John McCain is dead, and I would like to set aside my personal feelings on him and his passing for the moment and instead turn to the reactions I’m seeing on my Facebook timeline. A brief survey of my timeline showed dozens of tributes to McCain from my liberal or Democrat-leaning Facebooks friends and zero mentions of McCain from my conservative or Republican-leaning Facebook friends. Understanding the viewing of this ratio could be algorithmic, I visited my friends list and clicked through to the walls of all my right-leaning friends; still, I saw no mentions of McCain. Although my Facebook feed is somewhat of a bubble, the ratio is still off. If thirty liberal friends posted about McCain, ten conservative friends should have as well.
I can’t chalk the discrepancy up to Facebook use preferences either. If anything, some of my conservative friends are the most devout posters I see on my timeline. These are folks who clock in at 8 AM with their lunch and dinner pail. Sometimes they’ll put in up to 16 hours in the posting mines before returning to the surface.
So, how did we get here? Liberals falling over themselves to bid a cyber farewell to the Maverick, a man with whose policies they theoretically disagreed and who, if I were to guess, touched their lives in no meaningful way? Crickets from the same conservatives who can’t resist the urge to ham-handedly punch out poorly-punctuated micro-missives every time the words “illegal” and “immigrants” flash across their television sets?
The answers to these questions relate, as you surely guessed, to media consumption. First, we have the question of the media stream from which we sate our thirst. Up until at least the middle-nineties, and really up until the opening months of our second war with Iraq, the entire culture drank from the same stream. Our collective understanding of national and international events of interest were shaped by the same few national broadcast and cable newsrooms. If you had a specific professional interest in current events, you might have had a subscription to a particular magazine or newspaper that slightly pushed your impressions one direction or the other, but aside from slightly different shades, we all had fairly similar pictures of current events in our heads.
Now, as you well know, we drink from different streams depending on our political affiliation. And it might be inaccurate to call them streams. They’re really more sewage runoffs. So, the folks drinking from one sewage runoff believe McCain is a traitor: he crossed the aisle to vote against the republican health bill in July 2017; he announced he wanted Obummer at his funeral but didn’t want the big, wet boy currently holding the title of president there; and, perhaps quaffed from a particular noxious slew of shit, he is accused of revealing state secrets while he was imprisoned during the Vietnam War.
To those drinking from the other sewage runoff, McCain—though they may not have seen eye-to-eye with him—is both the paragon of American Virtue and Masculinity and an everyman. The media crafted these narratives irrespective of McCain’s legislative work. What mattered was McCain was an American War Hero who buddied up to the media class. Even low-wattage media figures are tweeting about the time the Maverick came on their radio show despite the fact that its listenership was practically nonexistent at the time, and gee shucks, wouldn’t ya know it, the Maverick was a damned nice guy to boot?
McCain kissed the media’s ass, and the generation reared on Aaron Sorkin’s brand of liberalism—that believes politics is a game won through sleek, sexy debate and decency and a tip of a cap to one’s opponent—tongued McCain’s fetid, old butthole in return. But this guy wasn’t a maverick. He voted with Trump something like 90% of the time. And during the W. Bush years—that saw over one million people perish directly or indirectly due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—McCain voted with the president around 95% of the time. Hell, throughout the aughts, all McCain did was call for more and more and more war. The guy was a warmonger despite seeing the absolute worst that war has to offer. He also oversaw Sarah Palin’s rise to national prominence. McCain might not have been in the current class of shitheaded and paranoid reactionaries flashing toothy smiles on Fox News, but he sure as shit platformed them. And these are just the policies McCain pushed or helped push. I haven’t even gotten into his racism or the time he called his wife the c-word.
Despite all these sins, liberals still kneel at this guy’s cyber grave. This is not the left’s man. Available evidence suggests that this is the right’s man. But a performative silence from them. For both sides lapping up the shit from their respective sewage runoffs, The News is their entertainment. The News is their favorite television show. The News is their stories. There are heroes and villains. Sometimes characters will switch sides or the lines will blur, but if you follow the storylines carefully, you will know who is hero and who is villain, and your social media posts will correspond. Use the hashtag #TheNews for an enhanced second-screen experience.
Each side swallows and carries the shit they are told to swallow and carry, and I can’t help but feel a little sad about it. Sure, a man is dead. His death is very sad for those family and friends who loved him and cared about him. But what meaning did he imbue on the lives of the general public? Especially those liberals posting about him? He is not Prince or Tom Petty or Aretha Franklin, artists who left behind cultural artifacts wrought with meaning within the context of individual’s lived experiences: joys and sorrows, first kisses and births, breakups and deaths. He’s just a character from The News. You can say he was a war hero. You can say he fought cancer bravely. But where are the posts for all the others who fit those bills? Just admit you’ve got a little smear of shit there on the corner of your mouth.