I too, am guilty.
There is a current socio/political trend that is lending itself towards an irrational dynamic. Like many irrational behaviors, it is largely motivated by fear. This “trend” I speak of, is when American citizens begin with a subjective political assertion, and gather evidence –whether it be real, manufactured, or a little both– to support it. These declarations are often made without regard for acumen, rather the impetus is to affirm one’s blind allegiance to their chosen dogma… Or to put it more bluntly, paranoia caused by partisan hyperbole. And while toting a “party line” has been an establish practice for generations, the vitriol and adversarial approach to our fellow Americans has become a tragic part of the new Americana.
For instance, I have lifelong friends who reside on both sides of the political aisle who are the exemplification of this sociological paradigm. Almost without exception, they’ll depict a political landscape whereby good and evil are easily recognizable, dependent upon one’s political affiliation. Representatives from either party are often labeled as socialists, fascists, elitists or stupid… and while there are times when any of those labels might seem justified, it is the cavalier manner in which they are so casually tossed about which allows for bombast to have trumped reasonable objections to policy.
The reasons for this social malady are many, depending on who is making the assertion. The psychological payoff, it would appear, is to try to tether oneself to something both righteous and tangible in a world spinning out of control, socially, politically, and economically. It is simply how the culture of fear manifests itself. When one considers how media contributes to this dynamic, certainly it is understandable how we can vilify and canonize so recklessly. We behave more like Sharks and Jets than Democrats and Republicans, and as such our angst is able to seek its expression through our natural discourse.
But for the sources of the cultural divide –those who manufacture these extremes– the motives are not nearly as honorable. Those who profit from any given media platform have recognized the profitable forum in extremism, and thus prey upon the angst of those whom they purport to be enlightening. The laughably biased –albeit lyrical– affirmations of “truth” made by political televangelists on cable news have compromised the imaginative ability of the proletariat to which they preach, resulting in the regurgitation of fact challenged, wingnut propaganda by average citizens on blogs, and in social media. In the ideological turf war, the battle to win the hearts and minds of those not centrifugally pinned to either political extreme is being waged through those who are. In a nation fast losing its ability to employ critical thinking, reason is now viewed as weakness. The inability to rationally articulate one’s socio/political concerns in non-polarizing terms has been denounced, because the truth –as many of us see it– is not actually based on our own perceptions, but rather the perceptions of those on whom we place our misguided trust.
Which brings us to the point of this article, which is an observation about the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Regardless of our political leanings, I hope that we Americans can differentiate between condemning our entire financial system, and calling to task those who have undermined it for personal profit. I hope that we can understand the difference between capitalism, and corporatism. I trust that we recognize that when political influence is purchased though lobbying or when competition is artificially removed from the marketplace, that we no longer live in a democracy, nor do we live in a capitalist society. Something un-American is occurring where it concerns the collusive relationship between capital interests, and congress. The Tea Party saw it, and so do the OWS.
But with few exceptions, both the liberal and conservative media –which provides many with their philosophical rudder– ignores these facts. Rather they fan flames of partisanship because profit lies in our contention with one another. Actuality has given way to the portrait they want us to see. And while I have little doubt that this movement –like the Tea Party before it– will be co-opted by special interests, it does not deter from the evidence, or the larger picture. Regardless of whether one is able to channel their inner hippie and support these protestors, or whether they are the re-incarnation of William F Buckley and denounce them as whiney, entitled, and without a work ethic… it should not dissuade us from recognizing that there are those in both the private and public sectors who are escaping incarceration because we Americans have allowed ourselves to become distracted by political theater.
Men of great integrity, like our founders, probably could have never seen this coming. It would have been counter-intuitive for them. It’s doubtful that the builders of our nation could have ever imagined so many journalists compromising their integrity and betraying those who put their trust in the press for their personal interests.
When the founders of our country wrote the First Amendment of the Constitution, they did so with the understanding that the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative branches of our government all needed to be watched over by an uninhibited free press. It was reasoned that with journalists scrutinizing the comings and goings in our political system, it would –among other things– guard against collusion amongst our elected officials, and protect legislators from themselves by applying consequences for giving into temptation. The philosophy was that with the threat of public exposure, the repercussions of corruption would outweigh the risk.
However with the advent of political lobbying on behalf of the media, the relationship between the free press, and our two major political parties has itself become collusive. Access to Washington has been exchanged for non neutrality. Both Republicans and Democrats now have editorialists feigning impartiality, and networks that act more like public relations firms, on their respective party’s payrolls.
But it gets even worse…
There was a time in the not too distant past when politics and entertainment were two totally separate media venues. There has –to some extent– always been an understanding that important socio/political issues needed to be regarded as such, and not be irresponsibly lumped in with Hollywood gossip and reality TV. But with our Twittering politicians showing themselves to be the socially autistic buffoons that they truly are, they’ve sadly obscured much of that distinction. Many of our legislators have become unwittingly comical caricatures of who they were trying to present themselves to be, and as such have exposed their jugulars to an opportunistic media. With up to the minute news available 24/7, we Americans are now barraged with political theater… be it comedy, tragedy, or in most cases, awe inspiring stupidity.
Which brings us to the present state of “News-ertainment”.
