Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Slick spots vs. social networks

The basic premise of democratic theory is that collective decisions will be arrived at through a rational process of give-and-take, of discussion based on commonly-accepted facts and differing opinions generated by diverse interests and personal preferences. The antithesis of this democratic model is one of secret manipulation of public opinion by means of a flood of emotionally-based appeals, developed using the tools of marketing and advertisement and delivered ubiquitously with funding by powerful and anonymous sponsors.

It should be obvious to even the casual observer which model, in a post-Citizens United world, is ascendant. With virtually-unlimited budgets and bland front names (Citizens for Prosperity, American for the Future, Citizens United) corporations and billionaires can now work to elect their candidates and qualify and pass their initiatives with a free hand.

Simultaneous with the rise of this model of anonymous manipulation on a grand scale has been the emergence of social media as its antithesis. Just as Iranian dissidents confronted their country’s corrupt clerical oligarchy through street protests organized using Facebook and Twitter, Americans with non-corporate political agendas find themselves relying more and more on these same technologies in order to coordinate their own political efforts.

What has emerged, then, is a contest between slick and omnipresent 30-second television spots designed to appeal to visceral and emotive aspects of the human psyche and an electronically-mediated movement or set of movements calling for the pooling of individual action through social networks. Of course, both sides (to the extent that there are only two sides) are using both approaches, when they can afford to or as it suits their purposes.

What we have then, is a vast system of money, polling/focus groups, attitudes, linguistic and audio/video formulations, membership lists, and professional practitioners vying for access to, and the ability to modify the thoughts, feelings and actions of, all the individuals who together make up the body politic, using increasingly powerful and persuasive electronic media, both uni-directional and interactive.

One can only hope that the billionaires who control Facebook will remain willing to be traitors to the economic class to which they now belong, lest the playing field tip even more thoroughly in the direction of the 30-second tv spot.

No comments: