Politicon: The Unconventional Convention Trying to Marry Political Fandom and Entertainment
In a world where former White House press secretary Sean Spicer is dancing with the stars on ABC each week, the former Apprentice host is sitting in the Oval Office, Fox News and MSNBC are the number one and two most watched cable networks on all of television, and Rachel Maddow has numerous fan clubs, a Coachella-like festival for political celebrities doesn’t seem so far-fetched. And why not monetize on the fervor?
Simon Sidi, a former rock concert producer, saw that opportunity and took it. He created “Politicon,” which he dubbed the “Comic-Con” of politics. This weekend marks its fifth year.
With tickets ranging between $50 and $350 and headliners like Al Franken, James Comey, Sean Hannity, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, James Carville, Ann Coulter, and Tomi Lahren, Sidi hopes to bring in 10,000 political fanatics over the event’s two-day span in Nashville, Tenn.
The event works to further obfuscate the already ambiguous line between politics and entertainment and to embrace the full-on spectacle of politics. Sidi encourages fans to come see their “heroes” and “villains” duke it out on stage.
“It’s exactly like a festival,” he told Fortune. “I don’t come from a political world, I come from live entertainment and have been a political nerd for years. What we’re doing is pleasing ourselves, there’s no agenda we don’t expect people to sing ‘Kumbaya’ at the end. It seemed pretty obvious, and yet no one was doing it.”
Over the past 30 years, Sidi worked with superbands like Eurythmics and Depeche Mode, and the original funding for the festival was provided by Ted Hamm, who made his fortune producing Get Out, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and about 20 other films. The pair aren’t experts in the field of politics, but they know entertainment.
“We’re not the Aspen Ideas Festival,” said Sidi. “We’re here for people who want to enjoy politics, which can sometimes be a bit of a pill.”
Al Franken, the controversial former Minnesota senator who resigned from office after being accused by several women of inappropriate touching and sexual misbehavior and has since gone on a bit of a redemption tour, is one of the event’s main draws. He told Fortune that he doesn’t see anything wrong with mixing politics and fun.
“The president is an entertainer who won by exploiting the divisions in our country and spent his presidency dividing us more day after day. Anxious Americans on both sides have turned to the news and become more invested in one side or the other,” Franken said. “This weekend, political junkies will get to see and listen to some of their favorite and least favorite politicos, looking for drama, laughs, and maybe, maybe, some spectacle.”
The media, of course, is also a part of that spectacle. The conference has partnered with The Washington Post, Fox Nation, The Hill, and even PBS Newshour. Last year, Morning Joe set up a coffee stand.
Sidi doesn’t think there’s anything morally dubious or even new about blending politics and entertainment or adding to the infotainment complex.
“Politics and entertainment have been bedfellows for all time,” he said. “Julias Caesar was a pretty good communicator and the Lincoln-Douglas debates were seen as entertainment. The two have been the different sides of the same coin for many years. We have not created the wheel, this wheel exists.”
At least at his event, he contends, guests will get to hear takes from both sides of the aisle: “The idea is to get everybody into the same room to have a conversation, to get them out of their bubbles.”
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