Sunday, March 13, 2016

Political Interlude Nobody's Going to Read

As we all patiently wait for the arrival of Spring on our calendars, I'm going to dip my toe into the political maelstrom for one brief point about Narrative; please note I'm using that word in the grand sense. Much of our lives is spent constructing narratives that explain our everyday existence, a story framework that gives meaning where there may, in fact, be none. We all imagine ourselves as the central hero of a grand narrative of our lives. It's comforting, right?

Writers spend their lives grappling with issues of storytelling and the meaning of narratives and one thing most of us understand is that at the root of all drama is conflict. Without conflict, little to no drama. The type of conflict is in many ways irrelevant. Its existence, and the attendant drama, hold an audience's attention. The conflict, for an adept writer, can be created out of whole cloth, but as long as an audience wants to believe it, an audience will watch it.

In the entertainment world, where keeping audience attention is critical, the truth of an actual conflict is secondary to keeping the audience in their seats.

In the political world, I think manufactured conflict is a bit more problematic. At this point in time, I can't shake the feeling that the media is manufacturing conflict - and thus narrative - where none actually exists and I can see only two possible motives, one self-serving, one that could be considered journalistic over-reach.

I'm primarily (pun intended) focused on the democratic party right now. I'm a lifelong democrat, so they occupy most of my focus, both positive and negative. If you look at today's primary standings, Clinton has 1231 delegates and Sanders has 576. Since we liberals are the ones to tout our belief in science and math, can we focus for a second on the fact that this numerical disparity would be considered a commanding lead in any other race? It is nearly a statistical impossibility that Sanders can win the nomination yet the media still portrays this as a neck and neck race. Why?


By manufacturing a conflict, the media has the narrative that is Clinton v. Sanders. That narrative is what keeps people tuning in. If the democratic story is over until the general campaign begins, all those democrats may turn their channels from the news outlets until that point in time. Those revenue dollars then go somewhere other than the news channels. So, that's the self-serving motive that I pointed out. The news media needs to generate viewers and one way to do it is report things in such a way to keep their narrative running.

You may shrug this off and say, "hey, it's the media. This is what they do." Yes and no. News outlets are supposed to report on events with editorial balance, but you may have noticed that over the last few years, traditional news has slipped into the "infotainment" category, where we rely ever-increasingly on the news channels' interpretations of the events, rather than any kind of objective reporting. When much of the public relies more heavily on TV Comedians for their news sources than actual news-reporting agencies, there's a problem.

To recap, Clinton has a nearly unbeatable lead and all reality-based statistics point to the conclusion that she will be the Democratic nominee for president. Everyone can understand the need for ratings and the self-serving motives of TV Networks in prolonging a story. But the troubling undercurrent here is that you could argue that the news outlets are actually trying to influence the elections. Does the constant narrative of an underdog win by Sanders somehow destabilize the elections themselves? Is he the one being propped up by the media, rather than the popularly-touted claim that Clinton is always getting the benefit of the doubt?

I make no judgment about the candidates themselves, but I do encourage you to question your news sources and the media. Their agenda may not always be the same as yours.

Apologies for the dip into politics. Martini Mondays will return in the spring!