Idle Chatter

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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  1. Brownian says

    In the interest of saving time, I’m just going to preempt the line of comments that have the form:

    This post is ironic, because Two Minute’s Hate is what FtB does.

  2. says

    I know… I listen to enough “American Family Radio” to know. It is not only the hate, but the assurance that by hating enough and convincing others to hate enough they can somehow create a peaceful, happy utopia… that’s the part that scares me the most. They honestly believe that it doesn’t matter what we do about the economy, or the environment, or health care, or anything else. All that matters is that they hate people outside of their approved circle enough, and all those other things will magically fall into place.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Something has gone very wrong when it takes more than four minutes to conduct a Two-Minute Hate.

  4. says

    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.

    Not only did Orwell’s prose describe a chilling, dystopic view of humanity, he also knocked out a startlingly accurate description of dub step.

  5. lpetrich says

    Emmanuel Goldstein = Leon Trotsky
    Big Brother = Joseph Stalin
    The central character of 1984 was someone who was perpetually rewriting history, a common Stalinist activity. Anyone who fell out of favor was not only written out of the history books, but also painted out of official pictures. There’s even a book about the latter activity called “The Commissar Vanishes”.

  6. Jubal DiGriz says

    I have to add that this is not only a right-wing phenomenon. MSNBC is the most obvious candidate on the left end of things, but there are other examples too. And that was another vital aspect of 1984… the creation of an arbitrary and symbiotic political conflict that exists only to perpetuate a fundamentally unjust system.

    What Orwell missed was that the 2 Minute Hate is also an excellent opportunity to sell cars and body spray.

  7. John Horstman says

    Ah! It’s been too long since I listened to “Let’s Get Free” or “Revolutionary but Gangsta”; I have my music choice for the remainder of the morning! Thankee!

    As for the Orwell, spot-on. Woe are we.

  8. hamstur says

    You have to adjust for inflation. The trouble is that I’m not sure if you should use 1934 or 1984 as a basis.

  9. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    How does one factor in one’s fifteen minutes of fame into this? Or am I in the wrong post?

    Is this part of my fifteen minutes?

  10. Sylvester McMonkey McBean says

    What boogulates my mind is the right preaches that it’s the left who are the ones spewing hate. When the Chik fil a thing went down I had a couple of my right wing friends talk about the hateful rhetoric from the left. When I pointed out Rush, O’Reily and crew as also being hateful, they didn’t see it. Their hate is “justified” and “pure” me calling a bigot a bigot is an assault on “free speech” and “business rights”. *sigh*

  11. says

    MSNBC is the most obvious candidate on the left end of things

    a person capable of saying or writing this with a straight face has never in their entire life seen actual leftist propaganda; or is just making stuff up for the sake of False Balance

  12. lirael_abhorsen says

    You believe that conflict between liberals and conservatives in the US is arbitrary and purely symbolic?

    I know that “Why don’t we all just come together?” bipartisanship is an appealing thought, but there are actual serious political disagreements in the US (and in most other countries), over actual serious issues like poverty and war and bodily autonomy, that aren’t going to be overcome purely by goodwill.

  13. Rabidtreeweasel says

    I think this is a valid point in that our left wing is far more conservative than leftist politics are elsewhere in the world. The difference between our left and right wing politicians is notable to us, and I could never vote for a republican candidate, but in general I prefer a left leaning party to be far more socialist than the Democratic party is. A large part of the problem is our politicians spend Soooooooo much time arguing about whether or not they are real Christians, or what their god wants for our nation, or if we should have Billy Graham’s kids or Pat Robertson’s kids speak at the National Day of Prayer, and if Catholics should be able to discriminate and how that should be regulated that we get bogged down in things which aren’t really “polarizing” issues because they shouldn’t even be on the table to begin with. Once you strip all that BS away the parties become disappointingly similar and they run out of big ticket items to distinguish themselves by.

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