The real problem with the reality-show comparison is that it fails to explain what’s so enjoyable about long presidential seasons in general, and this one in particular. Unfolding over a year or more, this genre also incorporates elements distinct to the soap opera and the sporting season. Like a soap, there’s endless repetition, so you can miss half the debates and still feel current; there are implausible plot whipsaws; figures from the past return unexpectedly (like Newt Gingrich, storming in from the Clinton era to prove that 1990s-style petulance totally holds its own in today’s combative political environment). As in sports, the sweeping Monday-morning-quarterback pronouncements of the commentariat are often more entertaining than the game. And now that primary voting is under way, we’ll get a series of decisive win-lose moments, sure to be spiked with upsets and blowouts as well as poor sportsmanship, questionable calls and lots of instant replays.

Rob Walker, “‘The Best Thing Happening in Pop Culture Right Now’”, The New York Times Magazine (8 January 2012), 42.

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