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Posted at 11:16 AM ET, 08/29/2012

The CNN cameraperson incident and the bottom of the barrel


Remember this instead. (Win McNamee - Getty Images)
TAMPA — What do the bad apples say about the barrel?

This is the trouble with political conventions.

On Tuesday, two convention-goers did an awful thing and were removed. “Two people ,” according to CNN’s website, “were removed from the Republican National Convention Tuesday after they threw nuts at an African-American CNN camera operator and said, ‘This is how we feed animals.’ Multiple witnesses observed the exchange and RNC security and police immediately removed the two people from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.”

The convention has already issued a statement condemning the incident in the strongest terms possible: “Two attendees tonight exhibited deplorable behavior. Their conduct was inexcusable and unacceptable. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated.”

There are still all kinds of questions. Who were these people? It seems like such an absurd caricature of anything anyone might say, so gratuitously poisonous, that I almost hope it was a provocateur trying to muddy the waters and not the genuine act of a real person.

But this is the trouble with political conventions.

The GOP convention is located exactly on the spectrum in between Conventions You Patronize Out Of Deep Passionate Love and Conventions You Are Required To Attend for Work. You can see it in the crowds, where polite expressions over button-downs alternate place with riveted shouting in opinionated t-shirts. Political conventions have to straddle this dichotomy. And it is a dangerous, weird spot for PR. You have to make the same apologies you would if Barney from the Connecticut branch office got embarrassingly drunk during the Vital Plastics speeches, but instead of somnolent men and women in button-downs to wrangle, you have crowds with the passion of conventioneers who have just flown in from out of state in their loudest hats.

Any event that requires you to fly somewhere moves into a different tier of fandom. Destination weddings are not for the faint hearted.

And I should know. I’ve been to a fair number of Star Wars Celebrations; this year I bounced directly into Tampa from one. The Jabba the Hutt suit is still warm in my suitcase. The mass of fans lead lives of quiet dedication. But get them together and there is an unbottling sigh of relief. You are among your kind, and you can be yourself. With most people, this is fine. But with others, you wish that instead of being themselves they would be someone else, preferably politer and with a firmer grasp of social norms and hygiene.

The broader definition of conventions — mass gatherings of groups ordinarily tiny and at great distances from each other — describes the Internet at all times and everywhere, and convention culture partakes of the same excesses as the Internet itself. And rare is the event that does not have rules in place for rotten apples.

But what do the rest of the apples say about the rotten ones?

That is a tougher question. If all causes were judged by their most rabid partisans, none of the best ones would make the cut. Most conventions consist largely of same, agreeable people who will look you in the eye as they converse and wait for you to finish talking. And Tampa is no exception. People are polite and sociable and compliment your ensemble. They say “Excuse me." They give good directions. They are decent humans with well-behaved children. They have a healthy appreciation for fish. But then there’s the bottom of the barrel. Look at all the perfectly good music ruined by the love of assassins and cultists.

Yet can you entirely discount it, especially if there seems to be a pattern to the Guy Or Gal Whose Solitary Voice Rises Over The Crowd?

Ideas are all very well, but they have to be implemented at some point and movements are made up of the people who hope to do that. The caricature of the Devout Believer does dog the idea. Consider Ron Paul. He appeals until you hear everything he has to say and the people who show up to listen to him say it. Invariably the barrel-bottom is the land of bumper stickers and t-shirts.

The nicer people do not know what to do about it either, except to beg that the whole cause not rise or fall by one voice. After all, the sane and decent people are the ones in charge. They deplored and shut down the incident. They speak with the voice of the group. “Judge us by our chanting,” they beg, "not by the isolated voices that yell from time to time." And this is fair. They are the ones who will do most of the work if it comes to implementing. You can plant a yeller, but you can’t plant a whole crowd. Rotten apples do not, in life, spoil barrels.

But they're hard to forget after you’ve bitten one.

By  |  11:16 AM ET, 08/29/2012

 
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