Oftentimes, I wonder if the political system we have is irreparably broken. Surely this isn’t a new thought or conclusion that I’m arriving at, but unlike political strategists and pamphlet passing anarchists, I have no motive to further some candidate or some ideology to preach. I simply have questions that any passively interested American citizen might have.
Before I get into that, I want to talk a little bit about the NFL Draft and what I’ve learned about it over the years (trust me, it’ll all connect in the end).
When I was a kid, I would always watch the NFL Draft. I was a bored 6th grader and I derived all of my excitement from video games and the hope that the talented Minnesota Vikings would one day win a Super Bowl. Over the last 10 years of watching, I’ve come to two conclusions: one, the NFL Draft is a TV program that hopes to gain viewers just like any other TV program, and two, commentators are just sensationalists that convince you through the conviction of their tone that their analysis is flawless.
As a TV program, the NFL Draft has to make itself as exciting as possible. How do they do that? By convincing the viewer that every single pick is monumental - sure to change the direction of each franchise by leaps and bounds. That, of course, is where those smooth talking expert analysts come in. They’ll tell you that the receiver that your team picks is the next Randy Moss or that this guy is the only can’t miss player of the whole draft. If these experts are right about a prediction, they’ll be replaying the sound bites of their spot-on foresight in 10 years to remind you of how right they were. If they were wrong about a prediction, they won’t. I’m not going to go as far as saying that their analysis is akin to some bloke off the street with a laptop and internet connection (because it’s not), but the truth is that these picks are far less important and far more random than the nicely wrapped package and presentation of them will have you to believe.
As I grew more and more aware of the business aspect of the NFL Draft (and by the way, I still enjoy watching the first round of the draft), I became more aware of sports networks in general and their selling of sensationalism. Today at the gym, the topics for discussion on the NFL Network were:
1.) Is Cam Newton the real deal? (after two games of mixed results playing the hardest position in professional sports)
2.) Are the Lions legit? (after stomping the hapless Chiefs and edging the marginal Bucs)
3.) Will the Eagles regret trading Kevin Kolb? (after a completely unpredictable concussion to QB Michael Vick)
Obviously, the general public buys into this system - otherwise, ESPN and other news networks wouldn’t operate the way they do. Like the undisciplined (and most likely, unprofitable) investor, people have a natural disposition to react with their gut. They make long term predictions and base a disproportionately large chunk of that prediction on the latest news. That’s fine and dandy - it’s just sports. The problem comes when this reactionary mentality is transferred to the fostering of ideas that have a real, direct effect on how people perceive their government.
I was at the gym one day and CNN was on. It was about one week before the debt ceiling needed to be addressed and Don Lemon was the news anchor at the time I started watching. Like all 24 hour news networks, CNN brought on the typical experts on the subject - politicians, economists, and professors, all of whom seemed to cancel each other out in some respects - but this day was a little different. Cameras had been allowed to record the discussions in the senate and Don Lemon was eager to give us, the viewers, a peak at what he deemed to be some good, old-fashioned political discussion on the floor between Republican John McCain and Democrat Dick Durbin.
I couldn’t believe the debate that the two were having (discussion begins at the point that starts with “BEGIN VIDEO CLIP”)
Each of the two debaters cited facts that had been thrown around for months on the subject: the economic policies during Reagan’s prosperous presidency and the hugely ineffective tax cuts for the wealthy enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency.
I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was watching. Here you had two veteran politicians - one month into the crisis and a week shy of the ultimate deadline - having a debate using facts that could be cited by any PoliSci undergrad or remotely politically interested citizen.
I started to ask myself questions: was this all just for show? What could they have possibly been debating three months prior if the most obvious facts were being presented on the floor so late into the discussion? Was Don Lemon really enthusiastic about this, or was he feigning interest for the sake of the millions of viewers that were watching him?
Immediately, I thought about the sports networks that profit handsomely from the attention spans of people who hope that the world really is as simple as picking up this or that player. For news networks, they have their own set of viewers to profit from: those who really think that the state of the economy hinges solely upon this or that tax cut, who believe that the world is divided into wise men and fools, and who believe that the category of wise man and fool also conveniently fit into the categories of good guy and bad guy.
The world isn’t simple. The economy isn’t simple. The success of a sports franchise isn’t simple. No one problem that needs to be addressed is as simple as the one piece of information that is most considered in the solving of it. I think people know that in their hearts but they’ve been convinced by the pretty people in nice clothes who speak so eloquently that everything really is as simple as that. Can anyone really blame them?
I think about this often. I’m a lover of knowledge and I like to be just in what I believe. I admit when I’m wrong and I accept my correction happily because I know that I should be proud that I follow the facts as they are. But it’s discouraging. I know that the things I believe in are virtually impossible to achieve. Sure, I’ll vote for the causes that come up on the ballot, but it seems to me as if the hunk of policy that I’d like most to address are in the hands of the people who are easily impressionable and deluded by a sense of unwavering nationalism. It seems like the power belongs to those who can appeal to the emotions of people and I know all too well that emotions and logic are so distinctly divided and that the line is most invisible to those who rely heaviest on their emotions in their decision making.
And then, inevitably, I think of that JFK quote…
The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.
…and then I think “damn, my position is such a cop out. Look at me and people like me. I’m so busy tearing down everything that I forget to represent anything”.
What to do you think about this? Are people like me copping out? Do 24 hour news networks serve a purpose? Do you have any literature you recommend me to read?
19 notes, September 20, 2011