Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lèse majesté

On AOL Video, I ran into this video of actress Hayden Pannettiere in a PSA encouraging people to vote, in which Pannettiere says jokingly that she will likely not vote herself. The response was… predictable. First, there was the contingent who somehow managed to not get the rather obvious hints that the ad was a joke, and were enraged by the prospect of somehow publicly saying they’re not going to vote, with the usual nonsense about how voting is our most important right and everyone is obligated to do it.

There was another group that I found interesting, who understood that the ad was not serious but were offended by it nevertheless. Their objection was not that the joke was unfunny, but that the idea of not voting was too offensive, or the subject of the vote itself too sacrosanct, to even joke about. It was as if Pannettiere had made a wisecrack about the Holocaust or told a lewd joke involving the Virgin Mary.

Like the flag, for many people the vote seems less a political matter than a religious one. It really is remarkable how voting has become the central American right, the right that constitutes and defines “freedom.” Nothing else- the right to property, to free speech, to bear arms, to your own labor, to control your own body- has such a sacred character.

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