All Elections Are Serious Business
Many minor positions in government go unopposed, and when there actually is an election, it's very small scale. Statistically, election turnouts in countries without mandatory voting are frequently low, and few people take part in elections for anything lower than the highest executive office. Since real life student councils aren't worth much more than an extracurricular activity on your college application, real life students are largely apathetic as to who is on the ballot.
But not in the world of fiction. No matter how meaningless the post, no matter how minor the job of selecting it, any
job that requires an election will be treated as seriously as the election of a world leader. Even if the person in question is running for the position of garbage collector, expect the news media to hound their every footstep sniffing out scandal as if the person was a major celebrity. Furthermore, every person in town will be talking about their positions in great detail as if the election deeply impacts every facet of their lives. A work in a school setting will show the student body deeply concerned over the position of Student Council President
. The candidates, all of whom are children
, spend what must be exorbitant funds on their campaigns and the school allows them to hold massive rallies in a gym or auditorium, in which the entire student body will attend on their own free time to support their favorite candidates and take part in the leadership of their school. The actual election will even feature fancy voting booths just like those used in real
If used for comedy, this story will take an intentionally pointless job and have the characters in the story (or at least the candidates) act as if their entire worlds center around it. It's a non-controversial way to satirize the actual
election process, and also less likely to cause the storyline to become dated the way more contemporary political humor would.
However, many works will play this absolutely straight, never acknowledging that student council elections are actually boring, mundane events or that students rarely care about the results. School settings that play this straight often contain an Absurdly Powerful Student Council
to go along with this illusion. School settings that don't A common menial position played for laughs is a campaign for dog catcher, a play on the phrase "you couldn't get elected dog catcher!"
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- In the "Portrait of a Politician" story in Judge Dredd, mass rallies are held over the election of the mayor of Mega-City One, which leads to serious riots, deaths, and mass arrests. The mayor is a purely figurehead position, whose authority is limited to suggesting legislation to the Chief Judge. In the end, the election was won by an ordinary orangutan.
- Judge Parker featured a storyline in which Randy Parker ran for county judge. The media was obsessed with him and he even had an opponent that got reporters to show up as he filed his intent to run. Said opponent attempted to imply in newspaper friendly terms that Randy Parker "wasn't the marrying kind", but was downed before the election ever began because his alcoholic wife attacked one of the reporters. The only realistic element was that this was the only opponent in the election, letting Randy win by running unopposed.
- PS238 had an issue where the election for class president was Serious Business for the school's two Captain Patriotic heroes. They were the only ones taking it that seriously, though; pretty much everyone else got bored with them very quickly, and in the end they both lost in a landslide to somebody who hadn't actually been running, but who most of the class had voted for anyway because they liked him more than the actual candidates.
- In The Strawberry Shortcake Berryfest Princess Movie, Strawberry and Orange Blossom compete for the position of Berryfest Princess, who is in charge of putting together the upcoming Berryfest. The two girls have a true "may the best
man girl win" attitude about it, but their friends are incredibly torn up about which of them to vote for, with one of them even declaring the election the worst thing to ever happen to them. Strawberry even considers pulling out of the election just so her friends don't have to make such a difficult choice, but is convinced to stay in the race, and eventually wins by one vote.
- Election played this for satire, both on the United States presidential elections and the amount of seriousness that other people give to student council elections. The most popular candidate in the election is the one who promises to never do anything and make sure the students never have to attend mandatory pep rallies for student council ever again.
- Subverted in The Belgariad: Nobody took the Sendarian election seriously, least of all the candidates. Everyone thought it was a ridiculous way to choose a king, and they ended up with a dynasty of quite good rulers who don't take themselves too seriously.
- Further details: The election required that a candidate have a simple majority of the popular vote. Unfortunately, there were 724 candidates on the first ballot. Rather than have a runoff election between a fixed number of the more popular candidates, the Sendarians simply had another election, with every candidate who didn't choose to withdraw still on the ballot. This process repeated for 6 years and 22 ballots, ultimately resulting in the election of King Fundor the Magnificent, a rutabaga farmer who had been nominated by his neighbors, had not spent a single moment in those six years actively campaigning, and who honestly thought that they had pulled him off the ballot years before.
- Played very straight in "The Casual Vacancy".
Live Action Television
- An episode of Blossom played up the absurdity by even having one of the students involved in a Clinton-esque sex scandal and Ross Perot gathering a percentage of the vote.
