Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Where is the Fury?

I read an interesting opinion piece on CNN the other day.  The headline on the opinion page is:

Where is fury over shutdown?

The author seems to bemoan the smugness with which people have accepted Congress' battle to pass either a budget or a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. Government.  Of course, many analysts have called the situation in Washington a "slimdown" since 80+ percent of the government continues to operate regardless of the budgetary impasse.

But, let's set that second fact aside.  The real question, according to the author of the piece is the fact that:

The most stunning thing about this first shutdown of the U.S. government in almost two decades is the degree to which it is a nonevent, considered par for the course given the sad state of affairs in the nation's capital. Voters may be angry. They may be depressed. But there are no mass demonstrations. Congress' approval rating may have hit new lows, but beyond that, the response has been a shrug.

One may pause a moment to think about this fact.  Why hasn't there been a general fury?  Why haven't people erupted in anger, frustration, etc.?

If you still have the CNN link open in one of your tabs, I dare you to search "outrage."  Go ahead.  Do it.  See what kinds of links appear.  8,133 results.  Translated: a mess load of stories.  Tons of stories. 

For years, the mantra in the newsroom was, "If it bleeds, it leads."  Sex, violence, and conflict sells.  And the stakes keep getting higher.  A "simple" murder doesn't grab a person's attention anymore.  The murder needs to be gruesome and have some sort of diabolical twist: Casey Anthony anyone?  It helps to be tinged with racial overtones--especially white on black: Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman anyone?  Or, we need a teen idol pushing the boundaries of accepted sexuality: Miley Cyrus anyone?  Or we need stories of kids being told to stop wearing Duck Dynasty T-shirts; or Christians being forced to take off cross necklaces; or the fact that a Muslim scholar wrote a book about Jesus. 

In each of these instances, the media in the U.S. purposely--in my estimation--inflated these stories to incite controversy and outrage. 

And it doesn't matter what media outlet you tune in to.  CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, or Al Sharpton all share the same traits as they engage their audiences--shock, awe, anger, frustration.  Just take a moment to REALLY listen or read.  See how stories and monologues are constructed to blame someone and cause anger and frustration.  See how conflict is elevated by rhetoric.

Then, take a moment to realize how long such rhetoric has been propagated.  And, finally, ask yourself: do people eventually become numb? 

My own take: sure they do.  This, along with these facts from the opinion piece:

Both parties are responsible for the gerrymandering that has produced a modern political reality in which the vast majority of members of Congress are in safe districts and never feel pressure from opposing views.

They have no reason ever to compromise and, indeed, are penalized for doing so because their future depends on primary wins, and they see those who vote in primaries -- the most extreme members of the party faithful -- as the group to whom they must answer.

Both parties have engineered and failed to challenge the corrupt campaign finance system that gives check writers power over law writers and undercuts the most basic principles of equity in democracy.

Both parties have contributed to the shrillness of the debate. Both parties have used antiquated Senate rules to block progress by their opponents and the confirmation of nominees of presidents they oppose. And both have done these things for so long now that these flaws in our system are seen as enduring and impermeable to change.

Outrageous?  Sure, but how shocking is this compared to all the other stuff that is use to outrage us?  

Is it any wonder there is a collective, meh?

The news media is collectively guilty of crying wolf one too many times.  Trying to engage the masses day after day after day with shocking and outrageous stories has led to a culture which is in outrage shock, and when stuff we should truly be angry about happens, we shrug.

Where is the fury?

We've used it up.

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