For several decades I have been intrigued by the distortion of information that TV can promote, without, perhaps, even realizing what they do. Print media, and the blogs can be mislead by careful staging and message control, as well. This can make it very difficult for those of us on the outside, looking in, to evaluate what we think we know.
We all start with a mental framework set up to evaluate and organize all incoming information. That framework, (or schema), is constructed over our entire life based on a complex weighting of everything to which we are exposed. Understanding that structure is the dream, and life's work, of advertisers, politicians, pundits and psychologists.
But the professional view of our attitudes and opinions, and their determination of how a new message is to be "sold" to effect, or change, our world view is also subject to interpretation by the schema they have constructed for themselves. Their own world view effects how they view the structure of ours. There are very skillful people who use this self-awareness and remain immune to the information they manipulate. Others, the Kool-Aid Drinkers never realize that they are viewing everything through their own distorted lens.
If your head has not exploded to this point, let's push on.
The 5,000 or so people in the Convention Hall last night, are not the Party "base". They are a carefully selected group, divided into two tiers of convention goers.
First are the top state, municipal, and county chairs, all of whom are strategists, hard-ball players, and seekers after power within the party. They are there to deliver on the party agenda devised by the top echelon in Washington.
The second tier are those who tag along because they think it might be fun to be a part of the show. They actually contribute little to event beyond casting their vote as they are told, and demonstrating unstinting enthusiasm, when they are told.
Constant televised repetition of that staged enthusiasm, mixed with commentators regular references to "the base", is both misleading and dangerous. It represents carefully selected party operatives as "just folks". It also has the potential to convince undecided voters that if they want to be a part of the glitz and glam, they should jump on this train.
This is where the "undecided voter" and the "low information voter" can be captured by the visual images flashing on the TV screen and stored in the schema they are building about the upcoming election.
Note: The same was true of the Democratic Conventions. The real "event" in Denver was the crowd in Mile High that went wild over Obama's speech. That scared the Republicans, because they know it was not staged, and it was impossible to spin it as such. It was often referred to as "risky" by the media before the event, because they, too, know that if cheering is not staged, booing may ensue. Failure to control the message was the risk.
Next I turn to the Red Meat that is so entrancing the Talking Heads, this morning.
One of the most obvious things to emerge from watching the convention last night was the skill with which the message was framed, and the setting in which it was staged. It was masterful, and our failure to see that would be a dangerous failure.
One of the most powerful mechanisms for grouping people and gaining their loyalty, is to insert the classic We/They into their schema. We are all familiar with the Patriot-Traitor, Win-Lose, God-Devil dichotomies the Republicans have embedded into the American world view during the past 40 years. They have done so with such success that liberal thinkers write and read books such as "What's the Matter with Kansas?".
Last night the Republicans began the introduction of two more dichotomies.
- They are the party of women and we are sexists.
- They are the party of social progress and we are the airy, fairy party of the past.
They have made attempts to market these concepts in the past, but never so forcefully, or openly.
Consider. Which side of this divide would you wish to associate yourself with, particularly if you have just began to pay attention to the election circus and this is "new information" seeping into your schema?
Let's recap. Hardcore party operative, and their hangers on, staged a glamorous event in which, on cue, they screamed like crazy for a total political neophyte portraying herself as "just folks". They repeatedly assailed the "Liberal Media" and by deliberate intention the Democrats, for a "sexist dismissal" of this paragon of "just folks" who encompasses the totality of "Republican Values". They marketed a trivial bunch of misleading statements all designed to conceal their real agenda from public exposure. This skillfully concocted Morass of Marketing Mush has been continually represented by the media as reflecting the views and values of The Base.
This entire display was carefully designed to jigger the schemas of those who know nothing about the underlying intent, or the structure, of this valuable marketing account called the Republican Party. And, the commentariat, oblivious to their own filtering schema, have chanted, "The Base, The Base", right on cue. We dismiss the potential success of this strategy at our own peril.
Selling soap is a skill the Republicans have mastered. This year it's "Oxygenated" next year it will contain "Chlorophyll" and "The Relaxing Scent of Lavender" can't be far behind. It hides the failure to remove those nasty stains. But it keeps the members in this consumer society chasing a new product that promises a miracle cure.
Barack Obama broke this mold and was wildly successful in doing so. But, we, and he, can't let down our guard. This was not new, and improved. And it does not represent the Base of the Republican Party, unless we let the new schema they concocted last night go unchallenged.
It is the same old soap, in a shiney new box, designed to tweek the information store of the less attentive.
Let's make sure Senator Obama has the means to continue to fight this marketing blitz. Donate time. Donate money. Write that letter to you local papaer you have been putting off writing.
And keep telling your neighbors, "Same soap, different box".