For all our supposed media sophistication, it’s remarkable how schmaltzy our mass communications have become here in the early 21st Century. It’s almost as if advances in technology have had an equal and opposite effect on content.
An obvious example is reality television. The exagerrated acting style and unlikely story lines of Victorian melodrama and silent films have nothing on these curious modern playlets, where the dramatic payoff seems always to be a wide-eyed expression of outrage.
In the political arena, no pander to saccharine sensibilities is considered too great: a labrador retriever in the candidate family portrait is good; a lab puppy is better. More dangerous than puppy love, though, are appeals to angry emotions, such as may have inadvertently supplied a framework for the Tucson shooter’s psychosis. Even if tragedy doesn’t ensue, reliance on words and images that touch off repetitive emotional responses, instead of stimulate fresh thinking, impoverishes our political debate.
I just saw on TV a scene from the Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movie “State of the Union”. Presidential candidate Tracy skims through a proposed speech, reading aloud about “the palsied hand of government” resting on useful productive capacity, and how businesses must not be “treated like felons.” Tracy looks up angrily, protesting: “This is double talk!” The movie's from 1948; those phrases or ones like them can be found in any conservative political speech today. Similarly simple-minded and tired ideas clutter up liberal expression as well.
Let's not just tone down our rhetoric post-Tucson, let’s smarten it up.