Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Can We Agree on This One Thing?

Yes, that is a donkey on my ballot. Yes, I'm a bleeding heart left leaning liberal. But this post isn't about that. It's an entirely bipartisan topic that I'm pretty sure 99% of us can agree upon, especially anyone forced to watch the series of increasingly vitriolic, hysterical and downright ridiculous political ads running in Kansas and Missouri right now.

So here is my question. Can't we find a way to bring back some level of civility, reason and measured debate about the issues instead of the nasty, misleading and ill-informed nonsense we seem forced to wade through to find some kind of truth? I don't know what the solution is. I just know that I'm tired of ads featuring heavily photo-shopped images of female candidates made to look haggard, old and downright evil. I'm tired of having to visit factcheck.org every time I hear any candidate of any party give a sound bite, or when I get an offensive and badly written forwarded snopes.com worthy email from a relative that claims I'm going to have to pay the government an extra 3% tax next time I sell my house. I'm tired of the insulting comparisons of "wimpy" politicians to actual Yorkie puppies, it's insulting to the puppies, frankly it's just animal cruelty. If you want to see some of the awful ads I'm talking about here you go: Yorkie ad, photoshopped ad, and my favorite I speak fluent English but I don't understand the words that are coming out of this candidate's mouth ad.

But you probably have plenty of these myths running on your TV too. They must be effective though because they only seem to multiply each year. That bugs me. A lot of things bug me, but trying to sway voters with this kind of crap just pisses me off.  I'm just a regular person over here. I'm not particularly politically active, and certainly not on a local level. I have a lot social issues I feel passionately about and stay informed on, and throw my money behind. But as I voted today I realized, I'm part of the problem. I don't do my part. I don't ensure that I'm a thoroughly informed citizen. I don't know enough about the local candidates or the less contested ballot measures. I've failed a bit there as a citizen. I have this amazing right and I give it little thought. Oh, I got to the polling place after work and cast my vote. I wore my little sticker with pride. But isn't that the bare minimum?

After I voted, I went home feeling guilty that I'd gone into this important task unprepared this time. I didn't know enough about the three ballot measures. I only knew a bit about four or five of the names on the slate of Democrat candidates. In fact, I might have voted for my local State Rep Bonnaye Mims because one of her volunteers told me my skirt was cute as I walked into the church rec center where we vote. And if I can be this easily swayed by a compliment, I probably need to know more before I go into that booth. But her compliment was probably more true than any ad I've seen lately. (My skirt was cute.) But my point is, that shouldn't sway me, just like these shitty, manipulative and demeaning ads shouldn't. I'm well read. I listen to NPR and read several news sources everyday. My Google Reader feed is full up and not just with blogs. I'm up on current events, and if someone like me can feel overwhelmed and uninformed, then there are a lot of people out here less informed than me.

With minimal internet surfing, something I'm incredibly adept at when searching for pictures of baby otters or corgi puppies, you'd think I could carve out a couple of hours now and then to bone up on my local political issues and leaders. Because being better informed makes us more immune to the nonsense ads, the nonsense double talk, the nonsense sound bites. And I think that's one of the only solutions. Education. Educate ourselves. Read non-partisan sites. Read the newspaper. Don't believe everything you read in an email or online. Research. Pay attention to the big picture and the nuances instead of just listening to the talking heads on either side. If Aunt Zelda sends you an email that claims Mitt Romney once drowned a bag of kittens or President Obama likes to eat medium rare puppy steaks on Good Friday, maybe don't forward that email. I'm going to do my part, (after a quick break to visit Cuteoverload, all that talk of puppies and kittens, I need my fix.) So how about you? Are you a political junkie who's pointing and mocking me right now? Or are you one of those people who hasn't voted in 45 years? Any ideas on how to fix it? How do you plan to survive the next three months of election talk?


Emily said...

We must be the change we wish to see in the world, the old saying goes. Involvement on a local level isn't quite as sexy as the national fray...but I think it's much more rewarding...that immediate connection with your community. As for TV ads...it's a great time of year to mute the commercials. :)

bethany actually said...

I haven't voted in several years, partly because of moving around and not always being able to register in time for upcoming elections...but also partly because I am increasingly allergic to politics. :-\

I love this post. You are SO right that we internet-savvy people who spend hours on line looking at photos of baby otters should be able to carve out a couple hours a month to educate ourselves about candidates and ballot issues. Thank you for the suggestion!

McMillan said...

I love love love this post and might ask your permission to share it with my students this fall when the elections get closer and I get into my persuasive unit that includes propaganda, rhetorical strategies, and fallacies.

I wholeheartedly agree that the political arena in this country on all levels -- local, state, national -- is completely insane and broken. And I also wholeheartedly agree that it's happening because we as Americans are allowing it to happen through our ignorance and unwillingness to entertain two opposing ideas, look at them side by side, and decide for ourselves what we think. These ads exist because they work. And they shouldn't.

I try to stay as informed as I possibly can, especially at the local and state level -- I drove myself INSANE researching the major state ballot issues that appeared in 2008, so much so that I seriously got to the point where I had learned so much that I couldn't pick a side. And I'm totally okay with this. It has started to happen a lot, though I do ultimately try to pick a side... I mean, if I don't vote, I can't complain, and I like to complain!

But the other way that I'm trying to help this problem is to educate the youth of America. As an English teacher of a rhetoric and composition course that features a rather lengthy persuasive speaking unit (also incidentally centered around Revolutionary War era literature), I feel duty-bound to showcase the ways in which we as consumers of media and misinformation are being manipulated. I also teach as many research strategies as I can to students so that they can, like me, stay as informed as possible on the issues. I try to be a role model in it, showing them what I look at, how to look at different voices in the debate over an issue, and why it's crucial they stay informed. I bring in election propaganda mail and ask them to look critically at it for fallacies and rhetorical appeals, and we practice trying to participate appropriately in political debate. Just last year, I started quizzing them weekly on the news when I discovered they weren't paying one whit of attention to the Republican battleground for the presidential nomination. It's exhausting as heck, trying to navigate a classroom full of 44 teenagers with amorphous opinions on things, but it's also thrilling to know that in some small way I'm influencing the future. My students pay more attention now. THey're more critical of their media surroundings and they're more willing and apt to engage in meaningful debate and entertain new ideas, rather than just yell at each other.

So that's how I'm doing my part. That, and I also show the youth of America baby otters when we've had a particularly rough class period. :)

Kassie said...

you are more than welcome to use this little rant for whatever you want. I think the work you do with students is incredibly powerful. Thank you for doing it, it takes a unique, tenacious communicator to do that job well, and it sounds like you are a great teacher. I wish I'd had a civics or English teacher like you when I was in hs.