
We will learn well of that pain, because in the immutable laws of politics, every gaffe has an equal and opposite reaction of umbrage. Candidates and parties are already filling their Strategic Umbrage Reserves, ready to be deployed the instant the offending words are uttered. Reporters running out of things to say after a couple of slow weeks on the trail will give thanks for the blessed rain of umbrage when it comes, bestowing upon them something to talk about for a while. "Is this a game changer?" the Sunday show hosts will ask. "I think it could well be," the newspaper columnist will respond sagely.
What else, you ask? In 2014, a somewhat famous film actor will say a mean thing about Republicans. Bill O'Reilly will say mean things about that snooty Hollywood liberal, and Sarah Palin will agree wholeheartedly that this just shows how much elitist liberals hate America, and also that you should buy her book. A local radio host will try to arrange a burning of 15-year-old copies of the actor's films, only to discover that nobody has DVDs anymore.
"You know who else said something like that?" someone will say, and his allies will say, "Oh no, please don't," but he will forge on and conclude, "That's right: Hitler." And a soothing wave of essays will surge onto the political shores, asking whether we can't just put aside the Nazi analogies for good unless somebody's literally committing genocide.
Speaking of which, in 2014, Joe Biden will use "literally" when he means "figuratively" (but not about genocide, because as his grandmother used to say, god bless her, there some things you don't joke about, Joey). And people will laugh at him.
In 2014 there will also be polls, and polls of polls, and at least one poll of polls of polls. And someone who doesn't like what the polls of polls say will unskew them, and look like a fool. Standing behind the polls, plotting its next move, will be Big Data, which everyone knows will define the future, but most people don't understand in the slightest.
There will be an election near the end of it all, and everyone of every persuasion will say that the results conclusively demonstrate the thing they've believed all along.
And what of our reporters, waiting so impatiently for the next game changer? We know this much: In 2014, some young punk with 80,000 Twitter followers and an Instagram feed that could melt your face will push aside a superannuated reporter who remembers what it was like to write your stories on a goddamn typewriter, who got drunk with Ed goddamn Muskie, who knows how to go out and report a goddamn story like a man. "Sorry bout that, gramps," she'll say as she glides through the social web and cultivates her brand and pulls the pageviews. Her stories will be amazeballs, and the old reporter will say, "What kind of a goddamn word is amazeballs?"
And that, my friends, will be a game changer.
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