February 28, 2003

Psychology 101…

As I was reading William Powers‘ column on talk-radio pundits, I thought I might begin this entry with: “William Powers is a voice of sanity in media criticism.” While I believe that’s true, starting that way would be a bit ironic considering his foray into pop psychology and what I would actually “mean” by sanity.

Powers considers the role of ideology in talk-radio. He says:

The word “ideology” comes from the Greek idea, and the dictionary defines it as a system of ideas, a way of thinking about the world. But in the media today, ideology is not about thinking at all. It’s about the opposite of thinking: perfect allegiance to a rigid menu of positions and attitudes, and unbending fealty to either Team A or Team B. There’s no room for variation, eccentricity, originality or independence, because the two teams are engaged in a battle for an enormously valuable prize.

What Powers describes, obviously, is not ideology, but dogma. The prize is money. And money is earned by producing an entertaining product that has more to do with the amusement of struggle than the serious consideration of ideas. Oh, and the hosts? They are personally driven by anger:

All media ideologues have one thing in common: anger. Scratch a real ideologue, left or right, and invariably what you find is a person who is working out some ancient vendetta against a parent, a sibling, a school, a company or some social group that rejected them and made them feel small. The anger became a passion, and passion can produce compelling, lucrative media content.

I enjoy cogent commentary. But I also enjoy a well-crafted rant–exactly what Powers gives us. I mean no disrespect–quite the contrary. This pop-psychobabble about anger may have some shred of truth to it. That’s hardly the point. Powers’ rhetorical maneuver is to use that dubious analysis as a stinging rebuke embedded in an otherwise rational commentary.

In other words, Powers just called Limbaugh/Moore and their ilk “craven, money-driven entertainers” without the overt name-calling.

One Response

  1. Alexander 

    While no doubt money is a driving force, I think perhaps the “problem” is not as much money and anger as such a sloppy notion of the meaning of words. Hence the meaning of dogma is attached to ideology, the meaning of hysteria is attached to patriotism and so forth. Maybe these ‘entertainers’ are actually trapped by an imprecise language that does not afford them the ability to logically or reasonably express their ‘views’. Perhaps the language is so sloppy that thinking is corrupted far before expression occurs.