Last week Ann Coulter appeared on Donny Deutsch’s show on CNBC. Amazingly, Donny managed to pull an interview out of Ann that I’ve never seen before. He absolutely refused to allow her to dictate the conversation by adhering to the notion of radical liberals. Without that imaginary bogeyman to fall back on Ann floundered in the interview, and her usually arrogant and bigoted rhetoric came across as even more misinformed and hateful.
One of the reasons I like the Daily Show and The Colbert Report so much is because both Jon and Stephen refuse to be drawn into the whole ideological battle between the republicans and the democrats; instead they stand just outside the arena chunking stones at the participants. While you pretty much know where they stand on most issues (Colbert’s harder to pin down), they’re equal opportunity satirists. Neither of them ever fails to call attention to political bullshit, whether said bullshit originated from the republicans or democrats. I find that refreshing. We could a lot more honesty in our political arena, and a lot less blind adherence to partisan rhetoric and talking points.
In the book “The Media in Your Life,” the authors discuss Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s theory “the spiral of silence.” According to the theory there are three major factors at play that influence consumers of mass media: “(1) cumulation, or the increasing effect of media across time; (2) ubiquity, or the experiencing of media messages almost all of the time; and (3) consonance, or the presentation of a consistent unified picture of the political world” (501).
Let’s look at those factors and consider their individual roles in our lives.
(1) Cumulation. During my lifetime I’ve watched as 24-hour news networks slowly took over how people receive news; overtaking the nightly news as broadcast by the networks, and even overtaking the more traditional newspapers. Recently, internet sites have begun to overtake the popularity of even the 24-hour stations, and more and more people are learning how to utilize RSS feeds to personalize their news needs. News and news transmittance has grown exponentially, so that there are literally hundreds of ways to receive it. Which leads me to factor two:
(2) Ubiquity. News and the media are everywhere, from our computers to our cell phones, and even on our video game consoles. If you live in the United States you literally have to make a concerted effort to escape the barrage of media. We are a culture saturated and bombarded by media messages.
(3) Consonance. This one interests me the most, for many reasons. I think if you asked anyone about our political climate, regardless of their political affiliation, you’d probably hear many similar descriptions like: divisive; argumentative; extreme (left/right); arrogant; etc”¦ But the thing is, when you actually talk to individual people, I think you’ll find that we disagree much less and agree much more than the media portrays.
I very much agree with Donny Deutsch in that Coulter interview about extreme views being a complete illusion created by politicos and the media. In my mind, these extremist views serve two purposes: a) The stations sell advertising by attracting viewers, and animosity and hatred make for good T.V.; b) The politicians are best served by a divided constituency. They can waste time on bullshit topics like gay marriage and flag burning because those are the issues that get them re-elected, instead of substantive issues like addressing the deficit, net neutrality, and getting our troops the hell out of the Middle East. Most people don’t understand those issues, and if they did there’s no way to clearly delineate two opposing sides, therefore the politicians would actually have to think for once when discussing solutions.
Now, here’s where it gets a little bit worrisome. These three factors all work together to mold:
…people’s perceptions of dominant political ideas. The majority of people do not share the dominant ideas expressed in the media, the spiral of silence theory argues, but the media consumers think they do because of the powerful media converge. People in the majority assume that they are in the minority, an assumption that makes them less likely to speak out about the issues. Over time, the ”˜silent majority’ remains quite, and ideas that are held by a minority of people dominate the political discussion. (501-502)
You get that? So, that means that those terms “liberal” and “neo-con” are actually political outlooks perpetuated by a minority of people, but because of the cumulation, ubiquity, and the consonance of the media most people mistakenly believe that they conform to those political roles. When in reality, they most likely fall squarely in the middle, diverging on a few political aspects and agreeing on many.
What’s scary is that the theory of the spiral of silence tells us that eventually those minority views become the majority, simply because the silent majority fails to speak out.
Don’t let the talking heads in the media dictate where you stand on the hot topics of the day. It’s okay to think that abortion should be strictly regulated and also think that gay marriage should be left up to the states. Don’t feel bad if you support stem cell research but still stand behind our presence in Iraq. Just remember: we’ll always have differences, but despite what the jackasses on TV want you to think we all want the best for our country. We should celebrate our differences and unite in our similarities.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your political stances. Just make sure that you have well informed opinions before you decide to engage in a conversation, and if you don’t, resist the temptation to simply parrot whatever nonsense you heard on Hannity and Colmes or Lou Dobbs. Despite what the pundits say, the people, our collective populace, all want the best for our country. I’m not sure if our elected officials share that sentiment, so don’t let them pigeon-hole and manipulate you for the security of their career.
Folkerts, Jean, Stephen Lacy, and Lucinda Davenport.The Media In your Life: An Introduction to Mass Communication.1st Ed. Boston:Allyn and Bacon, 1998.