USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE

I'm giving one of my favorite lectures today, on the history of political campaign advertising. It's fun to watch students realize that very little of what we see in modern politics is new. The basic messages (and to a lesser extent, techniques) have been around for a couple of centuries. Americans generally know very little about history, so they tend to assume that their problems are new. Oh, the media is so partisan! (Yeah, check out a 19th Century newspaper) Campaigns are full of mudslinging and dirty attacks! (Find one that wasn't) People are so stupid! (As they have always been).

Every time there is a disaster or tragedy these days, we look at the contents of internet comments sections and immediately lose whatever hope for humanity might remain within our cynical hearts. What has happened to this country?, people ask. The correct answer is, of course, nothing. The only difference between Americans today and those from a century ago is that now we have a global platform for making our knee-jerk, reactionary, and ignorant opinions public. It's doubtful that people in the 1890s would have been filling Twitter and newspaper websites with pearls of wisdom and kindness.

It is completely natural to speculate, to have thoughts driven more by fear or emotion than reason, and to express anger. I'm sure people felt the same way when they heard about Pearl Harbor as they did on 9/11. Those thoughts and feelings were not broadcast around the world and recorded for posterity by the millions. They didn't run to Facebook to share tacky pictures exhorting one another to pray, engage in wild, half-assed speculation, or fuel their pet conspiracy theories. If they had the opportunity, they would have. As it was, the only way to express those thoughts was out loud. Common sense and a tiny bit of decency were probably enough to prevent many people from doing that.

The internet, however, offers no barriers to speaking what we overly-generously call our minds. We have anonymity, an audience, and no repercussions for what we say. Hell, why not air our ridiculous ideas about The Muslims and tell a bunch of other anonymous strangers to fuck off. There are no costs. We can say whatever we want, immediately. And this is the problem, because Americans have a notoriously difficult time distinguishing between can and should. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to express more of our uninformed musings using our Inside Voice rather than Twitter.

The internet and 24-hour cable news environment overwhelms us with "grief porn" in response to events like Monday's bombing. It encourages us not only to express great sadness but to do so publicly. It's not enough to spectate; we have to be part of the chorus of prayers and tears. We personalize things to make it about ourselves – OMG, I once knew a guy who lives in Boston! – and we use the collective anguish as fuel for irrational ideas. Why wait for facts when I'm angry and upset now?

We've always been less than enlightened thinkers as a nation. Today, though, we have a window into our half-baked thought processes and speculative "journalism" encouraging us to join them in a leap to conclusions. We have every opportunity to say things and very little encouragement to think before doing it. The exhibition of bile and stupidity that we see online is evidence that we could all benefit from a quieter and more reflective response to the horrible things the world throws at us.

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26 Responses to “USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE”

  1. Middle Seaman Says:

    Reading this post results in being somewhat lost and confused. There are two obvious messages in here. One: there is nothing new under the sun. Two: the Internet exposes us collectively as morons.

    Compaigns became more professional, more mechanized and more uniform. No politician ever writes hir own speeches anymore. It's Hoolywood screen writing devoid of humor.

    The media used to be Cronkite, Murrow, Lippmann or Hunter Thompson. Now it's a desert with a hundred clowns. People never change, but now we have more loudspeakers.

    US has become reactionary. A Democtratic president is a right wing hack. Europe is trying hard to mimic us.

  2. Xynzee Says:

    But… But… Obama instituted the Patriot Act! An… an… Orchestrated 9/11!!!

    I read it on FB and it had a picture, so it must be true!!

    The real problem was that the fascist govt won't let the average citizen have their own bombs. If those spectators been allowed to carry bombs of their own then none of this would have happened.

  3. Major Kong Says:

    Once I just accepted that we were well and truly screwed it was much easier to deal with.

  4. Dbp Says:

    Xynzee: Once they outlawed bombs, only criminals had them.

  5. c u n d gulag Says:

    The TV news will be virtually unwatchable for the next few hours/days/weeks – until the FBI, the ATF, and other agencies, local and national, and if need be, international, finally find out who did it.

    Cable TV news, with 24 hours to fill, will be nothing but 'Blood, Sweat, and Tears P*rn,' describing the stories of the bloodied victims, the people working hard to find out who did it, and the family members and friends, affected by the new 'Boston Masssacre.'
    Also be on the lookout for the new generation of "Young 'uns" in the MSM, who were either too young to be involved in it, or weren't prominent enough back then to warrant much face-time, and watch them as they try to turn this 'Boston Massacre' into their own personal 9/11, in an attempt to get to the top of the heap.

    And while law enforcement people try to find out who did it, every imbecile with a tongue, or access to broadband, will be stomping on everyone else, to direct attention to themselves.

