As a general rule, politics is a seriously uncool business. Party activism is an activity for people who care, and people who care tend to be kind of a drag. Imagine earnest, well-meaning people devoid of irony or flippancy, who spend their days poring over tedious tomes on government policy, donning funny hats as they fly across the country at their own expense to get emotionally wound up by blandly manipulative speeches from cynical politicians. Not the sort of people you'd ordinarily want to kill a six pack with.
But every four years, a strange thing happens. A Carnival-esque social inversion takes place. The jester becomes king for a day, or actually, to be literal about this, four days. The geeks become the life of the party.
In the high-stakes atmosphere of a presidential race, these people, briefly, become hip. The political conventions, despite their scripted, drama-less quality, draw the attention of the nation. I myself have flown 3,000 miles to spend time in the company of delegates, despite the fact that functionally they are little more than wallpaper in a huge, absurd exercise in pageantry as propaganda. And I'm far from alone. There are a mind-boggling 15,000 credentialed media members in Boston for the Democratic convention this week--suddenly treating even the most boilerplate opinions of the lowliest of party activists as if they were important pronouncements from on high.
And famous celebrities and actors actually show up to play the role of high end groupies, creating the perverse impression that the politicians they kowtow to are the real stars, and thus merit the adulation showered on them here. Glenn Close is on stage, and even earnest vegan Dennis Kucinich, who addresses the delegation Monday morning, appears with a small entourage of third-banana actors who you would immediately recognize if you laid eyes on them.
With their newfound status as BMOCs, the Democratic geeks try to let their hair down as they search for a little fun. It gets off to a tentative start. Sunday night, we're bussed over to Boston's Museum of Science to party in the appropriately named Blue Wing. A scale model of Skylab hangs over the proceedings. There's a band belting out covers of cheesy 1970s pop: K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Wild Cherry. There are repeated outbreaks of line dancing, which, I think it is safe to say, is unfortunate. One of the Dean delegates, standing next to me, eyes his dancing compatriots and asks me to shoot him if I catch him joining in. I solemnly promise I will.
Later, though, I actually find the hipster wing of the Democratic Party. A Young Dem from Washington State is cruising the city in a limo with his friends. He calls to invite me to join them at the Avalon, a nightclub next to Fenway Park, where they have coveted tickets for "The Jumpoff," a party sponsored by Rock the Vote and Democratic Gain. When I arrive, the line to get in stretches around the block. It feels like every Democrat under 30 is on hand--there are thousands of them. I cut in line--hey, I write for the Mercury, bitch--and it still takes an hour to get in.
Inside, we encounter a strange marriage of politics and culture. Howard Dean turns up and declares the audience the future of the Democratic Party. Jerry Springer revs up the crowd. Biz Markie spins while the Rev. Al Sharpton shakes his butt on stage. (For a fat man, he's a surprisingly graceful dancer.) The place is packed, and everyone dances. The Clintons are supposed to show, along with Jon Stewart, but I miss them. I'm out the door early, around 1:30 a.m., leaving my young Democratic friends to party on through the night. I cover politics, and I have a long week ahead of me.