conservatives – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Do New Media/Social Media Distort Political Reality? Tue, 04 May 2010 13:00:29 +0000 Count me amongst those who argue that new media/social media are having an enormously beneficial effect on politics. The evidence seems overwhelming that through digital networks, citizens now have the means of enhanced political participation and engagement. But I have increasingly begun to wonder if all this participation has a distortion effect on our conception of political reality. Do blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, websites, and the array of other new media and social media forms in the hands of partisans, ideologues, and just-plain old political junkies transform that which is considered meaningful? Do such media platforms and sites of engagement provide the means through which citizens now focus on the trivial, the outlandish, the spectacular, while missing larger and more important political issues. Is the tail wagging the dog?

Take the Tea Party “Movement,” for instance. By most level-headed accounts, this “outpouring” of populist rage, right-wing hatred, and visible anger is less a “movement” or political tsunami than a media event. What is worse, it is something that liberals have played an important role in constructing. Certainly cable news has played a big role here as well, helping craft the movement (see Glenn Beck), then supporting and promoting its activities at every opportunity (Fox News, but also CNN and MSNBC). But is all this attention merited? It is hard to imagine other “movements” of much greater importance—immigration reform, for instance—receiving the amount of attention these folks have received (that is, until Arizona rightwingers overplayed their hand). The same holds true for the specific politicians and wingnuts that populate and animate this “movement,” from Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann to Glenn Beck and Michael Steele. Liberals—myself included—rant, rave, scream, laugh, and gesticulate over every idiotic statement and boneheaded hiccup these folks emit, positioning ourselves somewhere between amazement at their stupidity to outright fear and terror that the clowns might end up running the circus.

By focusing on them so intently, their extremism doesn’t marginalize them, as should be the case. Instead, their nuttery becomes the center of gravity, pulling other members of the minority party toward them. And why not? Given the attention they receive, what better way to make a name for themselves when their party really has nothing else to sell? This is true whether we are talking about Jim Bunning, Joe Wilson, or Michelle Bachmann. They easily become the party “stars” of the moment. Why? Because their ideas make sense? No, because they attract attention and loathing from the left, which attracts attention and fawning from the right, not to mention money. Furthermore, they fill a media hole–reminding citizens that the Republican Party is actually alive and seemingly “standing for” something.

One might argue that this is a good thing, exposing the idiocy and downright hatred that might have been hidden in the old system of party or think-tank-driven agendas. One might also argue that such attention means the right is overplaying its hand, and therefore will alienate independents or more moderate voters who will, in the end, give such nuttery the cold shoulder it deserves. Yet new media users nevertheless participate in drawing attention away from more moderate voices, ones that could be helpful to all pragmatists interested in seeing our attention devoted to solving common problems. Again, I count myself guilty as charged.

To be sure, I am not making a technological determinist argument. New media are not responsible for this change. But given the opportunity to share, discuss, participate, explore, expose, ridicule, and foment, citizens increasingly are shaping what the political landscape looks like by focusing on things that may not deserve their place in the spotlight or may not deserve to be taken as seriously as they are taken. Maybe we should all check our dismay at the door and move on.


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The Right to Make Wrong TV? Mon, 26 Apr 2010 15:00:28 +0000 Lest you thought Saturday Night Live’s recent sketch about a Sarah Palin Network was simply idle humor, later this year, the RightNetwork will launch as an independently-owned network programming solely for conservatives. Their website explains:

Our mission is clear: to entertain, engage, and enlighten Americans who are looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and worldview. RIGHTNETWORK will consistently impact the political and cultural discussions of Americans.

The site currently offers trailers for several will-be programs, including Running, a reality show focusing on six conservatives running for office; Right to Laugh, featuring conservative stand-ups in action; and Politics and Poker, a show whose premise is pretty much there in the title. These and other promotional materials cutely employ puns-aplenty to make “right” mean “correct,” “good,” and a moral principle, while they also encourage the syllogism that everything else is “wrong.” Frontman Kelsey Grammer notes, “There’s wrong, and there’s right — RightNetwork — all that’s right with the world.”

A few thoughts:

(1) While points (2) through (5) should make it clear that I’m not likely to be their biggest fan, I will admit that I’m captivated by the prospect of a non-news network that sees its watchers as citizens, not just consumers (even if it may simply be treating them as such to capitalize on them). Take Running, for example. In a media world in which citizenship is often reduced to the simple acts of voting and watching the news, it’ll be refreshing to see a show that explores how and why people “become political” and what’s involved in “getting involved” in politics. As I watch, I may need a slopbucket beside me for the moments of biased excess, but I nevertheless give credit where credit is due.

(2) Using a tiresome conservative martyr complex in posing itself as new and different, part of its rhetorical purpose seems simple – to insist once more that the supposedly Trotskyist media system is alienating conservative viewers, as though NCIS, The Office, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars team up weekly to call for children to have abortions, pay more taxes, and marry gay welfare mooches. But how will this fare as a channel for people to actually watch, not simply as a rhetorical strategy of victimization? When one can watch Right to Laugh or something that’s legitimately funny elsewhere, what will happen, especially when many other options exist that, even if not Tea Party parades, hardly challenge a conservative worldview (how is Two and a Half Men liberal?)? Comcast-Spectator chair Ed Snider is a huge fan, which will certainly help, and may suggest my prognostications are half-witted, but I do wonder about its long-term financial viability.

