Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Politics of 'The Shallows'

What ails American democracy? Too much information and too little thought

What impact has the modern media environment had on the 2016 campaign? I know that’s a boring sentence, but journalists and politicians talk about it a lot, journalists uneasily and politicians with frustration. The 24/7 news cycle and the million multiplying platforms with their escalating demands — for pictures, video, sound, the immediate hot take — exhaust politicians and staff, and media people too. Everyone is tired, and chronically tired people live, perilously, on the Edge of Stupid. More important, modern media realities make everything intellectually thinner, shallower. Everything moves fast; we talk not of the scandal of the day but the scandal of the hour, reducing a great event, a presidential campaign, into an endless river of gaffes.

The need to say something becomes the tendency to say anything. It makes everything dumber, grosser, less important.

This year I am seeing something, especially among the young of politics and journalism. They have received most of what they know about political history through screens. They are college graduates, they’re in their 20s or 30s, they’re bright and ambitious, but they have seen the movie and not read the book. They’ve heard the sound bite but not read the speech. Their understanding of history, even recent history, is superficial. They grew up in the internet age and have filled their brainspace with information that came in the form of pictures and sounds. They learned through sensation, not through books, which demand something deeper from your brain. Reading forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect. It provides a deeper understanding of political figures and events.

Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading about it shows you a dilemma. The book makes you imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events: It makes your brain do work. A movie is received passively: You sit back, see, hear. Books demand and reward. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands. In time that depth comes to inform your work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious.

In the past 18 months I talked to three young presidential candidates — people running for president, real grown-ups — who, it was clear to me by the end of our conversations, had, in their understanding of modern American political history, seen the movie and not read the book. Two of them, I’ve come to know, can recite whole pages of dialogue from movies. (It is interesting to me that the movies our politicians have most memorized are “The Godfather” Parts I and II.)

Everyone in politics is getting much of what they know through the internet, through Google searches and Wikipedia. They can give you a certain sense of things but are by nature quick and shallow reads that link to other quick and shallow reads. Sometimes subjects are treated in a tendentious manner, reflecting the biases or limited knowledge of the writer.

If you get your information mostly through the Web, you’ll get stuck in “The Shallows,” which is the name of a book by Nicholas Carr about what the internet is doing to our brains. Media, he reminds us, are not just channels of information: “They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought.” The internet is chipping away at our “capacity for concentration and contemplation.” “Once I was a scuba driver in the sea of words,” writes Mr. Carr. “Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

If you can’t read deeply you will not be able to think deeply. If you can’t think deeply you will not be able to lead well, or report well.

There is another aspect of this year’s media environment, and it would be wrong not to speak it. It is that the mainstream media appear to have decided Donald Trump is so uniquely a threat to democracy, so appalling as a political figure, such a break with wholesome political tradition, that they are justified in showing, day by day, not only opposition but utter antagonism toward him. That surely has some impact on what Kellyanne Conway calls “undercover Trump voters.” They know what polite people think of them; they know their support carries a social stigma. Last week I saw a CNN daytime anchor fairly levitate with anger as she reported on Mr. Trump; I thought she was going to have an out-of-body experience and start floating over the shiny glass desk. She surely knew she’d pay no price for her shown disdain, and might gain Twitter followers.

Guys, this isn’t helping. Tell the story, ask the questions, trust the people, give it to them straight, report both sides. It’s the most constructive thing you could do right now, when any constructive act comes as a real relief.

In a country whose institutions are in such fragile shape, mainstream media very much among them, it does no good for its members to damage further their own reputations for fairness, probity, judgment. Books will be written about this, though I’m not sure they’ll read them.

As to Monday’s debate, Hillary Clinton won. The story leading up to it was that she was frail, her health bad. Instead she was vibrant, confident, smiling and present. Sometimes when Mrs. Clinton speaks you sense she’s operating at a level of distraction, reviewing her performance in real time or thinking about dinner. Here her mind was on the mission. She did not fall into the hectoring cadence that is a harassment to the ear. She said nothing remotely interesting.

Mr. Trump’s job was to leave you able to imagine him as president. You could have, but it would be a grumpy, grouchy president with thin skin.

Neither quite got across the idea that they were in it for America and not themselves.

When you are a politician leaving the debate stage you always know if you won. You can feel it. You know when it worked and when it didn’t. You ask everyone, “How’d I do?” but you know the answer. And you’re happy. What you get after such a victory is the whoosh. The whoosh is the wind at your back that gives the spring to your step. You get the jolly look and your laugh is a real laugh and not an enactment, and all this makes you better at the next stop, which makes the crowd cheer louder, and then you really know you’ve got the whoosh.

The whoosh can carry you for days or weeks, until there’s a reversal of some kind. Then you lose the sense of magical good fortune and peerless personal performance and the audience senses it, gets quieter, and suddenly the whoosh is gone.

