Debate or Dumb Show?
In the world of theater, the worst criticism an actor dreads is called, “mugging.” Or, as it is more generally known: overacting. Last night I watched the first Democratic Vice-Presidential debate. Political events are necessarily ‘bigger- than- life,’ but this one was beyond ‘over the top’ on the part of Senator Kamela Harris.
Playing to the cameras, to the audience present at the debate and to the television audience, she projected a blaring subtext that overshadowed her script. Her political message was upstaged by the character she played, a sympathetic, loving, and doting mother speaking to her naïve son (Vice-President Pense) in the presence of her guests (us). From the beginning of the debate to its conclusion, there was not an instant that she was not on stage—not the stage provided for the debate, but the world stage. I struggled to take my eyes off her. I was mesmerized by her performance.
When she spoke, her attention alternated between the stage and us. When he spoke, she looked toward him with adoring sympathy as a parent often does when her child is unwittingly ‘cute’ in the company of adults. Several times she even pretended that she had difficulty holding her breath from laughter so that her child would not be embarrassed by his gaffes. She shared those precious moments along with knowing glances towards her guests.
But her performance had a profound flaw. In theater, an audience knows and enjoys authentic bigger- than- life comedy, whether it is sophisticated or in the style of tongue-in- cheek British Musical Hall. But, in real life, sarcasm, superiority, and condescension are all too real. Ridicule blended with false smiles is the most offensive insult, generated only by intense hatred. Kamala was not interpreting a character. Her performance was starkly transparent. Her Dumb Show revealed an ugly truth about her real character.
Americans deserve better than that.