Remember the Wondrous Boat Ride scene in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory when they’re on the boat and the passengers are offering a mix of glee and terror in response to the flashing lights and flashing nightmares in the tunnel?
“There’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going…”
It’s an amazing, horrifying scene that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Specifically how eeriness builds into a scream as the torture of not knowing their destination is pierced by the terrifying possibilities laid out by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka — who is loving every minute of it.
“Not a speck of light is showing. So the danger must be growing. Are the fires of Hell a-glowing?
Is the grisly Reaper mowing?”
Pundits have opinions emanating from their gut, their best interests, or a collection of numbers from a process that has been proven wobbly as we head into this election and the resulting days and maybe weeks of tense coverage over the results. What do we, the captive audience, have? An obvious and exploitable need to seek certainty ahead of when it’s actually available. And for that weakness, we’re going to be subjected to the dissection of every microscopic data point as network and cable news pundits (and everyone on Twitter) happily race to assign apocalyptic meaning to things that, in the light of the final tally, may not mean a whole lot.
In the best of times, these habits cheapen and rush a delicate and solemn thing, turning it into a spectacle that can be packaged as a jump-scare laden horror film. But, to state the obvious, these aren’t the best of times. And when underdeveloped happenings are breathlessly reported on and around election day, these things will grease the skids for a dramatic narrative that’ll be good for ratings but terrible for our collective blood pressure and the temperature of a country on edge. Something that may feed the baseless screams of a supposedly rigged election and devious cries to stop the count before every vote is logged. Something which may incite violence. Because we’re not exactly not playing with dynamite here. And yet, knowing this and even stating it doesn’t mean we won’t watch.
The only alternative to this festival of phony foreknowledge and politics-as-sport pregaming isn’t really an alternative at all. It demands that we deny that we are slaves to the FOMO and to the hit of absorbing and reacting to the bullshit. And we can’t deny those things. I certainly can’t. We do this because we think it insulates us from the drip, drop torture of not knowing while acting as a guard against truly shocking results. But it’s a fallacy. I promise you, no amount or prep or pre-thinking is going to prepare any of us for what comes next — be it a nightmare resolution to this whole “what we can do vs. what they can do to us” thing or a cathartic victory.
As they say, elections have consequences and this next seemingly interminable period of media-fueled anxiety (made worse by the chaos of these times) is one of them. Because despite the confident assurances, there’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going.