The Mediator Is the Message

Musings on the Implications of the Subjective Deliverer

Political discourse undergirds society, fueled by identity and worldviews. Identity politics has shown to increase polarization and divide those with competing values or worldview, so it is not surprising that society becomes further divided when political discourse intersects with entertainment.  

Conspiracy theories, altered histories, and falsehoods formulated on the screen attribute to real-life events and persons despite the warnings before each presentation.

Although entertainment is meant to amuse the masses by providing a diversion, often providing relief to the striving and thinking of the daily grind, political discourse as entertainment can have the opposite effect.  When the discourse centers on fictionalized political arenas, like West Wing, or John Q, the audience enters into the discussion, often by way of affinity group.  Likeminded people watch the portrayal, often because the narrative reflects the opinions of the viewer, which, in turn, reinforces the narrative. If the narrative disparages a political figure, office or policy poorly, opinions may transfer from the fictional to the real world.  Conspiracy theories, altered histories, and falsehoods formulated on the screen attribute to real-life events and persons despite the warnings before each presentation. 

Additionally, comedies and late-night talk shows often cross into political discourse, albeit with a critical lens of comedy.  Opening monologues are replete with jokes aimed at political figures, ranging from benign humor to outright ridicule and political discourse.  Pew Research revealed that news events and political rhetoric enter into the American psyche by the mocking nature of these punchlines. The punchlines cement themselves into political attitudes. 

The shows with diverse audiences tend towards conciliatory rhetoric, whereas those with very well defined audiences tend toward polarized and divisive rhetoric.  One need to compare the opening monologues through the past decades to find the growing divide, none more pronounced than the news shows, and networks, themselves.  (Pew, 2004, late night shows)

Gone are the days when diverse thoughts and divergent views were brought together to solve society’s problems. 

Political discourse, and political debate, have been co-opted by entertainment ratings.  Gone are the days when diverse thoughts and divergent views were brought together to solve society’s problems.  Programs like meet the press, or the PBS News Hour, which purposes to provide a balanced in-depth view of just one or two issues, have given way to a preponderance of one-sided news opinion shows. David Charles Todd, a political analyst and journalist, who has been touted as an even-handed journalist, has come under fire for his “alternative facts are not facts” response to Kelly Ann Conway after Sean Spicer’s misrepresentation of the crowds from conservatives, and also come under fire for his “brown shirt brigade” comments about the Bernie Sanders supporters from progressives.  Instead, shows that pander to groupthink, like Tucker Carlson, or Rachel Maddow, continue to polarize and shape political discourse.  Unlike the comedian or late-night talk show, shows hosted by personalities without journalistic integrity fit the definition of entertainment, rather than political discourse or even news.  Unfortunately, the masses often cannot tell the difference. 

As more people get their news from social media, and these types of news shows, the wider the political divide becomes. 

Dr. Julia Dunst is an adjunct professor at Alvernia University, the same school at which she received her Doctorate in 2020.

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