How people make decisions interests me. People can look at the very same world I’m looking at and make decisions about things that are the polar opposite of what I would decide. Are they smarter than me? Do they know something I don’t? The 2012 mid-term election is a case in point. It’s true the turnout was low, but people throughout America made a conscious decision to vote into office the very culprits who were responsible for this country’s myriad problems. What seems so crystal clear to me is seen through a completely different pair of glasses by a large chunk of American voters. Why is that?
There is no one answer, of course, but I believe the mainstream corporate media plays a critical role in shaping and contouring people’s perceptions about their country, and how they choose to pull the lever on election day. I’m not breaking any new ground here (See Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent for a thorough, well researched analysis of how the media molds public opinion), but I’m simply trying to understand how and why my own views differ so greatly from those of my fellow Americans.
After all, I grew up in a solid blue-collar home with parents who were loving, but not well educated. My father was an auto mechanic and my mother the stay-at-home parent, a pretty typical household unit in the nineteen fifties, and one that you would suspect would be a fertile breeding ground for conservative ideology. I even went to church regularly as a child.
But there was one important variable. Despite his lack of formal education, my father was a natural born critical thinker and he questioned things that others around him took for granted. He opposed the Vietnam War. He would argue for hours with his sister, a devout Catholic, about the problems with religious dogma. He was a huge fan of Mark Twain, as am I. So something unusual happened during my upbringing, my interactions with my parents and the larger world, that turned me to the left politically at an early age.
It may be my upbringing that has allowed me to elude the siren song of the status quo. The corporate media is a powerful force that has many people captivated and under its spell. Since its infancy, television was a vehicle to sell things, with some entertainment stuck in between commercials to keep eyes fixed on the screen. Pitching products and services is still a primary function of the networks, but it has an additional corporate/government responsibility to de-radicalize Americans and numb them into a state of obedience.
Tens of millions of Americans rely solely on the major networks for their news, so the political spectrum they are exposed to both overtly (i.e. the Sunday news panel shows) and covertly, runs from the far right to the wobbly center. Progressive views are marginalized and rarely heard. The so-called liberal press is one of the great myths of our generation. The media today is a for-profit enterprise that purposefully shapes its news programs to offend as few viewers as possible and support the institutions and ideas it considers “mainstream.” This soft, easy to digest pablum is served up on a daily basis and reinforces already internalized beliefs and biases. It does not challenge, it lulls. It is a form of hypnotism, keeping viewers in a certain state of political obliviousness while at the same time, inciting people to be good little consumers and spend, spend, spend.
Instead of encouraging critical thinking, the news media emphasizes group think and constantly reinforces the importance of “fitting in” to be cool, sexy and hip. By ignoring critical voices and a truly comparative analysis of the political candidates’ positions, viewers are left with little substantive information, and revert to picking the candidate that most closely mirrors their personal values, with little understanding of his or her record or policies.
Look into my giant eye. You are getting sleepy, very, very sleepy….