Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Manipulation

We have contempt for manipulators. We sometimes have contempt for the manipulated as well, if we believe they are of the age and ability of responsibility. We dislike those who trade on cute, male or female, but we also look down on those who fall for them.
Doesn't she see that at bottom, he's just a standard jerk in a nice package?
That's our Steve, thinking from the waist down again.

We raise our children to look for a person of substance, and to be a person of substance.

Many of us have deep suspicions of religious or cultural groups which play to our emotions. If I detect that a speaker is trying to "work the crowd" according to an insincere formula, I automatically draw back, not only from the speaker, but the crowd as well. Don't these people get it? The swelling music, the slides in the background with the pictures of babies and puppies? Are they that stupid?

In the movie version of "Cabaret," a beautiful young German boy in a Hitler Youth uniform sings "Tomorrow Belongs To Me," and the crowd rises to its feet, some eagerly and some reluctantly, but all are eventually drawn in. It very succinctly explains Germany in the 1930's.

We raise our children to be alert for such things; to give ourselves
emotionally only after the intellect has given permission.

We wince at many advertisements -- not only those which rely on false energy
and repetition, but on those which make deceptive claims. And yes, we
raise our children to be wary of people trying to sell them things.
You'll notice they don't promise it actually cures your cold, just that it
"promotes your body's natural healing."
They want you to believe girls will think you're hot if you drink that
beer.


We look down on those who fall for that garbage. We can all be manipulated, of course, but we try to avoid falling for the most obvious appeals to unreason. We do think ourselves better if it takes more subtlety and style to manipulate us. At least give me Bach's Requiem instead of Shine, Jesus, Shine if you're trying to bring tears to my eyes.

It is always easier to see through what manipulates others. If you don't like country music, much of it will seem maudlin or bathetic. If you find flag-waving an overdone form of patriotic display, then ballet set to "God Bless America" with the dancers in Red, White, and Blue will seem hokey. Fine, then. But if you are quick to sneer at others, you should be hyper-alert to what pushes your own buttons, and correct for it. People who live in glass houses, and all that.

An overlooked piece of why conservatives get so irked by liberal media bias is that it is so pathetic and obvious. The inability of intelligent people to grasp even the most obvious manipulations continues to stun me. As usual, I have fresh personal evidence. My favorite psychiatrist, a brilliant woman who I would rather work with than anyone else in my 30 years experience, mentioned today - chuckling - that she saw a bumper sticker that said "Support Bush" with a noose along the side. How hard is this, doctor? If it said "Support Jesse Jackson," or "Support Jews," or "Support Hillary Clinton," you would withdraw in discomfort. More than discomfort, actually. There would be a wash of fear, a worried realization that there are dangerous, sick people in the world. It would not seem to be merely weak humor. It would be chilling.

For my second example, I sent two newspaper reports of San Francisco demonstrations to my family debate circle (David/David/Jonathan/Jonathan, and now Ben as well). Same newspaper. The Latino kids demonstrating for immigrant rights got a mildly positive, generally neutral report. The evangelical teenagers were described as fascists. My uncle missed the point entirely. The hate-speech used to describe the Christian kids went unnoticed. In fact, he made a Taliban comparison to them himself.

Rant portion: If you're going to be manipulated, at least set your standards higher, dammit! This is obvious, high-school journalism stuff. When anyone, even a glorious reporter or op-ed writer uses the word "fascist," or "Taliban," bells should go off in your head! Any attempt at moral equivalence should send up red flags! Every political cartoon should be mentally reversed, to see if you would think it were fair if it were about another group. How hard is this, people?

Okay, I should switch to decaf a lot earlier in the day. But for liberals puzzled by conservative complaints, start at the very simplest level. Put in the intellectual energy that your junior-high social studies teacher asked of you when you had to detect bias in newspaper articles. Then would you please ask yourself why you didn't notice before?

Could the last rational liberal turn the lights out when you leave, please?

6 comments:

GM Roper said...

AVI, I think the last rational liberal died about 6 years ago. :-)

jw said...

I've long had a problem with both liberal and conservative over use of manipulation: Especially manipulation by telling a part of the truth. This, to me, is the nastiest of the nasty.

The women's groups are the masters of disaster in manipulation by telling a part of the truth. Not that the men's groups are all that much better.

Where are the press/media/NGO people who simply care for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

There is no answer ...

Wacky Hermit said...

GM: I didn't die 6 years ago, but I'm afraid I might have left the lights on when I left the Democratic party. ;)

Doug said...

The most detestable form of manipulation is one that plays on other people fears. I also think some people like being manipulated deep down, because it gives them reason to think the world could be more miraculous than it appears to be.

Shae said...

(Just piping up here - though with much trepidation - to prove that rational liberals aren't such an endangered species after all.)

I can't argue that media bias exists, but it exists on both sides of the aisle. For every San Francisco Chronicle potshot against conservatives I bet I could find a Washington Post snub on liberals - and WaPo has a much higher circulation.

(You have to admit - San Francisco? It's almost too easy. :) )

But in the particular article you're mentioning, the word fascists was quoted, attributed to the opposition, and the person so accused was allowed to respond.

"Christian Gallion, a 15-year-old in town with his Assembly of God youth group from Humboldt County, shrugged off being called 'fascists' by counterdemonstrators. 'It doesn't bother me,' Gallion said. 'It's a beautiful city, and we don't have anything against the protesters.'"

I think the reporter makes Gallion look rather noble in this exchange, demonstrating that the young man has the very Christian virtues of compassion and tolerance.

(I wasn't able to find the word Taliban anywhere in the article.)

So, I agree that manipulation in the media exists and is deplorable. But I think this post shows that even the best of us sometimes fall prey to it, and that the cause is more likely to be inattention than deliberate malice.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Washington Post?!

I take your point that the reporter gave the teen a chance to respond and look good. But that was in the context of city officials calling her a fascist, as reported by the paper. That is in one sense fair game -- the statement was made and was thus news. But the article about the demonstration spent a lot of its energy on the criticism of it. Which events are simply reported and which are reported with opposing commentary is significant.

My belief in media bias is not a claim that it is totally one-sided, but that it leasns, as I noted in March: http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/03/going-over-that-bias-thing-again.html