Friday, August 19, 2011

"Why the mainstream media are clueless about the religious right"

At left: Street preacher sign from Bele Chere. (Any questions?)

Suzan links AlterNet's interesting Why the Mainstream Media Are Clueless About the Religious Right by Adele M. Stan, which not surprisingly, offers some cluelessness of its own.

As I have said (so many times) before, as long as the language of religion is generally dissed by the mainstream media and the elite Left, you have allowed it to remain the language of the religious right, by default. And this highly-moral language is then used to talk to the masses, right over your heads.

If an exotic dialect is used only by one group, even if others understand it, it eventually becomes theirs.

And yes, religion is regarded by the media as some weird, exotic dialect from flyover country, which means the copious dog-whistles and covert winks offered by the Religious Right sail right past the well-paid hotshot media analysts and pundits, as in the famous "Obama is the antichrist" TV ad. They just MISSED it. (Antichrist? Who?)

In comments in this thread, I gave an example, and rather than type it all again, I am hereby quoting myself:

[Years ago], I watched Mother Theresa's funeral on late-night TV (India time), and several of the "official" commentators seemed totally ignorant of the derivation of the banner over her casket, which read "You did it to me"...and they all just seemed to go blank. They didn't seem to be able to look it up, either, since the KJV says something like "Ye have done it to me" if I'm not mistaken. (The quote would be from the RSV, which was favored by the Missionaries of Charity.)

They mumbled, they ummmed and they ahhhed, but you know, they just didn't seem to know. All of these hotshot commentators and none seemed to know. Finally, someone triumphantly announced it was from the New Testament (well duh) but they didn't seem to understand the reference or why it was the phrase hanging over her casket, and not some other phrase.

I listened to the entire commentary, as they didn't seem to have any idea why people STAND for the Gospel reading (really? Is it that hard to figure out?) or anything else about the Mass. That day, I realized how ignorant the media elites are of religion and religious traditions... even something as simple as standing for the Gospel reading. (I suddenly realized they didn't know the difference between that part of the Bible called "Gospel" and the rest of it.)
Then they trotted out that huge fan of Mother Theresa, Christopher Hitchens, author of a famous hit-piece on her. For her funeral. (I ask you, when was the last time the author of a hit-piece was invited to comment at their subject's funeral? A bit rude, maybe?)

This is what passes for knowledge of religion among the elites. Then they try to psychoanalyze people for whom religion is EVERYTHING. And they, um, invariably get it wrong, of course. How could they not? They don't know the dialect.

And Stan knows some of the dialect, but like an anthropologist studying the oddly-dressed natives (she compares some of the reporters to Margaret Mead, which IS funny), she isn't actually going to get down in the dirt with em either. Instead, she translates the dialect for the elites, or tries to.

For example, she attempts to analyze Ron Paul's fan base:
While mainstream media dismiss Paul as a quirky, secular libertarian, progressive reporters sometimes express a certain affection for Paul because of his anti-war stance. But Paul's anti-war position stems from his far-right isolationist views...
First of all, isolationism per se is not strictly left or right, and that explains the far-reaching appeal. In the Midwest, where I grew up, isolationism is its OWN thang, and often transcends traditional left/right definitions and categories. This is frequently my stance on this blog, likely because (as I have said many times), I was greatly influenced by my grandfather, a Christian Scientist and Taft Republican ("isolationism" barely describes it). To these folks, isolationism WAS the progressive position, since it kept the rest of the world from hating us so much. Isolationism insured peace, was the idea. Now, of course, the opposite view (which can be totally summed up in Orwell's phrase, 'War is Peace') is politically dominant.

In short, just as military-interventionism is now an equal-opportunity left/right ideology, so is isolationism.

Does Adele Stan know that Ron Paul ran for President as a Libertarian in the 70s, before he was ever in Congress? His views have changed little since Vietnam, and THIS is why progressives have respect for him: Ron Paul does not stick his finger in the air to test the political winds, and never has. (see CORRECTION, below)

At left: Fundamentalists invade Bele Chere festival in Asheville, NC. Most people considered them just another part of the show, but a number of intrepid festival-goers engaged them in some intense debates and heated conversations.

