(Or Trial by Twitter)
It’s Jerry Springer’s fault, really. He took the dumbing-down of America to new heights and the longevity of his show is a testament to the effectiveness of that process.
Jerry taught us the modern form of ‘discussion,’ where he who yells loudest and longest wins, where nobody really listens to anybody else, where all parties leap to cut off any opposing point of view with shouting, hair pulling and rolling on the floor.
It is remarkable how much our current Congress resembles one of Springer’s shows!
And then along came Fox News (or Faux News as some say), who taught us that an hour of OPINION is not only cheaper to produce than an hour of real, investigative news, it also can pull in a much greater audience if the right emotional hot-buttons are pushed. Think Fox News is irrelevant? Consider the impact it has had on CNN – the Cable NEWS Network. Today, CNN is more than 50% OPINION, not news.
Facebook and Twitter impelled this rush to running on emotion even further, turning the outrageous opinion du jour into a social virus, liked and liked and liked until it is believed to be fact.
Face it: we love to become inflamed by a surging opinion.
Facts fly out the window when emotion, name calling and witch hunts flood the screen.
We’d rather be titillated than taught.
Most of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial was televised live. Every morning, when I’d arrive at the gym, I’d see the man who works the front desk, glued to the big screen on the opposite wall. He, like many others couldn’t get enough of the contemporary gladiator show taking place in our electronic colosseum. People screamed at the screen, yanked thumbs up and thumbs down, laughed to tears at witnesses, threw things . . .
In the midst of this national obsession, though, the front desk guy said the most remarkable thing. He had the television going, of course, but he also had Twitter open and was feeding comments from people reacting to the trial in real time. He glanced up from the computer screen and said, ‘This is amazing! I am literally watching public opinion being formed before my very eyes.” The conversation on Twitter was building to consensus and becoming truth.
We used to try people in the media. Now we use Twitter and Facebook to try them by hearsay, gossip and innuendo.
Right now, in my hometown of San Diego, we have a leadership crisis. Our Mayor has been accused of sexual harassment. There has been no formal charge, no orchestrated hearing of the facts, no calling of witnesses, and he’s had no opportunity to defend himself. Still, over the past several weeks, everyone at City Hall has abandoned him.
It started with his opposition, of course, but slowly, one by one, his biggest supporters have turned to call for his resignation. Yesterday, I read that our Senator, Dianne Feinstein, had insisted he step down. What does this have to do with her? Isn’t she supposed to be in Washington, saving our economy?
What we have is a snowball of opinion trying and convicting the man before he has the first opportunity to face his accusers and answer the charges. That’s not the America I learned about it tenth grade Civics.
The Mayor may be guilty as the day is long, but if what they’re saying about him is true, it didn’t just happen overnight. It’s been a pattern for a long time and his closest friends? The ones who are abandoning him now and calling for his resignation? They certainly knew about it when they were singing his praises. It just wreaks of career politicians trying to save themselves by retreating from one judged ‘unfit’ in the court of public opinion.
I am a Star Trek fan. No, I’m not a Trekkie. I’ve never been to a Star Trek Convention, don’t own a replica of the Starship Enterprise, and have never mastered the single raised eyebrow. But I love the shows, especially ‘The Next Generation’ and ‘Voyager.’
In those series, a terrifying species of humanoids shows up: The Borg. They are bio-mechanical humanoids. They have been surgically altered with computer parts to function at near super-human levels. But the key characteristic of The Borg is that they are a collective, a HIVE. They function as a single mind, with all Borg connected and acting in concert.
I fear that that is what we are becoming: Borg. We are increasingly connected by social media where ‘Likes,’ and ‘Re-Tweets’ determine our opinions for us. All points of view have a tipping point, and when enough people parrot the same point of view, it becomes reality – regardless of where the truth lies. You need look no further than Germany in the 30s and 40s to see this sad principal in action.
Hard as they were, two of the most important things I learned in High School and College were how to debate a topic and how to write a term paper. Both involve making a point and backing it up with research and factual information. What’s happened to that? Is group-think really a better way to go?
And is this the reason Rush Limbaugh refers to his listeners as ‘Ditto-Heads?