salon.com — During the halcyon 1990s, we labeled annual congressional temper tantrums for what they were: standard, if boring, budget impasses. Now, though, in a hilariously non-ironic flail for ratings, news outlets have taken Nigel Tufnel’s famous line from “Spinal Tap” seriously, turning the volume up to 11 by portraying the latest standoff as a harrowing “fiscal cliff,” replete with doomsday countdown clocks, gaudy NFL-quality graphics, and endless Twitter hashtags. If anyone outside the Beltway was paying attention (a big “if”), they probably thought the title referred to an old episode of “Cheers” in which the goofy mailman does his taxes. After all, replaying reruns would have been more compelling content than this latest installment of “Real World: U.S. Capitol.” Reality TV, of course, is this moment’s perfect metaphor. That schlocky format’s foundational oxymoron — it is “real” but not real — also defines contemporary politics.
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