    Some people, of course, already have megaphones and microphones ready, willing, and able, to fill any void with their trademarked brand of lunacy and propaganda.
    In the forefront of that group, will be the Rush's, the Geller's, the Savage's, the Malkin's, the Beck's, etc., whipping up fear and hatred – all for shits and giggles, and profits.

    Let the law enforment people do what they do best. Under the right leadership, they are remarkable at being able to find out who was responsible for acts of terrorism.

    And having said that, it sure might be helpful right now if we had a permanent Director for ATF.
    But of course, there's a certain party out there that's been blocking that, because… FreeDUMB!!! LiberTEA!!!

    While we're waiting to see how this all shakes out, let our thoughts go out to the great people of Boston.

    If I can scrape up some spare change by the end of the month, I'll send it to some charity to help the victims, since I'm sure not all of them have comprehensive health care.
    But a reminder to anyone who are also thinking of donating – I'm sure that by the time the sun set yesterday, there were already dozens of sham charities created by soul-less grifters.
    So, 'Donator Caveat Emptor.'

  6. JohnR Says:

    "It's fun to watch students realize.."

    And that, right there, is what teaching is all about.

    "We have every opportunity to say things and very little encouragement to think before doing it."

    And that, right there, is what the Internet is all about.

  7. Well, mostly Says:

    As the saying goes…..only fools rush in. Lots of people insist on proving that just now. Well said Ed.

  8. xynzee Says:

    Off-topic and vaguely related to yesterday's post on "science"
    One of the greats died recently, and the media was more preoccupied with why Jay C and Beyondsay were in Cuba.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/14/hilary-koprowski-dead_n_3078365.html?utm_hp_ref=science

  9. Iain Says:

    One thought: it wasn't common sense that kept us from saying our stupid thoughts – it was merely lack of global forum. Every coffee shop in the western world had the philosophers, the conspiracists, the idiotic, often feeding into their own thoughts with their like minded friends. now, those same impulses are just splattered all over social media.

  10. mothra Says:

    Well, the problem with the news organizations is that everyone wants to get the scoop. So they just run with whatever bullshit is spewed out–which they always did, but it was through teletype machines. Back then there was time for editors to gather the information and evaluate before they ran with everything. Now? Shit is immediately repeated. Editors figure it's easier to retract later than to miss the scoop now.

    As for the "man on the street?" Well, everyone gets to feel important for a minute or so while anonymously posting an opinion. Like I am doing right now. Har.

  11. bb in GA Says:

    @xynzee

    "If those spectators been allowed to carry bombs of their own then none of this would have happened."

    Bombs existed in 1789. The 2A is about firearms if you read the supporting thoughts of the writers. Bombs are ordnance, not firearms.

    Your bomb comment is not germane, though witty.

    Ideologically, the commentators (even attributed to our Pres) say that this is a Tax Day protest by T-party/militia/Christians. Makes no sense to me. Blow up marathon runners and spectators?? Why not one or more of the myriad Federal Bldgs in Boston? That would tie in the ideology angle…

    //bb

  12. Major Kong Says:

    Couldn't you shoot the bomb with your legally concealed handgun?

  13. Brian Says:

    Your point about grief porn is excellent, it is the attempt of people to feel victimized by something that was not targeted at them.

    The Daily Show had a segment where they went to Wasilla, AK during the 2012 election. They asked some bar patrons what made 'small-town America' better than the cities, and the answer was essentially that small towns had more of a sense of community. When they asked for an example, they mentioned September 11, 2001.

    The interviewees in used attacks against New York City to validate their contempt for New York City. Pornographic indeed.

    Admittedly, it was the Daily Show, so it was heavily edited and humorous.

  14. c u n d gulag Says:

    Oh, goody!

    President Obama in his presser today, officially called this “an act of terror.”

    Now, our righties can lower their tit alert-level, from “IN AN UPROAR!!!”, to, “Talk amongst yourselves.”

  15. xynzee Says:

    @CU: Did they call it anything else before hand? What took them so long? Why the delay???

    Cover UP!!!!

    @ bb: Irony mate. It's called irony. ;)

    As for other parts of my earlier post. In the ol' FB feed came some kind of indiscernible rant, of a plane flying into the Twin Towers wrapped in the BoR, and something about Obama and the Patriot Act.

    I'm not sure if the implication was:
    A) Obama is responsible for the Patriot Act
    B) Obama is responsible for today's action because he'd loosened up on the enforcement of the PA
    C) They're pissed off with Obama who brought in the PA, used the BoR as t.p., sent the death beagles after good 'Murkun boys holed up in the woods cooking methe and plotting to over throw the gub'mint, loosened up the PA – everybody hated unless it was under a Repug – just enough so they could take our guns!, but slaughter the innocents for Islamic sacrifices….

