Constructing Narrative in Political Campaigns
October 4th 2008 @ 3:31 pm Bordwell,Uncategorized

Right now, like many, I have politics on the brain. A lot. And what better way to vent my obsession than to examine the deliberate construction of personas (characters) for our favorite political figures of the day in my blog? I’m going to try to leave my beliefs out of it as much as possible so this doesn’t disintegrate into an argument over war accessorizing (everyone has a bracelet, what are we, five?). Anyways …

Getting into campaign commercials and smear articles would be really complicated, so instead I’ll apply Bordwell’s narrational principles to the single unit of last Thursday’s vice-presidential debate. 

The temporal construction of the narrative of the debate is actually quite complicated when I seriously thought about categorizing it according to Bordwell’s terms. Where does the fabula or syuzhet begin and end? For Biden, the beginning appears to be when he first took public office, but Palin’s fabula (even including her career as a mother) doesn’t extend that far into the past. Add that both are constructing character personas for themselves and the character of their running-mates, and we’ve got a mess. Some simplification is certainly in order.

During the screen duration of the debate, there was a lot of recounting of past fabula events, and none of the recounting can really be attributed to an objective narrator. Both Palin and Biden deliberately obscured their own fabula past in favor of recounting their opponent’s or the candidates’. On other occasions Palin and Biden argued over the truth of the recounting. Frequency came into play as numerous fabula events (particularly voting records and tax plans) were recounted multiple times. The screen time and syuzhet time were the same, but the fabula duration was radically condensed. Frequency of recounting accorded some fabula events more importance than others, the war in Iraq being one of the most prominent. 

I think I’m using these terms right for this situation. The fabula includes entire political careers, the syuzhet the two characters in a debate. The characters of McCain and Obama are created and challenged by both sides, but never physically manifest in the narrative. By selectively recounting a vote statistic, Palin could omit the fabula information that McCain voted the same way as Biden. The only point about which I am confused is where to place the fabula beginning. Are there two fabulas, one for Palin and one for Biden, beginning separately? And how does their interaction narratively with their running-mates personas affect their narrative?

-Leslie Stonebraker
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