Through A Glass Darkly

My father is a fairly conservative Republican. The other day he told me that he heard Obama’s speech to a crowd in India. He said that he thought it was a really good speech. He seemed quite surprised. I tried to find out more details about why he liked it, but I didn’t get much. He described how he had to switch channels a few times in order to keep listening. Each time he landed on a live broadcast, it would soon be interrupted by the commentators or anchors of that channel. It made me realize that this may have been the first time my father had ever heard a speech by the President.

It used to be that speeches by presidents were news. This isn’t really true anymore. Networks don’t like to broadcast speeches uninterrupted, it seems. They insist that all worthy news can be encapsulated into sound-bites. They seem eager to interrupt or move on to a different topic to keep their attention-deficit audience entertained. Viewers are often treated to more time with TV personalities “analyzing” a speech than was allowed for the speech itself. It seems to be another example of punditry overpowering the news in the current infotainment media (I can’t even bring myself to call it the “news” media anymore!)

There was a time when the networks would cover political conventions leading up to a Presidential election. This doesn’t happen anymore. Some say it’s because the drama has been drained out the conventions. This of course implies that the value of such coverage is more dramatic than civic. If a party wants coverage, they’re going to have to engineer some drama into their “show.”

The point here is that the American public is now seeing all things civic and political through the filter of commercial speech. What we hear is bought and paid for by large sums of money. We don’t research issues to find truth; we listen to the sources that we trust or at least the sources that we hear most often. We embrace an image of a person or issue that is fabricated by sources with an interest in how we perceive these issues and people. My father has never liked Obama, but until a few days ago, I doubt he had ever listened to anything the man had to say; the only things he had listened to were what other pundits had to say about Obama.

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