By RICHARD ROEPER
CHARLOTTE -- Whether it's the Oscars or the MTV Music Awards or the Democratic National Convention, whenever you enter the arena hosting an event largely made for television, you're always struck by how much better it'll look on TV than it does in person.
All the wires and cables and makeshift workspaces, all the handwritten signs and duct tape, all the equipment, stays off camera. Even the stage, with the banner proclaiming "AMERICANS COMING TOGETHER" and the looming image of the Statue of Liberty, isn't exactly overwhelming. It's maybe "whelming" at best.
Late Monday night, I'm in a short line at a security checkpoint for the Time Warner Cable Arena, just behind a bunch of guys wearing yellow shirts with the Queen City crown logo of Charlotte on the back, along with their job description: "Solid Waste Services." (It immediately brings to mind a variation on the old joke. "Quit? What, and give up politics?")
Once inside I make my way to the main floor. Groups of young people take turns getting their picture taken at the same lectern where speeches will be made by Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Pat Quinn, Sandra Fluke, Rahm Emanuel and probably not Clint Eastwood. (Although Kal Penn, the former Obama White House staffer best known for playing Kumar in the "Harold and Kumar" movies, is scheduled to speak Tuesday night. He's on right after Rahm.) They're giddy with excitement, posing with their arms flung out or while pretending to address the world.
The blue carpeting on the main floor is already showing signs of wear and tear, as if the party was over instead of just starting. Not that the Time-Warner Cable Arena is a shabby old barn. The home of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats (7 wins, 59 losses last season) opened just seven years ago. And no doubt everything will look shiny and sparkling when the seats are filled with the Democrat faithful and the stage is set for those TV cameras.
Each state's turf is marked with red-white-and-blue signs and a small lectern with a microphone attached, so they can make the traditional proclamation: "Mr. Chairman, the great state of Illinois, home of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, home to more convicted governors than any other state in this great land..."
As you'd expect, Illinois has a prominent position on the main floor near the stage. Mitt Romney's home state of Massachusetts? Yeah, they're a little bit back there. Delegates: bring binoculars. As for Wisconsin, land of Paul Ryan: if this were a concert, they'd be staring at a bank of amps. They're on the second level, far stage left, right next to America Samoa.
Coincidence, I'm sure.
Leave the fruit. Take the camera.
Even though the heavens might open on Thursday night as President Obama takes the stage at the Bank of America Stadium, umbrellas will NOT be allowed into the venue. Could get kind of Woodstock-y out there.
The list of items that will not be permitted into the established security perimeters always includes a few painfully obvious reminders as well as a few head-scratchers, as in, "Why'd they feel the need to specifically mention THAT?" A partial accounting of the things you can't bring:
- Firearms, weapons, knives or replicas (regardless of size)
- Fireworks, explosives
- Whole fruit
- Tasers, stun guns or similar devices
- Sharp and other pointed objects (i.e., scissors, knitting needles)
Wait. Baseballs? Why mention baseballs but hockey pucks, footballs or Frisbee Flying Discs?
Also, God forbid, but if you're the kind of idiot/maniac that would try to bring a gun or explosives to a political convention, you're probably not going to be deterred by The List of Restricted Items.
As for the ban on noisemakers and horns and signs and banners--can't have anything that will ruin the TV show. Can't have folks blowing horns and holding up signs touting their various causes.
No room for rogue enthusiasm that hasn't been thoroughly vetted. This isn't some Occupy rally. GOP or Dem, Tampa or Charlotte, it's the same song, albeit with different lyrics. This is an organized, carefully managed, orchestrated infomercial.
You can follow Richard on Twitter throughout the convention.