Friday, September 17, 2010

Stewart's Rally

So the big buzz on the street is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity, which he announced on his show will (hopefully) take place in DC on October 30. In making his argument for the rally Stewart argued that while the conversation in the media on our most important topic is controlled by a small percentage, most people (70-80%) are not being represented most likely because they have shit to do, but also because they “ lack the theatrical flair necessary for today's 24hr a day, seven day a week news media.” (“You may have an assault rifle, but don't think it's appropriate to bring to a rally.”)

In thinking about how a group of people is actually being left out of the conversation and being shut up, I thought of Neumann's “spiral of silence” theory. But the theory says people will remain silent when they are in the minority for fear of reprisal or isolation. If Stewart is right and it is actually the majority who is being shut out of the conversation, why would they feel they need to stay silent?

This led me to think about critical theorists of the Frankfurt school as outlined by Thussu's in his essay “Approaches to theorizing international communication,” He points out how they analyzed the production and sale of media in a capitalist economy as a cultural commodity. The theorists, he says, pinned this on the “the concentration of ownership of cultural production in a few producers.” The result is the undermining of “the critical engagement of masses with important socio-political issues” and the assurance of “a politically passive social behaviour and the subordination of the working classes to the ruling elite.”

This makes sense to me. It also reflects Stewart's claim. It is actually the media dictating the conversation by highlighting the voices of the minority. The call is then for the rest of us to speak up, and Stewart's role will be to make our voices finally heard.

I appreciate the gesture. Jon Stewart should be careful, though, how he allows himself and the media to frame his movement. An unofficial facebook page called “Jon Stewart’s Rally for Restoring Sanity” is already posting how people who attended the other rally are “stupid” and how Glenn Beck’s show is a “comedy”. The risk being run here is that those making the most noise in the media about Stewart’s rally are just as likely to alienate people as their noisy, Foxy counterparts. Will they speak for all of the people for whom this rally is “intended"? Is it actually intended for them, for the Americans who want to take a much needed rational approach to politics? I am beginning to wonder if this group will actually ever have a voice as loud as those at the poles. If the critical theories of communication hold any truth, isn’t it the case that moderate views will never sell and therefore never prevail in the media? Are they always to be undermined?

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