Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Amusing ourselves to death

We borrow the title of Neil Postman's classic book, subtitled Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, for this brief shout-out to Matt Taibbi and Rolling Stone. The October 2 issue offers another Taibbi classic, describing the mayor of Wasilla Alaska governor as a "rifle toting, serially pregnant moose killer who thinks God lobbies for [oil] pipelines" and someone who is "completely without shame and utterly full of shit."

But while the writing is a thrill ride, as all Taibbi political rants are, there's also this reinforcement of Neil Postman's warning:

"The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions. They simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains."

Of course, Taibbi is only calling out the particular demographics toward which he feels strong prejudice himself. To be fair, he should have noted that environmentalists vote for environmentalists, union members vote for union defenders, and so on down the line — it's not just ultra-conservatives who vote for their own interests and convictions. But the larger point can't get lost here: more and more American voters have thrown policies, plans, and positions of politicians out the window in favor of media spin and spectacle. Rolling Stone has separated Palin myths from facts, but many voters don't review the issues at all until the week or day of an election — if they know where to look. (Hint: the League of Women Voters always publishes excellent, unbiased election guides explaining candidates' positions and interpreting ballot proposals in plain language.)

That said, we can continue to amuse ourselves to death, or we can tune in to the debates: Obama/McCain square off for the first time this Friday, Sept. 26, and Biden/Palin go lectern to lectern, for one show only, on October 2.

Meanwhile, hell has frozen over, and the Faux Snooze Channel has actually attacked the Republican spin machine. Chris Wallace has surely been sent to the time-out corner for this one:

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