Media has an effect on us, but how much is a question that has been contested since communication scholarship began formally in the late 1930s. Academia undergoes a phenomenon known as the paradigm shift, which is like a movement between eras of what the baseline accepted thought is. Think of a paradigm shift being between people who thought the world was flat to society, with some YouTube exceptions, now believing it is round.
The early days of communication were known as the hypodermic needle era. Nazi propoganda was effectively recruiting otherwise good people to commit atrocities, Americans were idolizing celebrities from media coming out of Hollywood like never before and the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast caused such panic that the national news carried stories for weeks after its airing. How could anyone help but think that the media had this highly potent effect on human behavior, similar to that of a shot in the arm?
Eventually though, the paradigm shifted in the late 1940s. Media academics changed their minds and ushered in the limited effects era, which by its name stated the exact opposite of its predecessor time period.
I’ve always thought that media has had a major effect on me. Many of my conversational quips are taken from the screenwriting of Aaron Sorkin (“good writers borrow from other writers, great writers steal from them”).
Just like academia, however, my paradigm has shifted from absorbing these effects to thinking there’s limited effect. Some of my favorite shows are about political posturing, and not just the Sorkin-written West Wing. I’m talking about shows like the Walking Dead which is far more about power structures in crisis situations than it is about zombies, and of course, Game of Thrones and its recent spinoff House of the Dragon.
At the risk of making your eyes glaze over, I’m not going into plot detail about either HBO show but the currently airing spinoff series is based on George R.R. Martin’s storyline the Dance of the Dragons, which is a civil war between two sides of a ruling family competing for control.
I use that term that harkens back to the most divisive time in American history, because it is also the term that has spiked on the internet over 3000% recently according to a New York Times article published yesterday. The entire time I’m watching a civil war play out in a fantasy world each Sunday, I’m always aware that this is an escape form of entertainment, not a playbook for how to act in public affairs. Yet we see it more and more.
Just last week at a rally in Michigan, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene accused Democrats of having “started the killings” of Republicans and strongly implied the only proper reaction is to intensify violence from the right. The absurdity of this claim has obvious intended consequences toward steering political engagement irrevocably in a worse direction, and is seen from both sides of the political aisle.
This will sound preachy, elitist and pronounced from my high horse, but so be it. I believe this is a result of people who are not mature enough to rise above media influence. They either embrace the harm they are causing for personal gain or genuinely think this is the way the world is supposed to work from lessons they have learned in dystopian fiction examples.
The best way to immediately blunt the negative effects that are clearly seeping into society is to reject almost everything presented only on a left/right political spectrum. The next best step is to stop thinking in terms of zero-sum outcomes where there must be a winner or loser.
I have been critical of LifeStream over the last week which has led to some conversations asking why I don’t want them to win the Baker Act facility. This is a misrepresentation of the desired outcome.
I badly want a Baker Act facility, but don’t think the winning outcome (fully funding the facility) is worth the current ethical and financial cost to get there. There’s room for compromise, and I proposed one solution on Tuesday’s podcast.
I’m not a moralist. I’ve made many bad decisions in my life. Nor have I matured to my fullest extent. I’m sure my impending foray into parenthood will push me to new levels. But when someone acts irrationally in a way that you know will have serious consequences, it’s imperative to call it out and try to identify the source of such actions. It’s time we shift from a paradigm of politics as entertainment to governing as serious business.