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14 October 2015updated 02 Sep 2021 5:11pm

Following the US presidential election is just like watching a pantomime – and I like it

In the United States, the closest thing they have to our revered and petrifying tradition of pantomime is presidential elections.

By Tony Dolphin

Rarely do we examine why – exactly – we love that thing we probably shouldn’t. Maybe a love of Pop-Tarts stems from excitement for the mornings your parents couldn’t be bothered to nourish you. You love Nickelback, perhaps, because they remind you of getting off with some greasy abomination you fancied when you were 13. Or, if you happen to be me, you love American politics because they remind you of pantomime.

Come to think of it though, I hate pantomime. When I was three, my parents took me to a production of Snow White in which the Evil Stepmother (played, I imagine, by 1992’s most washed-up male celebrity) frightened me so profoundly that I had to be removed from the entire situation about three minutes in.

But sometime between being scared shitless by a has-been in a dress and becoming obsessed with US elections, I learned to love scary things. And, in the United States, the closest thing they have to our revered and petrifying tradition of pantomime is presidential elections. The hair: loud and gigantic. The costumes: loud and gigantic. The villains (in recent years) Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump: all loud and gigantic.

In unrelated news, I sometimes worry I’m not enough of a lesbian stereotype. But it’s this concern, paired with my love of US election campaigns, that has brought me to a live screening of this year’s first Democratic debate, at New York’s Stonewall Inn. Stonewall, for those who don’t know LGBT history, is the bar in Greenwich Village where – as a recent blockbuster would have you believe – some white men started the gay rights movement. Anyway, aside from sleeping with women, coming here to watch a Democratic debate is the gayest thing I’ve ever done.

Stonewall, heaving with queer people of all ages, many of whom aren’t even white, falls silent as Sheryl Crow grapples with the national anthem. The words to which, I finally learn, are this: “Oh, say can you see… nah nah nah nah nah America. Guns, freeeeeedom, lalala America. LALALALALALALA.” New York gays, I also learn, are possibly the only people in this country who don’t take this hallowed ballad particularly seriously. It’s surprisingly easy to detect when a person is placing their hand over their heart ironically.

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Every four years, when a new election rears its star-spangled head, I promise myself I’m going to get to actual grips with the US politics I so enjoy. Instead, I usually end up ogling it from a safe distance like it’s a festering lizard carcass, and generally being a smug “your conservatives make our conservatives look like hippies” bastard Brit. This year, I’m determined to give the first Democratic debate my full attention.

The candidates begin with the traditional mentioning of their children ceremony or “opening statements”, if you like. Jim Webb, a Kelsey Grammer lookalike and, seemingly, a Republican who got lost on the way to some big GOP thing and decided to become a Democrat out of sheer convenience, literally lists his daughters, of which he has about 17. He stumbles on a couple of their names, chats about serving in Vietnam, then passes the floor to actual real-life socialist, Bernie Sanders.

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Sanders, who sounds almost exactly like fellow septuagenarian Brooklyner Larry David. In what looks, or at least sounds like the weirdest ever episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sanders condemns bankers and the One Per Cent.  The crowd goes mental. Trust us filthy gays to get on board with a filthy commie like Sanders.

“Niiiiiice,” a man behind me announces, like he’s watching porn. In a roomful of people who are also watching porn. This is  in fact – his response to Sanders’ mention of prison reform.

But Hillary Clinton, next to speak, gets more than a solitary “niiiice” when she mentions the LGBT community. None of the other fuckers have, so far. The context doesn’t even matter. All within these wood panelled walls, many of whom are sporting Hillary badges, are like, “THAT’S US, GUYS. SHIT YEAH.” The atmosphere turns electric. It’s like watching Nottingham Forest score against Derby, but gayer and Americaner.

Oh, there are some other candidates too though. Shouts of, “Who is he?” abound every time Lincoln Chafee appears onscreen. Chafee – let it be known that gay America hasn’t heard of you. A perfectly pleasant-seeming water biscuit of a man, Chafee declares that, in 30 years of public service, he’s had “no scandals”.

The many Hillary fans, myself included, emit a hilariously outraged sound. Something like, “AAAArHHghhhhhOooooooo.” Chafee doesn’t have the charisma to be this pantomime’s villain, but he’s unwittingly vying for the role by throwing such underhanded shade at the beloved Hillary. Who only, like, sent some emails. Fucking relax.

There’s also some guy who keeps on going on about how he was the mayor of Baltimore once. He doesn’t seem important.

As the debate reaches the background noise stage, lesbian couples begin to bicker. The throaty tones of Sanders badly losing the gun control section of the debate to Clinton (the only candidate with the tits to be full-on anti-gun) are drowned out by the hubbub of drunk, lesbian arguing.                                                

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND LESBIANS,” bellows one lesbian, almost in tears.


As I sit in the depths of a pissy smelling subway station, waiting for my train home, something odd catches my eye. Scattered before me, with a casualness that borders on suave, are some toenail clippings. They’re too broad to be fingernails, which would be slightly more acceptable, I suppose. So someone, a soon-to-be voter, probably, saw fit to trim their toenails here. At a station. In front of people.

In the background, a busker quite deftly tinkles piano keys. I wonder how he got a piano down here. This country is so weird. Perhaps I’ll give up trying to understand its politics, and just carry on watching them – like this dispersion of toenails  from a safe distance.