Autopsy Of A Non-Event: The German Election

In mid-October, the Germans were asked to choose what policy they wanted for their country for the next four years. A "Policy without beard" was offered by Big Man who is the present Chancellor. His challenger, Slim Man, wears a beard (as the Big Man's staff emphasizes). In all the TV talk shows, the Big Man presents himself as Germany's Dad who has reunified the family and will take care of them in the future. The Slim Man delights in showing television audiences his beard and drawing the spectators' attention to his strange-looking glasses. Days before the election, Big Man looked like the sure winner, at least according to all the pollsters. Although Slim Man hurried to say the pollsters were probably correct about the looming victory of Big Man, Slim Man continued to fight for more acting time on TV, to the point of trying to double his media time by bringing along his wife to all the shows.

The Prognosis?

In the weeks leading up to the election, the pollsters and focus group researchers occupied the media with careful explanations of their predictions for Germany's future. On TV shows that were expressly organized for purposes of polling the pollsters, they were certain to indicate that the decision was clear...and also not clear. The pollsters always ended their televisual presentations with a big hurrah for the German voter, and a pep talk about how important it was for everyone to participate in this non-event.

Although Big Man surged ahead in every poll and Slim Man straggled behind, there were still some political parties who tried to bring disorder to the German simulacrum. The so-called Liberals hadn't noticed that they were already dead. They continued to present themselves on TV, even on late night talk shows so that all could see that they were still breathing.

The Greens were sure to return to Parliament. But after their youthful fling in the outlaw zones of German democracy, the media were no longer interested in what they were doing. Consequently, network cameras only focussed on them when they repeated their intention to be part of a new Government headed by Slim Man. The Greens signified their seriousness in support of Slim Man by wearing ties. The "Red Socks," as the former Communists were stigmatized by other political parties, focussed their electoral efforts on the burning issue: How to get enough votes without having enough voters. Not that they tried to cheat, but these political "smarties" finally find a tiny electoral path that could possibly lead to Parliament. Finally, days before the election, the neo-fascists committed political suicide by overthrowing their leader. A classic "losers' revolt?"


There are no differences of policy contents, only different strategies concerning how these contents are to be presented on TV. In the period leading up to the election, Big Man takes to the airwaves to present "Policy without beard," and Slim Man counters by taking to the ether-net as the man with beard and strange-looking glasses, thus demonstrating to everyone that there is a visible difference with regard to policy. The way of acting on TV will determine the results of the election. When Slim Man wears a beard and strange-looking glasses, he is capable of presenting himself as the candidate who produces "Policy with beard", even intimating that his strange-looking glasses are helpful to see the world more clearly. But in these times, policy isn't important. Since the difference between "Policy with beard" and "Policy without beard" is only measureable by the number of hairs on the candidates' faces, the ability to see clearly is insignificant. The hulking silhouette of Big Man on the TV screen trumps Slim Man's strange-looking glasses.


As the election is wihout real alternatives, there are no alternative TV programs. On every channel, the politicians are unified against the dark and missing mass of the television audience: with and without beard, black, green, red, and dead. Everybody zooms up on the TV-net, thanking voters for doing their duty on election day. And it's a problem. The voters seem to be discontented with this virtual election. But when they indicate that they are bored with the political class as the new (TV) acting class, they are immediately stigmatized as cynical and ill-humoured. So, on election day, they do their TV job: voting among a menu of pre-programmed choices, feeling angry all the while about the TV show and its boring actors. For voters, election-day is a like a day on which they can vote for the content (although there is none) of the TV program, but there is nothing to choose. The German election, then, as an autopsy of a non-event.

It was Election-Day

Big Man is back in office.
Slim Man has been chosen as leader of the opposition.
The Liberals crawl back into Big Man's shadow.
The Greens stow away their ties...
The "Red Socks" are finally in Parliament as outsiders, but they know how to play the game of the alienated Other.
A law court decides that overthrowing the former leader of the neo-facists is he will be allowed to restage the losers' revolt at a future event.

Everything is reordered. Every party is a winner, and a loser. The pollsters resume their regular jobs, probing the TV audience for weekly updates on their cynicism, and waiting for the next big electoral campaign. Proportional representation goes electronic: the TV networks pledge to give the parties and politicans as much air-time as they have won electorally. The voters are still grumbling about the TV program and its non-policy. But still the German election was a great success. It reminded everyone that there is still some- thing called "Democracy" that needs to be electronically resuscitated from time to time.

Editors Addendum:

Stop the electrons! It appears that the Free Democrats (Liberals) have got wind of this analysis, and have begun to hyperventilate. They now refuse to take their place in the shadow of the Big Man. Demanding instead their spot in the political sun, they insist on transforming the election into an event after all. Or is this just one more ruse in the sign form of a simulacrum that runs on empty?

Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

Dirk vom Lehn is a graduate student in sociology at the Otto-Friedrich University in Bamberg, Germany. His thesis is titled "Virtual Reality and Public Discourse."