Do you know the story about the frog in hot water? A frog in a pot of cold water sits happy and content while the water is slowly brought to a boil. This happens so slowly that the frog doesn’t notice… until it’s too late and frog legs are on the appetizer menu.
As with most such tales it may not bear close scrutiny, but as a metaphor for the human condition it fits a certain behavior rather well. We can sometimes remain blissfully unaware of small — but dangerous — changes around us… until it’s too late.
I’m reminded of that frog as I watch this election cycle.
I’m not sure it’s really sunk in on most people how much of a sea change the last decade brought to the “public square” of American life.
In the late 1990s, and into the new millennium, the web worked its way into many corners of our lives. In the last ten years or so, Twitter and Facebook (and PayPal) have become institutions in our media and in our marketplace.
Further, the media advertising assault that began with billboards and magazine ads ramped up through radio and television to the interweb where it not only pervades (and invades) but brought the marketplace along with it.
Increasingly, our media is our marketplace and our playground.
We’re pretty far down that rabbit hole; quite a ways into the Marshall McLuhan idea that: “The medium is the message.” (His global village has been here since the first Gulf War, really.)
It strikes me (like a 20-pound hailstone) that our love of all things interweb may have us seeing voting as very much the same as clicking [Like] (or [Thumbs Up] or whatever). Our love of reality shows tricks us into seeing conflict and absurd behavior as normal.
Between the two, voting becomes a popularity contest for your favorite candidate — the one that entertains you the most.
I think we can lose sight of the difference between favorite and best. (I wrote a short essay about that in a very early post: Good vs Like)
A while back there was a bit of a war between two groups of regular users at IMDB over a “100 Best Films” list. The intent was to include films with the best quality (per a set of semi-objective criteria developed over the years of filmmaking; part of what is sometimes called the “language” of film).
But a large enough group of fans voted for the first Batman movie that it made the list.
Which greatly disturbed the cinephiles who, while many liked the Batman movie plenty, objected to putting it on list with Citizen Kane and other cinematic masterpieces (and rightfully so, in my opinion).
There is a big difference between the things we like and favor and those that are best or good by some objective criteria (there really is no best or good without that; all one can say otherwise is that I like this best).
The difference is easily demonstrated in the attraction of sugar and fat over carrots and oatmeal (objectively much better for you).
Or in the difference between Batman and Citizen Kane.
Which brings us to our modern-day Charles Foster Kane, Donald John Trump, a man who has leveraged Twitter as one of his primary weapons (somewhat like photon torpedoes).
Along with his ability to stir the media pot with irresistible bits of raw meat, he’s had an astonishingly successful, yet comparatively inexpensive, campaign.
People see him as a media entertainment figure they’ve watched for many years in a reality show. He’s known. He’s entertaining. Comedians have made fun of his hair for ages.
He seems successful and he’s all about winning, so people are drawn to him, especially those who are feeling angry and betrayed by their party and their country (and modern times, in general).
Evangelical Christians don’t care that he’s clearly not evangelical and probably not even a great example of a Christian.
Conservatives don’t care that he doesn’t seem all that conservative, let alone arch-conservative.
Whether he’s really even much of a Republican seems arguable.
The guy seems to be on the other side of just about everyone who reveres intellect, truth, history, diplomacy, language, or even just rational debate. And those who revere their party. (With very few of them trying to look past all that noise to see what, if anything, lurks behind.)
Watching him manipulate reality is jaw-dropping (and weirdly fascinating). It requires paying attention to and remembering what he says (which can be hard to do). But he builds castles, not out of air, but out of nothing! He uses assertion as fact like a wizard, and it’s very ironic to watch considering that’s been a way of life for the GOP.
He’s riding a wave of the GOP electorate that hates the establishment Republican Party more — much more — than anything Trump can muster. They feel betrayed by their own party and will flock to anything that promises to blow all that up.
It’s actually an almost classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. It shows just how stupid politics has become, and that very stupidity drives Trump’s success (’cause we’re sick of stupid).
I have a feeling Bernie Sanders, another iconoclastic, even bombastic, candidate, would be doing better if not for Trump.
There’s only room for one statue-smashing barbarian invader from the cold.
Or maybe Democrats are slightly less vested in blowing up their party.
All-in-all, honestly, it’s proof of what I’ve been saying in general for decades and posting about here quite often:
Too much digital;
Critical thinking absent;
It’s not that the interweb is bad. Well, not only bad. It’s also good! Very awesomely good. But above all it’s powerful. To the point that it is affecting us and our way of life.
Which means some care and sense is necessary when using it.