As a result of the collusive relationship between the nation’s top two parties and the networks that do their bidding, facts are often skewed — if not manufactured– in order to promote an agenda. This, of course, is not actual news reporting. But those doing the reporting, and their respective networks would have us believe otherwise. Rather than presenting unbiased facts with a professional, emotional detachment… News “personalities” now try to entertain with vapid, semi humorous, slanted observations, which in turn they hope will either amuse us or incite a vitriolic reaction. Cable news hosts rarely report on their own party’s verbal faux pas, platform inconsistencies, irrational hyperbole, or personal indiscretions nearly to the extent that they do their competition. The current trend is ratings via myopic indignation.
Unfortunately, we Americans have become desensitized to the corrupt alliance of government and media. We have become so cynical and jaded that we have come to accept that greed trumps integrity… so the original purpose of having a news media unencumbered by censorship has become bastardized by advertising revenue. Many of us feel powerless to do anything about it. Yet many more of us fail to recognize the problem at all.
However there has been an interesting dynamic introduced to the news media over the past few years which was born from the overt, and sometimes even purposely misleading bias of Cable News. Because many of those who were charged with protecting our political system via journalistic integrity have abandoned that task in favor of ego driven dogmatism and ratings inspired bombast, that job has been largely left unfilled. As such, those reporting on our political process are in need of third party scrutiny themselves.
The watchers are now being watched. The powerless have a voice.
Exposing political and news inaccuracies, comedians like John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert have stepped in to inject oxygen into the socio/political integrity vaccuum and expose the present state of cable news journalism for what it is… fraudulent editorializing worthy of ridicule. And unlike the talking meat puppets on cable news who fail miserably at their comical endeavors, Stewart and Colbert are as funny as they are astute. Although they both obviously have personal political leanings, unlike their counterparts who claim to be unbiased journalists, Stewart and Colbert are not shy to expose politicians from either party, or news anchors from any network for behaving like intellectually attenuated dolts.
Just as corrupt politicians once feared the news media…. the corrupt news media now fears Stewart and Colbert.
I was on the Washington Mall when Stewart and Colbert held their “Rally to Restore Sanity”. I witnessed roughly two hundred thousand people gather in front of stage near the Capitol building and extend all the way back to the Lincoln memorial. I was able to see firsthand how the void created by the news media was being filled by a uniquely American mechanism… reason given expression through satire.
…and while we’re watching, aand laughing at the expense of ignominious politicians, and less than credible journalists… let’s try to remember what gave birth to this medium in the first place.
Do we cut spending, or raise taxes? That is the question that every inept congressperson prattles an inane commentary about daily on cable news. The reactions to which, depending on any particular viewer’s political affiliation, can range from acclaim to outrage. Like rubes, we Americans find ourselves willing participants in the vitriolic theater which has become of our socio/political discourse, and encourage it through under-informed cheer leading, and our desire to not feel so helpless. However if one allows themselves to not be swayed by their own political leanings –let alone their personal biases– it becomes clear that the rehearsed, sound bite induced platitudes which our legislative representatives spew into our living rooms are more about campaigning than actual governing.
It’s politics as pro wrestling.
But perhaps even more unfortunate, is that many more Americans have become overwhelmed by the enormity of the present fiscal disaster –as well as ongoing global strife — and have cashed out of the political process entirely. As if we are witnessing the adult equivalent of hiding under the covers, people’s instinct for self preservation has caused many to retreat into a dummied down fantasy world of reality TV and libidinous internet interaction. Having had enough of the banal bombast that they hear every day from those purporting themselves as our representatives, many have understandably lost faith in the political process. So they vote for American Idol instead.
Consequently, we are left with a populace that’s either unwilling, or unable to emotionally invest in the political system.
Which brings us to our news entertainers, our political televangelists and their so-called solutions to our economic woes. As Benjamin Disraeli once so astutely commented, “There are three kinds of lies, Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.” Regarding the present fiscal crisis, politicians from both parties have reduced their economic platform to lyrical sound bites. Hoping to appeal to the average Americans senses of fairness and vengeance, both democrats and republicans convolute statistical information so as to create a false reality which makes their cause appear more righteous. While it’s true that we do need to “cut spending” and/or ” increase revenue,” virtually every politician has the ability to produce statistical information that will make their assertions appear valid, and to portray their opponents as special interest pawns . The reality is that neither party is truly interested in addressing the deficit, or has any desire to turn around the economy. If they did, they would concern themselves with facts over rhetoric.
But as John Adams once said, “Facts are Stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes or our inclinations, it cannot alter the state of facts, or evidence.” The facts are that neither reducing domestic spending and/or raising taxes are not going to have the effect on the deficit or the economy that either party claims. The facts are, that if less money filters to states and local municipalities, and if previously subsidized social programs become de-funded, that they’ll have to raise revenue imposing other types of financial burdens. The middle class is going to pay regardless. The facts are that no one is willing to defy their party and talk reason on where and how our tax dollars are already being spent. All of this over-simplified economic blather is simply theater, designed to petition our angst and curry favor.
Much of the present state of American politics –not to mention the public’s perception of it– is the result of “news” organizations having shifted their business models from fact based journalism to ratings driven editorializing. So where it concerns either party’s economic platform, the focus of our elected officials is no longer to represent those who elected them into office, rather it is to make their opponents appear less electable. It has all become entertainment, resulting in most Americans having developed a cynical understanding that regardless of who they vote for, the middle class is going to bear the burden.
So go ahead, my fellow Americans, and root on your party’s premiere entertainers and their economic platform. Sit in your economic kettle as the heat gets turned up. Should we cut spending or raise taxes? The truth is that unless someone on our political landscape has the courage to address the more significant portions of how our existing tax dollars are already being spent…we’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t.