Monday, October 12, 2009

Is it a question of culture?

In my usual morning perusal of newspapers online, I came across this tiny article in the L.A. Times that interested me as both a blogger and a sports-fan. It seems that now that he's expressed an interested in buying the Saint Louis Rams, Rush Limbaugh's oft-voiced racist comments are rankling big-time with some African American players in the NFL.

Hmmm. This set me to thinking, not so much about Limbaugh himself, as  about what the existence of a Limbaugh means. What does it say about us that we, as a culture, give print and airwaves room to someone who makes a living out of being nasty and argumentative and, well, lying. A few people actually believe what he says, I suppose; but many more people claim to find Rush Limbaugh's verbal spewings entertaining.

Abuse and mendacity as entertainment? Now that I find flat-out depressing.

We get what we wish for, as individuals and as a culture. And what we, as Americans, seem most comfortable with is a culture of incivility. We like big verbal sticks--extreme, argumentative opinions that are designed to polarize us, not to make us think. In Sunday's Washington Post, staff writer Ann Gerhart mused about this at length in her fine article "In Today's Viral World, Who Keeps a Civil Tongue."

I had hoped our romance with polarization had ended on election day, but it appears that it hasn't--if, that is, Rush Limbaugh's ratings are any way to take the national pulse. And I don't mean to pick on Limbaugh. He's just such a clear-cut example of the kind of figurehead ranters we Americans spend our time listening to.

We elected President Obama in what appears to have been a brief flirtation with the concept of consensus and civility. Yet how impatient we have become with his efforts at consensus-building, his incessant information-gathering, his unfailing politeness in response to rudeness.

Is consensus-building just too much work for us as a culture? Is arguing and fighting about getting what we want, when we want it, too ingrained in us  to allow serious consideration of reasonable compromise? Could it be that we are actually more comfortable, as a culture, wading through the wake of polarization left by The Decider et al? Can we change our political conversation to one of consensus-building without being willing to change our own conversational tastes?

Please, either comment below or, if that's not your thing, send me an e-mail and I'll post your comment for you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Martha. It was only by reading your column that I saw this possibility: Perhaps from the time Nixon-Agnew (through the speechwriting of Pat Buchanan) launched their successful wedge strategy, and personified certain positions as belonging to effete disloyal hippies, and then all the way up through the traumas wreaked by The Decider, political positions, political opinions, have become no longer something you THINK, but something you ARE. We can't talk anymore because we're not talking about interesting topics 'out there' (outside of ourselves) we're protecting our very identities 'in here' ... the whole thing was made very personal and we take it personally. Many of us can hardly breathe when political controversy arises, much less settle down and have a reasonable debate. As much as we may not agree with the personification of politics, many of us suffer from its consequences and its ongoing influence.