This is the first and hopefully the last time I link favorably to Jonathan Chait. But his article at New York magazine is great. The point, in a nutshell, is that the media is liberally biased (no news there) – conservatives’ worst fears have come true; that media has an impact on culture rather than just being a prism through which prevailing culture is reflected; the medium can be seen as a source of political capital for liberals to refer back to. It contains memes, tropes, and entrenched arguments which evoke knee-jerk scoffs among liberal ideologues which allow them to bypass the detailed argumentation that is more often required of conservatives. Conservatives have lost the culture war because they have been routed by this medium.
Chait makes, in my mind, a stunning admission at the end of his piece: “But they [conservatives] do have a point about one thing: We liberals owe not a small measure of our success to the propaganda campaign of a tiny, disproportionately influential cultural elite.”
I’ll excerpt some more below:
…Brazil had, over the course of four decades, experienced one of the largest drops in average family size in the world, from 6.3 children per woman in 1960 to 2.3 children in 2000. What made the drop so curious is that, unlike the Draconian one-child policy in China, the Brazilian government had in place no policy to limit family size…The researchers zeroed in on one factor: television.
Television spread through Brazil in the mid-sixties. But it didn’t arrive everywhere at once in the sprawling country. Brazil’s main station, Globo, expanded slowly and unevenly. The researchers found that areas that gained access to Globo saw larger drops in fertility than those that didn’t (controlling, of course, for other factors that could affect fertility). It was not any kind of news or educational programming that caused this fertility drop but exposure to the massively popular soap operas, or novelas, that most Brazilians watch every night…
…Nearly three quarters of the main female characters of childbearing age in the prime-time novelas had no children, and a fifth had one child. Exposure to this glamorized and unusual (especially by Brazilian standards) family arrangement “led to significantly lower fertility”—an effect equal in impact to adding two years of schooling.
And then, conservatives and liberals juxtapose their economic arguments when it comes to the influence of the media:
The denials generally take the form of a simple economic aphorism. The entertainment business is a business, so if its product leans left, it must reflect what the audience wants. One oddity of the Hollywood-liberalism debate is that it makes liberals posit the existence of a perfect, frictionless market, while conservatives find themselves explaining why a free market is failing to function as it ought to. (Here is the rabidly conservative Shapiro, sounding like Ralph Nader: “The market in television isn’t free … The issue is one of control. The corporations have it. The American people don’t.”)
And while dog whistles are being heavily discussed, Chait shows us where the liberal media has only to make passive references to entrenched memes in order to conjure up the proper images with which to tear down conservatives. It’s not a dog whistle; it’s a bugle, a clarion call:
Now, of course, the Republican Party has nominated a presidential candidate possessing both a Swiss bank account and money in a Cayman Islands tax haven, and television and film have so deeply ingrained the popular distrust of these things that Democrats need only chant the phrases in order to make him bleed.
Maybe it’s pointless to try to figure out the degree of stunningness involved. What it is though is an admission that can be made from a secure spot. Liberalism has nested itself and it is protected on all sides. Chait et al can now go about admitting that the media works this way. That, after decades of denial, is frustrating in and of itself.