- The very first episode of Degrassi Junior High featured Stephanie Kaye running for Student Council President as a way to create a more mature, popular image for her new Stripperiffic makeover. The conflict of the episode comes from the clash between Stephanie, her friend Voula, and her new friend Joey Jeremiah. The students attend an election rally outside of school hours, though it's not clear if they're being forced to come or if they're appearing voluntarily. Despite initially giving responsible yet overreaching speeches from Voula, Stephanie actually wins her campaign by letting all the boys at the rally kiss her and changing her slogan to "All the way with Stephanie Kaye." She also makes bizarre campaign promises such as rock music on the PA system and co-ed swimming in gym class. Amazingly, nobody in the school administration is concerned about a student council candidate essentially prostituting herself for votes. Furthermore, there's something strange about how Voula cares deeply about the integrity of the student council campaign, while Stephanie seems to think it's a popularity contest. Like they are in real life.
- The Daily Show parodied the 2012 Presidential Election using a "documentary" in which John Oliver and Jason Jones became rival campaign managers of two 13 year olds running for student council. As the students were actual students, the segment played their rather blaise reaction to student elections against the comically over the top seriousness of the adults.
- In Once Upon a Time Emma (a former bail bond enforcer) and Sidney (a newspaper journalist with no relevant experience) apply for the position of sheriff. Rather than picking a candidate based on competence this turns into an election, complete with a debate attended by the entire town and one backer committing arson to benefit his candidate.
- On My Name Is Earl, Earl is seen betting on the outcome of a presidential election in a small African country. Apparently, said election is being broadcast internationally.
- Truth in Television — Old joke: why are local politics so vicious? Because the stakes are so petty.
- British county and municipal council elections have the full party-political machine involved in them, despite the fact that their actual influence is extremely limited these days; they have the power to decide how often the garbage gets collected, where the no-parking zones are put and whether or not you can build an extension on the back of your house but that's about it. They mostly seem to use the posts as a sort of probationary period for future Parliamentary candidates.
- Averted in political sciences that employ the term of second-order elections for elections where's supposedly less at stake and wherein voting behavior actually differs considerably from first-order elections which are mostly national legislative and presidential elections.
- Penny and Aggie played this mostly straight twice in two separate student council election arcs. The most absurd parts are how seriously Stan keeps taking it, spending what must be hundreds of dollars on t-shirts for his campaign (and he even gets people to wear them!), posters, a pizza party, and numerous rallies in which, of course, the students show up voluntarily and get extremely excited by him. Stan even talks about "the issues" as a way to throw his opponents, tries to implicate them in scandals and actually throws his sort-of girlfriend under a bus all in the name of high school elections. On a smaller scale, when Aggie runs in the first arc, she seriously believes that becoming student council president was a platform for promoting world peace. When Cyndi runs in the second election arc, she spends massive amounts of time to stop Stan from winning by creating scandal, though it could be argued that since Cyndi just likes making drama, her goal isn't winning the election so much as screwing with Stan.
- A joke in the first arc suggests most students aren't even aware there is a student council, while a joke after the conclusion of the second arc has Meg compare being class president to dressing up a Barbie in a pinstripe suit. So there is some acknowledgement that in reality, student council elections actually are as pointless in Belleville as they are in the real world. It's just downplayed because the viewpoint of the core cast members (who take them deadly seriously) is the only one the readers usually see.
- By the end of the series, it's clear that Stan's focus on superficial things like student elections has simultaneously taught him the life skills he needs to schmooze with people to move up in the world while also costing him any meaningful relationships since he'll always treat them as less important than the appearance of being "liked." This was reinforced in the follow-up QUILTBAG, making it clear that at least for Stan's character arc, his deadly serious attitude about something ultimately pointless and popularity driven was intended to establish what kind of person he grows up to be as opposed to granting him actual power.
- Kevin & Kell had two arcs where Kevin ran for office. The first was the office of "Recreation Administrator", which Kevin intended to run for just to ensure that his daughter, a carnivorous rabbit, could enroll in a predator-oriented youth league. Despite this being a pretty minor position (and the action itself likely not even requiring Kevin to run for office), the campaign apparently required campaign teams, rallies, campaign donors, and constant attention from the media (including front page updates) centering around the race for the position. The race quickly turns into a fight about racial purity and Kevin is actually brought down by a scandal that his wolf wife ate the wife of his opponent, a tortoise. In a Contrived Coincidence, Kevin loses the race, but his daughter renders the results meaningless by producing the tortoise's wife, alive and bearing a half-weasel, half-tortoise child...thus forcing the tortoise to make the policy change anyway. The second election arc featured Kevin running for a school board position to roll back high-stakes testing (in this universe, the "high stakes" are a 1 in 10 chance that your child will be eaten alive during the test). While a school board position is a real position with debates and a need for a real campaign, the K&K still gets a strangely disproportionate amount of media coverage compared to a real school board debate. Regardless, the arc had a more realistic expectation of what Kevin could do and when he did win, the actual process of getting his desired change through was represented as sluggish and caught up in bureaucracy.
