Surviving Elections

Ignore pundits. Including me. Ignore anyone who presumes to predict the future with confidence. 
 
Avoid 24 hour news outlets: In order of influence: FOX News, CNN, MSNBC. Their model is the same. The News as Sports. Civic Culture as Civil War. What all of these venues have done is incorporate the methods of advertising and entertainment in order to make the news something other than information to be gathered and more like merchandise to be sold. All of these personalities throwing opinions at you are being paid to advocate certain positions. The length of an average cut is rarely more than 3-5 seconds. We are delivered lot’s of information and tons of interpretation, but are never given a moment to think. 
 
When you are watching FOX, CNN, MSNBC you are watching unrelenting trance inducing marketing strategy. In terms of news, studies have shown that the accuracy of a person’s predictions vis a vis politics is in inverse proportion to the amount of time that person spends appearing on the media. 
 
Watching MSNBC the other night I was hugely entertained, and appalled. An amazing demonstration of the principle of Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism: “The Medium Is The Message.” 
 
Everything important in political advertising can be conveyed with the sound turned off. You are presented with iconic representations of all of the things you already feel. A drama. A story. ED, of the ED Show on MSNBC is Uncle Ed the union guy who had to struggle to get by when he was young and emerged a fight and organizer of the common people. He speaks almost exclusively a litany of slogans and talking points. He has this in common with Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. In “ED’s” case the style is less like sportscaster and more like Glenn Beck, evangelistic. He’s the Christ like figure crying out in the wilderness for a modicum of reason. Whatever the political slant the essential message is some variation of, “Fire” “Flood” “Fight!” None of these so-called ‘news’ shows are primarily about information, at least not really useful information. Their message is primarily emotional and anxiety inducing. Whether ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ the intended effects are pretty much the same.
 
You may ask yourself, does watching either FOX News or MSNBC (whatever your flavor) make you feel more confident, more positive about the future? Does it convey to you a sense that you are part of a community dealing positively with common problems or is it the feeling that we are divided into armed camps? Does it make your perceived problems and dilemmas appear more resolvable, or does it give you the sense that we are collectively sinking into an ocean of chaos?
 
A media experience that narrows rather than widens a person’s perspective is not really news, it’s propaganda. My recommendation to everyone is to limit your exposure to television news as much as possible. If you watch the news, stick to shows that feature extended interviews and a variety of viewpoints rather than the daily propaganda feeds of the cable news networks. By merely not watching the parade of hype and salesmanship you will be less misinformed, will appear smarter, and it will relieve much stress.    
 
Television is a drug to which many are addicted. This partially explains the collective absorption with unreality that haunts generations who grew up in worlds defined primarily by television. To a later generation, growing up in what can almost be called the ‘post-television’ era, the variety of available media channels is almost staggering. Young people are used to swimming in a saturated stew of media input that they use individually to create a ‘mixed and matched’ portrait of themselves and of the world around them. They are more aware of the fact that our image of the world is largely made of fictions that each of us cobbles together to make sense of it all.   
 
The demographic of those for whom cable news is their primary source of world information is mostly over 50. As a group they comprise those who are perhaps most distrustful of the present and most apprehensive about the future. They’ve been mostly raised in a world dominated by images of advertising dedicated to the message that we are lacking in something, and if we can only reach over here…we will be happier. Perhaps then our lives will more resemble those whose pretend lives we watch on television. 
 
Meanwhile, the interactive worlds of computer and cell phones are less responsive to conventional modes of social manipulation via media. They are constantly being re-appropriated by those who use it as a tool for organizing ‘outside’ of conventional systems of commerce and government. A younger generation that’s thoroughly saturated in layers of electronic media may be more able to maintain a skeptical distance from the never ending parade of images and sales pitches thrown around by centralized nodes like television and radio. They may be less susceptible to modes of deliberate conditioning that an older, less media literate generation falls more easily prey to.  
 
The cultural division of America is no longer primarily North and South or East and West. On the surface there appears to be cultural conflicts between city and suburb, white and non-white, rich and poor. Underneath all of these is a sharp division between generations in terms of media literacy. The present political drama features a battle royal between a television/cable marketing generation and an Internet/Satellite/Cell Phone generation who have very different ways of processing the information they receive. This explains why each successive election of the past 40 years has been so weirdly and increasingly split down the middle, with almost exactly half of the electorate polarized toward either side. 
 
This time around the Republican campaign is headed by a media guy whose experience is in communications and media spin. He tends to function on the level of television and the movies – heavy advertising and media with enough money to poor into any set of images or counter-images you have a mind to. The Democrat campaign has focused on a more traditional ‘ground game’ that relies on personal contact, by phone or in the flesh. With the help of unions and a well organized network they’ve built three times as many local campaign offices across the country. Republicans are hoping, one way or another, that an election, like everything else in a capitalist country, can be bought with sufficiently clever advertising. It may work. Whatever works, this election will reflect an important decision, collectively made at a critical time, over what sorts of information we value and how we prefer to have it conveyed. 
 
Nobody knows how this is going to come out. The best thing we can do for ourselves and others is to get beyond our fears of the outcome. Whichever way the pendulum swings it will eventually turn and swing the other way, so it benefits us to look forward and not back. Humanity is now largely part of an almost totally integrated system of global energy transfer that enfolds the worlds of government and commerce. We are slowly recognizing who we are as a global collective, and observing that we are all in this together. Whichever direction we choose, forward or back, there will be many struggles ahead. Still, amid the struggle and resistance and denial, we are forced to discover our faith in the future as the inevitable change happens all around.
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As far as seeing into the future, the best we can do is try to see clearly the present, if possible, unadorned with hype and fantasy. It’s election season and for those paying attention there’s a real tension in the air between all of us. Somebody will win and somebody will lose. The questions then are about how we move on. Personally I hope we decide to embrace the possibilities of the future with courage and persistence, and not choose to return to some vanished fantasies of the past. I’d hate to have to go back to the world as told to us by Reagan/Bush et al. and have to play out this whole circle-the-wagons thing again.
 
A Star Trek interpretation of the race occurred to me today. Embodied in caricatures of Businessman versus Lawyer we’ve got a situation of Doctor McCoy (the Emergency Doctor!) running against Mister Spock (the Cool Science Officer). Now which one would you rather? 
 
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Third Debate Roundup

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   

 
Romney / Presentation / Somewhat Flat / Agitated / Defensive / Almost Plaintive

 
Obama / Presentation / Rhythm Pause Rhythm Pause Rhythm Pause
 
Romney / Demeanor / Frozen Smile / Defensive / Abstract
 
Obama Demeanor / Steady / The tilt of the head which suggests both authority and compassion.
 
Romney through sound and image: Politician
 
Obama through sound and image: President 
 

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