The 2016 elections and the Elvis Factor



In a 2003 column (“Who Can Beat President Doofus?”), Molly Ivins wrote about John Kerry’s lack of Elvis:

My early take on Kerry was that he has gravitas–sumbitch about bent over double with gravitas–but that he has no Elvis. Minus-zero on the Elvis Scale was my first read. No point in nominating some good and worthy candidate, like Fritz Mondale or Michael Dukakis, if they got no Elvis. The object is to get these people elected. Can’t get elected without a soupçon of Elvis.

Ivins noted that Kerry seemed to be working on his Elvis, which gave her some hope, though as we now know, her initial judgment was unfortunately correct.

I imagine some will dismiss this as a silly way of evaluating candidates, but I think the Elvis Factor is to be taken seriously. We can parse the candidates’ utterances until the cows come home, but the fact remains that elections are largely irrational. I’m assuming a certain level of wonkery among readers of this cartoon. (You’re welcome!) Imagine for a moment that everything you know about politics vanishes except for what you’ve heard on cable news. All the book learnin’ and well-reported articles, gone in a puff. This is the starting point for many voters. And they value certain personality traits, for better or worse. Mostly worse.

Honestly, I’m a little worried that both Hillary and Bernie are low on Elvis. Those who feel Sanders is a Hunka Hunka Bernin’ Love are free to disagree.



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  • Poet

    So I looked up panopticon and found the following:
    “Jeremy Bentham proposed the panopticon
    as a circular building with an observation tower in the centre of an
    open space surrounded by an outer wall. This wall would contain cells
    for occupants. This design would increase security by facilitating more
    effective surveillance.
    Residing within cells flooded with light, occupants would be readily
    distinguishable and visible to an official invisibly positioned in the
    central tower. Conversely, occupants would be invisible to each other,
    with concrete walls dividing their cells. Due to the bright lighting
    emitted from the watch tower, occupants would not be able to tell if and
    when they are being watched, making discipline a passive rather than an
    active action. Although usually associated with prisons,
    the panoptic style of architecture might be used in other institutions
    with surveillance needs, such as schools, factories, or hospitals.

    This adds a dark and brooding cynicism to what I had previously regarded as an enjoyable and even on occasion humorous approach to the topics you address. So my question is: What made you choose the title “cultural panopticon” to describe yourself and/or your work?

    • Jen Sorensen

      More generally, panopticon means “all-seeing-eye.” The concept was discussed in a college anthropology class I took. My usage here is intended as something of a joke.

      • Poet

        Thanks for the clarification. When I noticed you having moved to Texas (the land of the Bush family, Rick Perry, Tom DeLay, and Ted Cruz–It must be the water that makes them all so nutty), I wondered if you had lost your mind.
        I miss that mouthy little girl that used to appear so regularly in your strips. I was hoping with the political season in full swing that she might make a reappearance.
        I really liked the strip where the bird watcher threatened the squatters with violence if they were not cleared out by nesting time for the birds. That had just the right blend of satirical subtlety to show the situation for the ridiculous thing that it was.

  • ThorstenV

    I stand in aw. Three-elvis guy won.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

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