    …enh… it's too late down here. What the… ??!!! it was trying to get at, but I really don't think the person who forwarded it really put much thought into whatever it was she forwarded by sheepnomore or whatever that lunatic fringe had to say. Just that some how she agreed with it, because they're opposed to vaccinations and the eating of rocks because you're engaging in eating Mother Earth or something like that.

  16. Ghost World Says:

    Thank goodness for Facebook in times like these. Otherwise I would never know whose hearts & thoughts & prayers are going out to Boston in these troubled times.

  17. Rosalux Says:

    Thanks for the word on "grief porn."

    Collective grief is a fiction, a language game we all play after tragedies, a game that is much easier to play now that we're all on Facebook. There are the expressions of condolences, which show how thoughtful we are (thought the condolences are not going to anyone actually affected by the violence, but rather into the ether), there are the little frissons of people who used to live on the block where the bombing happened, or knew someone in the marathon (what a thrill! what a scare!) and then there is the Uplifting Quote, which makes everything better and ties up our vicarious experience with a nice bow.

    Another episode in our now almost entirely vicarious lives, lived through other by proxy online.

  18. Wes Says:

    I don't think it's wise to start out a blog post about how you amaze your students by claiming that politics never changes, and then finish it by using a "[blank] porn"* expression to say what Francois de la Rochefoucauld said a few centuries ago:

    Le pompe des enterrements regarde plus las vanit

  19. Wes Says:

    Okay, seriously? how the fuck did that happen? Let's try again…

    _____________________________

    I don't think it's wise to start out a blog post about how you amaze your students by claiming that politics never changes, and then finish it by using a "[blank] porn"* expression to say what Francois de la Rochefoucauld said a few centuries ago:

    Le pompe des enterrements regarde plus las vanité des vivants que l’honneur des morts.

    “The pomp of funerals is more for the vanity of the living than for the honor of the dead.”

    De la Rochefoucauld said it much more elegantly and succinctly, and without inventing idiotic terms like "grief porn". Whenever something bad happens, people will compete to be the most bereaved, the most appalled, the most offended. Stories of how upset people are will spread. There will be a big show about how bad everyone feels. There was no Twitter in 17th century France, but that didn't stop them from doing it.

    "The exhibition of bile and stupidity that we see online is evidence that we could all benefit from a quieter and more reflective response to the horrible things the world throws at us."

    When has any human civilization ever responded to tragedy that way? Why would Twitter and Facebook have any effect on how stupid people's reactions to incomprehensible events are?

    If anything has changed, it's that the internet has made it so that you have to say these incredibly stupid/racist things over the internet, because if you said them out loud in person you'd be ostracized. There was a time not long ago when "Lynch that nigger!" was something someone could say out loud in a crowd of people without losing the respect of the people around them. That time is (thankfully) long gone, and such sentiments can only be expressed anonymously on social media now. But even then, you can expect a barrage of negative responses if you do. Yes, the internet allows people to say dumb shit, but it also allows millions of people to barge in and say, "What you said is really, really dumb shit!" which was not the case in, say, a small town in the South in 1914. It makes stupidity more public, but it also makes the shaming of stupidity more public. And public shaming of stupidity is better than private affirmation of it.

    *I'm getting really tired of people thinking it's clever to label anything that's overly indulgent as "[blank] porn". And I have to wonder if the people who deride "grief porn" or "torture porn" or "mom porn" would label the things that they pleasure themselves to as "porn", or if the just think that only the things that other people over-indulge in are "porn". The "[blank] porn" snowclone needs to die along with the "-gate" snowclone.

  20. Hazy Davy Says:

    Jojo Fartnugget was an intellectual exhibitionist. He got naked in multiple languages.

  21. JohnR Says:

    Wes – nice use of Prench porn! As Socrates is reputed to have said: ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα!

  22. Charles Bird Says:

    My good friend Ivan Karp once told me that discussions of sameness and difference were largely political. Are we the same animals we were in the seventeenth century? Isn't it obvious that technology transforms us? It seems to me that you end up your piece saying that which of course stands in contradiction to your opening.

  23. planb247 Says:

    One thing that's changed over the last 150 years is that our intellectual class couldn't hold a candle to those of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We've got more uneducated people that think they are educated too. And, yes, as mentioned previously, the media is most certainly worse than it was even in the 60s – mainly because of media consolidation since the Ronnie Ray-gun era.

  24. Rosalux Says:

    @Wes
    Your post makes you sound like a pretentious ass. For just about any idea, we can go back in time and find some articulation of it in some form in a previous century. That doesn't invalidate the idea – but we're all very impressed that you can quote De La Rochefoucauld in French. Gold star!

    I think the term "grief porn" describes a very real and very irritating phenomenon that Ed is right to point out. And, no, not everything that pleases us is "porn." Public indulgence in grief is uniquely unseemly, because people are utilizing for their own pleasure something that we typically feel ought to be accorded more respect.

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