George Orwell’s prescient masterwork 1984 is more or less required reading if one wishes to critically appraise the modern political world. To be sure, it has always been the case that people have exploited war and propaganda for the purposes of seizing and maintaining power, but in an era where mass communication has never been so accessible, the lessons taught by Orwell have perhaps never been so valuable. When it is trivially easy to completely selectively tailor which news outlets, columnists, television stations, and essentially every aspect of information communication that one listens to in such a way as to flatter our inherent biases, we find ourselves with a shrinking number of opportunities to be presented with the kind of cognitive dissonance that forces us to examine facts.
One of the most chilling elements within 1984 was the “Two Minutes Hate“:
The next moment a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room. It was a noise that set one’s teeth on edge and bristled the hair at the back of one’s neck. The Hate had started.
As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured — in some hiding-place in Oceania itself.
In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O’Brien’s heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out ‘Swine! Swine! Swine!’ and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein’s nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.
Mainstream outlets are beginning to realize and report on the complete parallel universe that is being created by conservative media outlets – a system of colleges, newspapers, television stations, and particularly talk radio stations that have been carefully fostered and cultivated to create an alternate reality in which “working class Americans” are having their rights stripped by a fascist, dictatorial government run by a foreign menace and aided by Hollywood elites and the Muslim Brotherhood. My parents recently took a trip to the USA and were shocked by the vitriol and poisonous (and outrageously false) content spewing forth from an abundance of talk radio stations – and this was in New York!
While it’s tempting to cluck sadly and point out that “it’s just talk”, such talk has consequences:
The participants and content of five prominent conservative talk-radio programs contribute to increasing hatred against certain minorities, according to the report entitled “Social Networks for Hate Speech” released on Wednesday. The study, carried out by the National Hispanic Media Coalition and UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, analyzed the themes and content of “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” “The Sean Hannity Show,” “The Glenn Beck Program,” “The Savage Nation” and “The John and Ken Show.”
“Our study found that the ideological content of conservative talk radio has helped cultivate a social network built around talk radio hosts and their guests,” NHMC President and CEO Alex Nogales said. “This social network targets vulnerable groups in content that is spread across affiliated social media web sites. The result is an echo-chamber of voices, both online and off, that promotes hatred against ethnic, racial, religious groups and the LGBT community on social media web sites,” Nogales said.
The Two Minutes Hate is no longer restricted to two minutes of public expression – it is instead the feverish 24-hour obsession of a network of outraged political appointees disguised as newsmen (and yes, they’re almost exclusively men) constantly whipping their audience into a frenzy of hatred for the “illegals” that are coming for their jobs, their guns, their women, and their children. There is no countervailing opinion, no dissent, not even an attempt at false balance. No, instead there is an intentional stoking of hatred – the kind that we’ve seen precede tragedy countless times before.
One answer is to ban such speech – an option that I don’t favour, and which should be entered into very carefully if governments were to pursue it. Another option is to have regulations requiring programs describing themselves as “news” to present facts rather than opinion, as is the case here in Canada. A third option is for progressive voices to organize and fight back, demanding the attention of all except the most insulated and intentionally-ignorant listeners who simply refuse to engage with any reality that disagrees with their preconceived positions.
And then there’s the Dead Prez option:
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