13 April 2011

David Prosser Sucks, Leah Vukmir Blows

I was recently reminded of an episode from Family Guy in which Lois Griffin runs for mayor of a small town. At first she provides detailed and well considered answers to questions.  She explains everything very thoroughly, and bores the pants off the townspeople.  Her son then explains to her that the undecided voters are the dumbest in the country.  So she resorts to short answers often non-sequiturs, such as “9/11” and “terrorists”.  She easily wins the election.

Sound bites rule the information age.  The essential ability to possess today is agility – the ability to react quickly, what Bill Gates calls “velocity”.  Gathering sound bites means putting our celebrities on the spot, getting them to say something that could be misconstrued, and then applying a snippet of what they said as a general principle describing them. 

How a reporter frames his/her questions is more important than prior research and preparation for an interview.  Let’s say you want to interview David Prosser.  And you want to be able to come up with a catchy way to characterize him without getting yourself sued.  So you frame the question.   

“(Former) Justice Prosser, let’s say you have a soda and you want to drink it through a straw, what would you need to do in order to get the soda up through the straw and into your mouth?”

“I don’t understand the relevance of that question.  What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, sir, it’s just to loosen things up.  What do you do? Do you suck on the straw?"

“Sure, I suck.  That is how you utilize a straw.”  And now Mr. Prosser has provided us with great fodder for a sound bite just by a little editing.  Like this, “David Prosser admits he sucks.  The verdict is in, David Prosser sucks.”

Another method of gathering sound bites is to ask questions and deduce the answers.  In this method you may not get a precise match but you can reconfigure your conversation to arrive at the conclusion you had predicted.

“Ms. Vukmir, do you know how to whistle?”

“Excuse me, well, sure”

“I don’t, could you tell me how?”

“Put your lips together and blow.”

“Is that what you do to whistle?”

“Yes, I do.” 

“So, do you blow?”   

“Excuse me?”

“Thank you, Ms. Vukmir”  

And thus we have the sound bite we need.  “The stunning report that Leah Vukmir admits she blows.”

This is quite a useful propaganda tool that has been exploited for years by dictators and corporations as advertising.  The ruthless nature of propaganda has been utilized, especially since the First World War, by various cultures for various reasons.   In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler explains in great detail how to manipulate the populace using propaganda.   As R.W. Jepson explains in Clear Thinking:

“Such an ambitious, far-reaching aim could only be accomplished by seizing and monopolizing all the means for the dissemination of propaganda—platform, hoarding, press, radio and cinema: and once in undisputed possession of all these, Hitler proceeded to turn on and keep running a steady and constant stream. 

He tells us himself the ways in which he hoped to achieve his end, and they can be briefly summarised thus:
(1) driving home by endless repetition, a few simple points, and using catchy slogans or war-cries;

(2) playing on the herd instinct, and appealing always to groups or to the mass—never to individuals;

(3) avoiding rational argument, and concentrating on securing instinctive reactions, especially to the primary feeling of fear.”

 With the incredibly vast amounts of money pouring into political races these days, it will become more and more difficult to find substantive debates or discussions.  Instead we will hear more about “socialism” and “higher taxes is stealing” and “public employees are getting rich off of you, the taxpayer” and “glass doesn’t need to be recycled, there’s sand everywhere”, etc.

So, grab your hats and cover your mouths folks, campaign mode is all day every day all year long.  

1 comment:

  1. I like the analogies. But I have to say this isn't unique to Wisconsin and the US. The same isht happens here in South Africa. What's worse, the media here just looks for lamest story. There is a pseudo-political zealot named Malema here who is a complete and utter clown. He doesn't even hold an office but is the leader of the most ridiculous association called the ANC Youth League.

    But the media has created him. Every other day he is on the front page of the Star and its generally a non-story. You have to read the headline as its the first thing you see but the media has sensationalized him and now he is bigger than he should ever be. Such a small minded country SA can be sometimes. You are not alone, my friend.