(3) There’s a fascinating and telling contradiction in the mission to “enlighten” Americans “who are looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and worldview.” Surely enlightenment means the shining of light onto what was dark, and hence requires challenging or otherwise expanding – not reinforcing – one’s perspective and worldview? I could snidely surmise that they need a dictionary, but instead I’d pose that we’re seeing more sides of a very different epistemology at play here (see here for more sides of it) – one that defines enlightenment as flattering reminders that one is already in the light. Indeed, this is an interesting moment in an era of “egocasting,” in which one tunes in to media that only offers one’s own perspective, and that reflects one’s image back at oneself.

(4) It’s also interesting how, even while egocasting, the mission statement’s grammar (and its Grammer) subtly suggests that this is for all Americans, and that all Americans share these beliefs. Not surprisingly, then, they overreach. At the minute mark of that Right to Laugh clip above, for instance, we see minstrel humor as the only African-American reduces African-Americans to being, gee whiz, such a musical folk. Or watch this music video by Polatik about the Tea Party, on their YouTube channel, to see Polatik’s rather stunned audience try to work out what to do with a minority rapping at their event (while, coincidentally enough, once more the featured minority is a musical fellow). My question, then, is whether they’re actually trying to reel in youth and/or minorities, albeit poorly, or whether such instances are simply there to salve Tea Partyers’ self-image and to insist to themselves that they’re representative?

(5) Finally, it’s worth asking what this does to Fox News. As the explicitly, openly conservative, pro-Tea Party channel that wears its politics on its sleeve, RightNetwork could allow channels like Fox News to seem less objectionable and as more moderate. Oh boy.


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Our Intractable Ideological Moment: Surnow, The History Channel, and the Kennedys Thu, 18 Feb 2010 14:20:56 +0000 For me, the dilemma began in 1991. I was teaching an “Introduction to Political Science” class at the time, and one evening I boldly proclaimed that what the new talk radio media phenomenon, Rush Limbaugh, was saying was a load of crap. I simply assumed that anyone attending college would, of course, recognize that Limbaugh’s spurious claims, ad hominem invective, and dubious social and political analysis would be obvious to any sentient human being. I was taken aback, though, when a round-faced young man on the front row from somewhere in rural Alabama earnestly and honestly proclaimed that I was wrong—Rush Limbaugh was not lying; he spoke the truth, I was told.

Ever since that moment, I have wrestled with what I see as the fundamental issue that defines our political moment in time—the seemingly irreconcilable epistemology of liberals and conservatives. That is to say, conservatives have mobilized a full scale assault on our previously shared ways of knowing and what counts for truth. For at least two decades (if not longer) they have routinely promulgated a myth of an untrustworthy and dangerous “liberal media,” as well as “liberal elites” that supposedly dominate much of society. That has grown in recent years into a full-throated screed against any sector of society that doesn’t adhere to the orthodoxy of right-wing conservativism. While this line finds obvious currency in the rhetoric of media populists such as Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Limbaugh, it is now much more pervasive through all segments of the Republican Party and conservative establishment, including politicians such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Eric Cantor, and others. Furthermore, it is now routinely a rallying cry for all ilk of ill-informed grassroots groups, including that amorphous yet dangerous grassroots populist uprising known as the Tea Baggers.

As I have argued elsewhere, what lies at the center of these attacks is an epistemological challenge to how society arrives at its truth claims. From the ridiculousness of Conservapedia (the right-wing’s answer to the supposedly liberal and anti-Christian Wikipedia) to the patently offensive assault on knowledge and history that is Glenn Beck’s “documentaries” linking Fascism and Hitler to Communism and Stalin (and by association, the great American Socialist Barack Obama), the far right is making headway in their promulgation that the old ways of arriving at knowledge are not to be trusted (a point parodied, of course, when Stephen Colbert noted that “reality has a well-known liberal bias”).

The latest flair-up in this epistemological challenge can be seen through Joel Surnow and The History Channel’s upcoming documentary on the Kennedys. Press accounts report that left-wing documentarian Robert Greenwald (Brave New Films) is spearheading a campaign to thwart what he and former Kennedy staffers see as a tawdry and malicious hatchet job on the Kennedy family. The best the press can do in trying to measure such disputes is point to a previous docudrama, The Reagans, to suggest a historical corollary. The Reagans suggested that Ronnie was “insensitive to AIDS victims, and that Nancy Reagan was shown as being reliant on a personal astrologer” (which history also suggests was true in both accounts). Surnow can, of course, assert that the Kennedys were womanizers (which is also historically accurate, however that is defined), and offer a fictionalized account that can display that in all its soap-operatic glory.

What we are left with, though, is competing truth claims—a He Said, She Said of political history and, ultimately, historical truth. But what conservatives realize is that at this moment in time, truth is up for grabs, and popular culture is as good a realm as any (if not better than most) for making historically revisionist claims to alter history toward their preferred readings. With a distrust of elites, a delegitimized news media, a populist-paranoic rise in anti-intellectualism, and a hyper-ideological political culture, what constitutes historical truth (and even contemporary reality) is and will be hotly contested in the foreseeable future. It is a contestation that will be played out repeatedly and with much gusto across media platforms, formats, and genres. When such conflict is derived from a profound difference in our (no longer) shared ways of knowing, I am unsure how society arrives at the “common good.” In sum, if the conflict really is epistemological, I am worried it is going to get worse before it gets better–and frankly, that scares the piss out of me.


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