Adele Stan's commentary in AlterNet advances the opinion that the overall media-dilemma is denial, rather than elitist ignorance, even though she mentions the elitism a few times:
The mainstream media -- and to an extent, the progressive media, as well -- are made up of elites, people who went to good schools, most of them raised on either the east or west coasts. To these elites, the thought of someone espousing the sort of frightening beliefs that Paul embodies having a serious impact on American politics is just too much to bear, so denial becomes the default position. It's not conscious -- not a deliberate attempt to cover something up, just something too weird and awful to be true, so the notion is simply dismissed. Yet if you look at Paul's positions and look at how successive GOP fields have moved closer to them (with the exception of the anti-war stance) over the last three election cycles, his impact is clear.
"With the exception of the anti-war stance"? Earth to Adele! Somebody does not keep up with the drug war, which is BANKRUPTING THE COUNTRY and decimating poor and minority communities. Maybe Adele doesn't know any teenagers whose lives have been ruined over a tiny and inconsequential puff on a joint, but poor people have plenty of examples to share with her. Ron Paul proposes to legalize and tax marijuana and end the super-expensive drug war altogether... and that is a damned radical position that no other Republican AND no other Democrat has dared take.

The unbridled destruction of poor communities and the mass-imprisonment of young minority men is a fucking SCANDAL; the drug charges that the privileged kids from good schools can safely giggle about years later ("Oh man, my dad was sure pissed!") are the very same drug charges that will get you locked up for life if you are too poor to afford a lawyer or your daddy doesn't know the right people.

Ending this VICIOUS ATTACK on the poor is a PROGRESSIVE POSITION and only Ron Paul will take it.

You know this, right Adele? That one out of four black men is in prison for some BULLSHIT? Aaaarghhh, don't even get me started.

The fact that you have ignored this point in your piece, Adele Stan, is rather clueless as well. The fact that you don't seem to know what is happening in minority communities? Marks you as one of the elite media that doesn't know what's going on out here in the fabled Heartland.

It's going to get ugly, as the traditional left/right categories topple to the ground. I made a prediction that Obama was a one-termer, but that was before I knew he had stashed away a billion dollars for his second coronation. I now believe he will win, but it will infuriate a lot of people and might lead to insurrection; the British riots light the way. Democracy has been supplanted by the wholesale purchase of political office. (This huge money-stash now marks Barack Obama as a member of the elite that he successfully challenged upon first entering politics; Ron Paul's plucky little "money bombs" are very small potatoes by comparison.)

Adele winds up:
As a nation, we've been headed down this path for more than 40 years. As the economic fortunes of the U.S. turn downward, we should expect the attraction of right-wing religion, especially its more charismatic and viscerally-felt forms, to expand. Anyone who doesn't just hasn't been paying attention.
Ya think? And how about you talk to some of US, the progressives who can speak the weird Biblical Ron Paul language? How about you even consider FUNDING SOME OF US out here, who might be able to help, since we are already wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect?

Ha, am I funny or what? As we already know, that ain't never gonna happen. After all, they know everything, don't they?


EDIT, CORRECTION: Ron Paul was repeatedly interviewed as a Libertarian before he entered congress, but when he eventually ran for Congress in the 70s, ran as a Republican. He first ran for president (on the Libertarian ticket) in 1988.


D. said...

My problem with Ron Paul is that alongside decriminalizing marijuana he wants to roll back the Civil Rights Act.

Hell to the NO.