- American Dad! featured Stan treating the position of church deacon so seriously that he even hired Karl Rove and put Roger into a cruel sweat shop when they discovered using Roger's alien breast milk in potato salad got Stan more popularity. And why was Stan running for this position? To get a shady parking spot at church. He even drags Steve off to Mexico to get an abortion after an alien egg gets Steve pregnant. Eventually the problem is resolved when Steve, kissing Stan's opponent's daughter, accidentally transfers the alien baby to her and forcing her family to move out of town to avoid the shame of her pregnancy. If this sounds like this trope on drugs, well, welcome to American Dad!.
- In Doug, Doug's opponent for school treasurer was the Mayor of Bluffington's son, and the Mayor threw the full weight of his influence behind his son's campaign for school treasurer. This proved to be an example of the Mayor having a truly idiotic set of priorities, since he was so focused on helping his son win his student government election that he neglected his own campaign for reelection in the world of grownup city politics; and he lost his position as Mayor. As a cartoon character, he could conceivably be counting on Negative Continuity to save him from a defeat like this—but it did not. Tiffy Dink was the new Mayor of Bluffington.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends had Frankie tired of how Herriman ran the home, so she decided to run for the job. Bloo joins the campaign because - well, just because. Herriman, realizing that he couldn't win against Frankie on his own, makes a deal with Bloo to give up the race and become his campaign manager, and together launch a vicious smear campaign against Frankie. The election results with Frankie winning, but then giving the job back to Herriman after seeing him miserable as a supermarket bag boy.
- Harshly subverted in You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown. Linus runs for student council president, making promises that the office could never deliver. This being Peanuts, Linus learns in the end that he's completely subservient to the faculty and can't implement any of his policies...leading to the other students accusing him of selling out.
- Rocko's Modern Life had elections for dog catcher between Rocko (who wants more fair treatment for the dogs) and Ed Bighead (who is afraid that Rocko would let the town go to the dogs, literally). Through mudslinging tactics and an image makeover (basically adding shoulder pads on him), Ed wins the election, only thanks to new legislation, the job of dog catcher gets reduced to "glorified pooper-scooper".
- The Simpsons did this twice, once with a public office, and once with a school election. In "Trash of the Titans", in which Homer ran for Sanitation Commissioner, Homer obsesses with winning the campaign and proposes all kinds of things he can't deliver, leading to him eventually causing the destruction of the town via trash. In the early episode, "Lisa's Substitute", Bart runs for class president and doesn't care, ("It's just a popularity contest") until Homer talks him into caring ("Just a popularity contest? Excuse me. What's more important than popularity?"). At which point he campaigns like a mother and everybody wants him to win. On election day he throws a victory party, but then we find out that nobody bothered to vote (including Bart) - except his opponent and his opponent's campaign manager.
- South Park did this twice. The episode "Trapper Keeper" focused on the kindergarten class elections elevated to the levels of Serious Business to parody the 2000 presidential race. "Douche and Turd" showed an election of school mascot, in which the "candidates" were a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich, elevated into unbelievable importance. Stan was banished from the town for refusing to take such a silly election as Serious Business. Kyle calls Puff Daddy, who takes his "Vote or Die" campaign Up to Eleven:
Vote or die, motherfucker, motherfucker, vote or die!
Rock the vote or else I'm gonna stick a knife through your eye.
Democracy is founded on one simple rule!
Get out there and vote or I will motherfucking kill you.
- Tiny Toon Adventures combined student council elections with a parody of Citizen Kane, casting Montana Max in the role of a pint-sized Charles Foster Kane and Hamlet as a student reporter trying to learn the meaning behind a cryptic phrase uttered by Max.
- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids have an episode where their school has an election campaign for school president. Unfortunately, the two leading candidates are running along racial lines to the exclusion of any other issue. Fat Albert and a white female friend are so disgusted by this use of race for political advantage that they decide to run on a joint ticket promising to focus on the issues and to run a civil campaign. It's apparently a sound platform considering they win in a landslide.
- Johnny Bravo has the episode where Johnny and Carl run for litter commissioner - Johnny trying to pick ladies with it, of course. Though the serious business included Wacky Hijinks such the inclusion of a pie as a candidate after a man answers an opinion poll with "I like pie!". Johnny win, however since he doesn't understand or care about his job in the least his first order of business is to have a huge parade in his honour that covers the city in confetti, which he's forced to clean up by those same girls he was trying to win.