Smile Politely

Drunk on the Kool-Aid

At the risk of misrepresenting my actual habits, I have always outwardly prided myself on being a responsible consumer of information. It’s one of those things that we right-minded liberals hold over the tri-corner-hat-wearing-birth-certificate-requesting-Palin-worshipping Tea Party fanatics. We tout the virtues of Maddow and Stewart, while condemning the heresy of Limbaugh and Coulter. Earlier this week when the Nielsen Rating Company called and asked me to name the television show that I watch most often, I took pride in not mentioning Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity, and explained in my most cultured tone that the television show I most frequently tune into is the PBS News Hour. The woman on the other end seemed impressed.

Of course, the way that we consume information has become one of the biggest issues facing our generation, one that has inevitably become a point of political contention. The Jerry Schweighart/Birther debacle is, of course, a prime example of how this works out. Here we have a poorly informed victim of his own dearth in critical thinking skills spouting off to a student with a video camera. That video is then widely disseminated and ends up on the Huffington Post, which uses it as yet one more piece of evidence in its mounting case against Tea Party activists.

So, is this information actually valuable? Is the information that the mayor imparted upon his interviewer of real value? How about the information that Mayor Jerry doesn’t think our President is a citizen? I mean, sure, he is the mayor of our fine city and he is saying something that is patently absurd and racially charged, but he’s also saying something that has very little if anything to do with local policy. So, do we pay attention to this instead of focusing on Unit 4’s new budget, or the fact that we just eliminated the Liquor Commission here in Champaign, or the ongoing Olympian Drive saga?

Sure, it’s not a zero sum game, but I have to say, it’s hard sometimes to care about who got appointed to the city council when I see outragous news stories all over my Google News page, which quickly take on a life of their own by the time they make it to my Google Reader and in the end there is no issue but the specter of an issue that has somehow managed to dominate whatever attention we have reserved for such political jibber jabber.

And that’s the problem. Most of the time, we concerned liberals are consuming information that has little effect on the policies we supposedly care so much about. Hell, most of the time we hyperbolize these non-issues to the point of complete and absolute absurdity. For example, when I read about how the “gun sights” that Sarah Palin is putting on certain congressional seats is somehow hostile — along with her “decidedly militant” rhetoric when she dispatches benign statements such as, “we’ll aim for these races and many others” — I wonder who comes out of this looking like a caricature.

When we focus on non-issues such as this, we are just being intellectually lazy. We criticize Schweighart for his batty “birther” comment in the same breath that we try to make a Senate candidate’s sexuality a major component of his campaign. Then we retire to our impenetrable cloister of self-importance, ignoring how the halo that hangs over our collective heads has begun to resemble a tri-corner hat, which is my snarky way of saying: as we have trained our focus upon the silly verbiage and the campy aesthetic of Tea Partiers, we have slipped into the same unspecific and ultimately meaningless political talking points that we accuse them of.

(Above: silly verbiage, campy aesthetic)

They are famous for their personal attacks, for ranting against big government in broad, often ill-informed language, but tell me, why are our personal attacks somehow more justified? And how is ranting against their way of ranting any better? Or forget better — how does it get us any closer to enacting any real progress here, where we live (read: where it matters)? And if it doesn’t, then what are we left with in this, our small but politically divided enclave in East Central Illinois?

Well, it all goes back to what your grandmother probably told you while inserting a bar of soap in that dirty, little mouth of yours: garbage in, garbage out!

Chiasmus never sounded so cliché, and yet, it’s applicable when you consider the massive amount of garbage that is generated at the national political level only to be regurgitated here at the local level. And so we come back to my conversation with the nice woman from the Nielsen Rating Company.

Her question was, “which television show do you watch most often,” and my response was the most hoighty toighty, just-the-facts-ma’am thing I could think of — but it was a total lie. Sure, I watch the News Hour once or twice a week, but I spend more time watching Sportscenter than I feel comfortable sharing in a public forum. Hell, I probably accidentally watch more re-runs of True Blood in a week than I do the Newshour (my wife’s fault!), and I most certainly spend more time reading the sparsely meaningful agitprop disseminated on HuffPo than I do the growing pillars of New Yorker magazines casting their shadow over my recycling bin, somehow defying my ability to dispose of them. And yet, I feel somehow more informed, more well rounded than those wingnuts in Kentucky who elected Rand Paul.

I bash Mayor Jerry for his stupid comments, and yet I feed myself the same brand of homogenized talking points that he feeds himself. Sure, I consider myself a critical thinker — who the hell doesn’t — and yet for some reason I have convinced myself that the talking points I have dripping into my information I.V. are somehow more reasonable, that somehow I haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid because mine is a different flavor from his.

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