I think (I may have mentioned this before in a roundabout way) that some of this, at least from 40 years ago, was the passing of what I'm going to have to call religion's (Christianity, anyway) moral torch from the "left" (for this purpose the "human rights" axis, ie, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, achieving social justice in this world), to the "right" (for this purpose people more concerned with individual sinning and salvation, but mostly sin; they happen to coincide with conservative worldviews, but not always), and the shrinking? aging? loss of members? of some of the large denominational churches. Some of those lost members drifted away from religion altogether and some went to smaller more fundamentalist-oriented congregations. (This may need more research than I'm up to at the moment.) There is definitely movement of the Holy Spirit afoot. It is possible that the culture of the media (agar agar) selects for people who tuned out the religious impulse a while back. If they were that publically ignorant about, say, sports, they would have been demoted or fired.

Which tells you something about what is valued by the media.

Which, ouch.

Anonymous said...

D, but can he get away with that? methinks he can get away with legal dope, but not with abolishing the civl rights act. lots of us just want him to legalize it, then go away. lol

the money available would be staggering. it might concievably support the entire welfare state, effectively changing the whole political conversation.

lou b. = left learning libertarian

wv: ressesin.

D. said...

lou b.: I've noticed that folks will pooh-pooh extreme stances of politicians who have one tenet said folks really like.

That never ends well.

Has everyone forgotten about Ronald Reagan?

wv: eplaymo

Sevesteen said...

The civil rights act was necessary at one time, but it has accomplished about as much as it can. Ending it now would not change much--people's racial attitudes are considerably better, if not perfect. If we ended both the civil rights act and the drug war, it would be a net gain for minorities.

Blue Heron said...

I have to disagree with you Sevesteen. The reason Ron Paul is the darling of groups like Stormfront is because libertarians think that it is perfectly reasonable to privately discriminate. Now if you don't want to rent your house to me because I am black, gay or jewish that is one thing, but if your whole neighborhood decides not to rent to a class, we have a civil rights problem.

The laws were created to redress a real problem. I obviously don't think the world is quite as rosy as you do. Now you have the Koch brothers pouring money into the battle to stop busing in North Carolina and start us back on the road back to segregation.

Your cure would be worse than the malady.

Sevesteen said...

A law being created to address a real problem is no guarantee that the law is good, and that a law was good decades ago is no guarantee that it is still good. I'll bet if you were to ask black families "would you be willing to give up forced busing of your kids to far away schools, in exchange for having 2/3 fewer black men in prison" most would take that deal. In most cases, I don't think kids should be bused out of their neighborhoods because of their color, regardless of whether it is to integrate or segregate.

The law is not particularly effective in controlling the remaining racist minority, and the majority don't need a law in order to act decently. Maybe the South is behind the Midwest, but I don't think it is that far behind.

There is a difference between thinking something is right, and thinking something should be illegal.

Douglas said...

I live in this fabled heartland myself, Daisy. In Minnesota, that not following some creed, any creed, is the result of a defect. These are the same folks who wonder why Christopher Hitchens is so mean and strident. Because, golly gee, they're so nice---and yes, I concede, Minnesotans are all nice, all the time---when they tell my nine-year-old her father has no solid grip on ethics, because only people who believe in God are capable of having such a grip.

This isn't to say you're wrong, Daisy, but clearly you need to reconsider why some are not keen to learn this language.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Douglas, sure I understand why... and that's why you turn the job over to those of us who do know. But the elites don't have enough respect for us to do that (see that last link). To the media elites, anyone who can speak the language must be an idiot. And the overriding 'you're-an-idiot' vibe is communicated to the voters/masses in countless ways.

The fundamentalists will accept ME and argue with ME as one who is local, versed in the dialect and socially-equal to them... the coastal elites do not even waste their time trying. Fact.

Laci The Dog said...

The problem is that the religious right is OK, but anything else is taboo.

If one starts talking about the gospel of social justice, you will get a blank stare. The religious right has already said that the gospel of greed is OK.

It's OK if the message is that of the religious right, but lord help us if Social justice gets mixed into the message--That's just too lefty to be acceptable.

BTW, it's amusing to see the social justice gospel in the UK with the state religion v the religious right message in secular US.

Go figure!

DaisyDeadhead said...

Hilarious (and accurate) as usual -- Jon Stewart clip: Why is the media ignoring Ron Paul?