But right now Mrs. Clinton has it.

She’ll probably overplay her hand. That’s what she does. Her sense of her own destiny blinds her to her tendency toward misjudgment. She’ll call Trump supporters a bucket of baneful baddies.

Since the debate Mr. Trump is angry and is going straight into junkyard dog mode, which won’t work well.

This tells me the next week or so she’s on the upalator and he’s on the downalator. After that, we’ll see.



Entertainment as Indoctrination

In October 2008, when presidential candidate Barack Obama declared, "We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America," few had the imagination of how radically dramatic and devastating that would prove to be. Just a few days ago, Bernie Sanders joined Hillary Clinton at her rally to woo the impressionable youth with the right to vote with the familiar rhetorical posit, "Is everybody here ready to transform America? You've come to the right place."

Clearly, "progressive" means the ever-progressing destruction of traditional American values. This includes fundamentally transforming family, church and synagogue, neighborhood, schools, marriage, authentic Liberty and, sadly, even the truth. And the Left regularly chastises the Right for not going along with this "tolerance." Such chastisement comes from Saul Alinsky's Rule # 5: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon."

For example, we'll look at two TV shows that show how our entertainment industry seeks to affect the outcome of redefining marriage and a sense of self.

Brent Bozell and Tim Graham offered the case in point in their analysis of the ABC TV show, "Modern Family." The gents framed up what we've long called entertainment as indoctrination quite nicely by walking readers through the liberal success of portraying same-sex marriage as commonplace. Despite about 500,000 same-sex marriages as reported by USA Today in June this year, compared to the more than 60 million traditional marriages reported in 2015, a 1% occurrence has been defined as commonplace on TV.

Until the 1970s, entertainment mirrored our society. Today, entertainment works to chisel away at the bedrock of morality, decency and even commonsense, to have society model its sad display of everything from excessive sexuality and objectifying women to the outright disdain for manhood.

The writers of "Modern Family" weren't satisfied with portraying same-sex marriage as common, so they're now introducing a transgender character — and a child, no less.

In their scrutiny, Bozell and Graham noted the Disney-owned ABC, along with many other hard Left activists who dominate the entertainment industry, is exposed as a cultural deconstructionist with an agenda not to entertain but to indoctrinate. An eight-year-old Atlanta actor selected to "play" the transgender boy will allegedly press the homosexual characters of the show to examine if their tolerance is elastic enough. Translation: The new normal is not only same-sex marriage but the further reaches of gender disorientation pathology.

"Modern Family" doesn't stand alone. Arguably more insidious is ABC's "Once Upon a Time," because it's a show marketed to families. The show features fairy tale characters transported into our world, and it's a clever jumble of Snow White, Prince Charming and the Evil Queen, along with Rumpelstiltskin, Hook, Robin Hood and the Wicked Witch of the West, to name a few. Most of the fun is harmless. Except when it's not.

In an episode that originally aired this April, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz shared a romantic storyline with Little Red Riding Hood, ending with "true love's kiss" breaking a sleeping spell. In an interview with "Entertainment Weekly," the co-creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz lay out the lesbian-themed story plainly and clearly: It was "just another example of how in a fairy tale, as in life, love is love. Our goal is to make it as we see it in the real world, just as normal and as a part of everyday life as it should be."

It's the embodiment of the Left's "love wins" slogan. They weren't winning by claiming rights, so they had to change strategies. Once it became about love, they had a winning formula. Unsuspecting families watching "Once Upon a Time" find themselves identifying and sympathizing with two lesbian characters who are simply following their hearts. What could be so wrong with that?

Every single day this battle for the minds of our children and culture at large is being waged. And, sadly, the militant Left is winning. They're winning by portraying falsehoods as reality, even if it is fairy tale based. They're winning by creating emotional narratives around a weakness in our society — the confidence in one's own identity.

The last few generations of our children have been exposed and trained up with the philosophy that self-esteem is the most critical element in the success of child-rearing and development. We now have millions of youth and young adults who believe they are, indeed, very important. So important that they should have free college tuition. They are entitled to a safe space where their "gender identity" is fluid and must be validated by everyone around them. And "love" — however they define it today — is an end in itself.

In using the term "culture," we connote it to be the anthropological composition of accepted values, habits, knowledge, beliefs and behaviors that are manifested in arts and entertainment, families, religions, government, business, the media and "journalism" and educational systems. Our culture has been inarguably changed over the years with these seven entities being weaponized to create a culture, instead of reflecting a society.

Let's for a moment view "culture" in the sense of an artificial medium rich with nutrients and resources in a controlled environment that feed organisms devoted to replication. Once this culture of like-minded creatures has colonized sufficiently and are introduced into a host environment — the aforementioned venues — the insult begins and the host can and will be overwhelmed.

What's the cure? Not more of the same!



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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