Saturday, January 21, 2012

The smooth compelling urbanity of blue culture

I spend more time than I like driving every day, which means I listen to a lot of radio. It's interesting to compare the discussions going on in different venues -- Catholic radio, National Public Radio (NPR), conservative talk radio of various stripe.

One thing I've noticed is that the sound of NPR is always smooth, polished, unhurried, articulate, and professional. If you didn't stop to listen to what was being said and analyze the underlying assumptions and commitments of those speaking, you might even get the impression that you were getting the unvarnished TRUTH.

Among the possible reasons for this, one may be that the station isn't littered with advertisements like other talk radio is. But that's not the only reason. There's an impressive professional tone to what's said that inspires not mere confidence, but a certain comfort.

I wouldn't be surprised if the NPR hosts had to be vetted on voice quality to make sure it's sufficiently hypnotic. It can lull the listener into a stupor of bland acceptance. "You will believe what we tell you ... These are THE FACTS ... This is the CORRECT way to think about things. Anybody with half a brain holds the opinions that we do ..." Etc.

In the faculty lounge of my institution this afternoon, I caught a bit of a University of Chicago panel discussion, which included a very polished lineup of mostly very BLUE panelists: Rahm Emanuel, David Brooks, Rachel Maddow, and Alex Castellanos (the lone Republican and media consultant). George Stephanopoulos served as moderator.

What struck me again was how seemingly reasonable these people can sound on the level of image and style. They were all quite charming, measured in tone, professional, pleasant overall. This contrasts to what you sometimes encounter on the other side, where the style can seem parochial, a bit pinched, if not judgmental and harsh.

In an age of connotative spin and image, it's not hard to see what is attractive about the blue message, because the medium (the style and spin) IS the message. It takes much more effort to probe beneath the surface of this superficial image and analyze the logic and premises of what is being said. In short, the media has largely gone blue, and the country is doomed. Or, we're doomed, at least to sound bites, edited video clips, and spin -- rather than propositions and arguments.

I haven't owned a television in decades and find the experience liberation. Liberate your mind and joint the Society for the Defenstration of Television Sets.




If a man sees what is not — snakes crawling out of his wallpaper, for instance, or himself as Napoleon — he is not sane. We do not always know when people are seeing what is not, or failing to see what is; it can happen less spectacularly than in the instances quoted. But the principle abides, mistaking what is not for what is means that sanity is defective. Wishful thinking, for example, taking one’s wishes for reality, is mental defect; so is taking one’s fears for reality. Wishful thinking is the commonest, is Sociology and Politics it is almost universal. It is horribly easy. We concentrate upon the thing we want — a particular arrangement of Society, say — so that it grows larger and larger in our mind; we regard obstacles, naturally, with impatience, get no pleasure out of looking at them, look at them less and less, finally stop seeing them: the obstacles are still there, of course, but they are no longer there for us: only the wish is real. We may still allude to obstacles, but only to assure hearers, and reassure ourselves, of the firmness of our hold on reality. Wishful thinkers lovethe slogans of realism — when you hear a speaker say “Facts, gentlemen, are stubborn things,” prepare for a ramble through Utopia.

F. Sheed, 1953