Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Manufacturing Consent

It's hard not talking about this election.  It has stirred up a level of ignorance not seen in a very long time.  The social media is lit up with memes like this one that infer that somehow we got along just fine before the federal income tax was introduced in 1913.  We didn't become a superpower until WWII thanks to federal income and corporate taxes, and would have never been able to undertake the interstate road system in the 1950s without these taxes, but that doesn't stop persons from posting memes they get from the comical conservative and other right-wing blogs.

Rather than make us smarter, the Internet appears to have made us dumber.  There is a wealth of information available at our fingertips, but for the most part we choose to ignore it, preferring instead to visit websites that support our insipid world views.  Social media has become a vast support network where you establish your social circle based on similar interests rather than broadening your views by having them challenged.  Most people take their "news" from websites, which they freely distribute mostly in the form of memes.  If you can't reduce what you want to say to a pithy sentence you can forget it.  Very few persons are going to take the time to read your long view.

Sound bites have been around for a long time.  We've long enjoyed quotations that reduce complex ideas and events down to their rawest elements, but social media has increased the use of these sound bites exponentially, particularly twitter, where you are limited to 140 characters.  Instagram peddles 3 to 60-second videos.  You can expand your thoughts on facebook, but they are typically truncated on your timeline to save valuable space.  As a result, we are bombarded with these sound bites each and every day, and usually retort the same way in turn, spurring heated exchanges.

There is very little discussion.  We have seen some epic "twitter wars" between celebrities and politicians.  One of the more recent amusing battles was between Sean Hannity and Bill Kristol over support of Donald Trump.  Sean eventually claimed victory based on the amount "likes."  I've had "friends" do the same on facebook.  I suppose this is what passes for "debate" these days, seeing who can come up with the best zinger that everyone "likes."

Sadly, this is a dumbing down process that doesn't actually allow us to engage in ideas, because it all too quickly descends into personal insults when facile 140-character arguments fail.  I notice that a lot of my "friends" on fb go out of their way to deny their views are influenced by conservative media, even when they regurgitate the very same talking points spewed out that day.  It is also true of liberal friends, who become way to reliant on MSNBC for their "news."  Fox and MSNBC have become agit-prop news channels feeding their core viewers with manufactured opinions.

Noam Chomsky warned of this back in the late 80s.  His book Manufacturing Consent was made into a searing documentary that is well worth seeing.  Vast syndicates control the media at the local and national level.  All those local rags are owned by syndicates like Gannett media, which peddles a conservative view.  These syndicates also buy up blogs and peddle their views through the social media.  Sadly, the conservative media syndicates appear to be far more powerful than the mainstream and liberal media syndicates, which is why guys like Baba O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh enjoy 8 and 9-figure contracts, well above their mainstream and liberal contemporaries.

The result is that we are seeing a tyranny of the minority.  According to Gallup, only 38% of Americans identify themselves as conservative.  Most Americans identify themselves as moderates and liberals.

This election process has been heavily slanted to the right from the beginning.  It started with the primaries, where watching the Republicans was far more entertaining than the Democrats.  Who could resist the Hunger Games that ensued with 16 GOP candidates, whereas the Democrats could only muster two worthy tributes.  It has rolled right through the general election as Trump is infinitely more media savvy than Hillary, who has tried to keep to the straight and narrow through this electoral gauntlet.

The lies that have been peddled in her name just keep being circulated.  When Donald Trump was finally forced to drop the birther issue, he made sure to pin it on Hillary, despite this lie having been equally debunked.  The news media seemed to miss that his bombshell admission was nothing more than a clever ruse to promote his new hotel in the old Post Office Building of Washington, DC.

Thanks to the media fawning over Trump's every word, he has been able to offset the huge gap he faces in campaign contributions.  That may change when Trump finally has to debate Hillary, although he has made sure to tell everyone that the debates are rigged against him.  We're still not sure he will actually participate, which the media likewise scrutinizes in every detail further fueling his narcissistic fantasies.

We are approaching the dangerous state of an "Idiocracy," 500 years before our time thanks to an all too compliant news media that prefers confrontation to actual news.  It's nice to have guys like Shep Smith and Rachel Maddow remind us what a liar Donald Trump is, but they are voices in the virtual wilderness at this stage of the game.  No match for the cackle of voices we are made privy to on social media everyday.  One would like to think reason will prevail, but at this point I'm not very optimistic.

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