Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Reader Contribution: Listening from the Left

Ed.: Blog For Arizona reader Ned Mackey sent in this essay. Thanks, Ned!

The need to belong to a group is one of the most significant aspects of human nature. We must know who we are and who we are not. We trouble ourselves to exhibit group distinctions, flaunting our constituency by announcing "We are us, and you aren't." At least as important as intelligence, the togetherness urge helped us out of the dwindling forests and onto the savanna to become the most powerful of all the creatures.

It's possible the trait is so ubiquitous that even the loner stays
alone to fit into the category of loners. He awakes in his cave or on his mountain top driving back the urge to join the Rotary, comforting himself with the knowledge that his fellow loners are fighting the same demon. But if word of a loners' convention swam into their ken, they'd gather to don fake straw hats and wave banners like a mob of delegates at a political convention.

Motorcycle gangs are not the most troublesome contemporary examples of this trait, nor are the hip-hop afflicted. That distinction belongs to Right-wing radio. The genre is all pretty much the same, sameness being an essential quality of "groupness." The hosts may differ superficially along a line from the grotesque buffoonery of Michael Savage to the more genteel and somewhat saner Michael Medved, but the message is always the same: Conservatism is infallible in its every thought and deed.

Club members who yearn to telephone the host and take up some already pounded-in point often begin obsequiously: "It's a great honor to speak to you, sir" (or ma'am in Laura Ingraham's case). The call not only connects caller with host but with the rest of that far-flung audience of disaffected Americans who need constant reassuring that their pain and their smugness are understood and applauded by God and Country.

That takes care of the "We are us" part of the membership requirement. The "You are not" part is the repetition ad nauseum that anyone who disagrees is either stupid or immoral, even traitorous, and not a real American at all.

I sometimes feel sorry for the hosts of these radio shows. They must fall into bed at night dizzy as a dervish from their efforts, then rise before dawn to get the newspapers (even though everyone knows the print media are lousy with lefties, along with alphabet TV and Hollywood) to find out what has happened while they slept. Every bit of news must be consumed and spun.

If the spin curves the facts easily toward Bill or Hillary, or Howard Dean, who is making a comeback as a bull's eye, the host is home free. No thought required. If an issue misses those marks, the host must dig into the morass of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies that he has convinced himself are facts. The audience must be stroked. Those in need of snake oil must be served.

An example of this thinking outside the box, or from the bottom of it, is Michael Medved's white-washing of the little affair at Abu Ghraib. Bill and Hillary might have been to blame just by walking around in the open air in their unclean condition. But that twist could be a bit of a stretch even for Michael's Malleable Minions, so he dug deep and,

"Voilá!" (No, Michael hates the French.)

"Eureka!" (Nope. Hates the Greeks, too.)

"By Golly! The prison complex is cursed. After all, the Bible speaks of cursed buildings. Any more questions? I thought not."

To be fair, I have to give Medved some credit. His screener lets
non-members through. Medved even devotes one show a week to demolishing my brothers and sisters, who must wish they had prepared their arguments ahead of time, rather than calling while stuck in a traffic jam.

Medved is gutsy in another way too. On a recent program his theme was the innate happiness of Conservatives vs. the meanness of Liberals. One caller opined that Ann Coulter might best be left off the list of examples. Another reported difficulty with the idea that Michael Savage would be much fun at a picnic. Medved replied that he did not discuss other talk show hosts. Then, after a moment of dead air in which you could almost hear the wheels turning, he conceded that Savage didn't really belong.

Can't wait for the internecine warfare!

So if I don't like Right-wing radio, why do I listen to it? Let me
defend myself by saying that I only do so in the car. Buttons on my car radio tune in good music, ball games, or NPR. I don't know what it is about driving that makes me seek the companionship of Rush Limbaugh, the Sultan of Spin. The traffic isn't crazy enough to get my blood up? Too few pot holes in the road to make me know I'm alive?

Odd also is my hunch that I wouldn't listen to incipient Left-wing radio, even if knew where to find it. I don't want to hear Al Franken spinning leftward. He's a funny guy. I'd go to a comedy club to hear him anytime. But I hate to see him soiling himself in the tawdry business he's currently engaged in.

No, the club I belong to is better off essentially leaderless. But we recognize each other out on the roads. Stopped at red lights, we sense perturbation and turn to see one of our own swearing at his dash board. We pummel the steering wheel with both hands, even in the midst of a sharp turn. Caught in the act, we smile and hope the other guy is suffering what we are suffering, not giving us the finger but giving it to Dennis Prager.

Hmm. Maybe we really are the mean ones. The way things are going, we'll need to get a lot meaner.


At 1:15 PM, Blogger Patty said...

That "Us v. Them" mentality has worked throughout history. It's now being utilized by W and his minions to justify the use of depleted uranium, while at the same time fabricating the existence of said DU in Iraq as reason to start a war. It makes my head spin. Of course, my head spinning could just be caused by the mercury in the air.... or the perchlorate....or something.


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