This is going to seem like an odd recommendation for a political blog, but here it goes.
Are you puzzled by the Tea Party Movement? Does the hysterical tone of both political extremes leave you baffled and concerned? Do you worry that the Republican Party is swerving uncontrollably under the weight of bizarre, extremist rhetoric? Want to understand where this comes from and why otherwise reasonable people fall for it?
Take a little time over the next few weeks to watch this show. Ghost Hunters is a reality show that follows a group of people who go are, well…hunting for ghosts. You might imagine that it’s a pretty risky premise. After three or four episodes of filming nothing people are going to lose interest, right? Wrong.
Ratings have been outstanding and the show is now in its sixth season. Spin-off shows and copycats on other networks are also holding their own. So, how do they keep an audience engaged through hour after hour of empty footage?
“LOOK over there!” Cue the creepy music.
“Oh my God! Did you hear that voice?” No.
“I saw what looked like a shadow go by that window, but we weren’t able to find anything.”
And so on…And so on…And so on.
It turns out you don’t need to interview a ghost to maintain interest in a ghost-based “reality” show. You don’t even need to find one.
So what does this have to do with politics? To a large extent we measure reality in terms of commonality. The question uttered nervously in the dark, “Did you hear that?” is an effort to sift what’s real from all the clutter. If the response is, “Hear what? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the tension drops a notch.
If the response is, “That noise? You mean the thundering sound of jack-booted, black, Nazi Communists coming to take your guns? Hell yea, reload!” the response might be the opposite.
Watch ten minutes of Ghost Hunters, followed by ten minutes of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox, and then maybe ten minutes of The Ed show on MSNBC just for balance. What will you discover? It’s the same format.
My kid, after hours spent watching Grandma sit in front of MSNBC, once commented, “They just say the same thing over and over again.” The one-sided, propagandistic hammering pounds the mind into putty. If you want badly enough to believe that the sky is green, the commentators on Fox or MSNBC can teach you to distrust your eyes. And all the while they will call it “balance.”
Shows like Ghost Hunters succeed for the same reason Ann Coulter can still sell books and Michael Moore can sell tickets. Balance, moderation, and sanity are boring. Increasingly in politics, as in other public fields, we want to be entertained. This is eroding any sense of reality as a check on extremism in politics. An idea can fail completely, bring on war, catastrophe and economic collapse, and not lose any of its allure.
When we stop seeing a common set of facts we lose the ability to find common ground. Worse yet, we fail to recognize when the consequences of our delusions start yielding their inevitable damage. We keep plodding along, oblivious to the bleeding.
The solution is not so much to spend time listening to the other side’s propaganda as to turn off the agitprop altogether. Switching back and forth from Hannity to Olbermann is just swinging from distortion to distortion. There may be reconnaissance value in knowing what kind of BS the other side is embracing, but it might be better to just search for reality.
“Did you hear that?” No. Calm down and change the channel.
Filed under: Uncategorized |