There is something about people’s behavior that turns me off during an election year. Having been seduced by the siren call of mass media, we no longer discuss things. Rather we seem to shout the same rhetoric louder and louder trying to drown out anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with us.
Mass media has grown quite adept with tailoring to and manipulating the lowest common denominator: the herd instinct. They are great with ‘engineering of consent’ a phrase coined by Edward Bernays to mean the scientific technique of opinion-molding.
[“New York Times polling guru Nate Silver reported something interesting today: An online poll conducted by Google found that people who were asked during last night’s debate who was winning were much less likely to answer “Romney” than people who were asked who had won shortly after the debate. It then goes on to say that: What mattered wasn’t just what people saw on TV, but what experts told them they had just seen. And presumably the media’s rendering of the story will matter even more for the many people who didn’t see the debate. “]
I wonder how much of what we see is actually real how much is created by various social institutions. People love images, and movie-like narratives. People, especially journalist love dog fights. And just as much as Ancient Rome people want to see blood. Debates that require deep thinking and frequent reassessment of one are thinking habits no one wants. Frankly a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frasier type of political fight trilogy is more exciting. To be honest it is more entertaining. Things are clear cut. There is a clear winner and loser, a clear “Us” and “them”. We can advertise who we are rooting for and for a brief moment while we are being entertained our existence rises above the basal vapidity that saturates modern living. And because we got what we paid for excitement, an opportunity to distance ourselves from the real issues of the day by plunging head first into a chaotic fracas we don’t go further than voting and waiting for the next fight four years down the road.
In our culture, claims Baudrillard, we take “maps” of reality like television, film, etc. as more real than our actual lives – these “simulacra” (hyper-real copies) precede our lives. Our television “friends” (e.g. sit-com characters) might seem more alive to us than their flesh-and-blood equivalents (“did you see what Jerry/Rachel/Frasier did last night?”). We communicate by e-mail, and relate to video game characters like Lara Croft better than our own friends and family. We drive on freeways to shopping malls full of identical chain stores and products, watch television shows about film directors and actors, go to films about television production, vote for ex-Hollywood actors for president (is he really an actor? Or a politician? It doesn’t matter). In fact, we get nervous and edgy if we’re away too long from our computers, our e-mail accounts, our cell phones. Now the real empire lays in tatters, the hyper-real map still quite intact. We have entered an era where third-order simulacra dominate our lives, where the image has lost any connection to real things.