Smarmy Alligator

Politics, pop culture, and self-deprecation

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This is probably not something Phillip Roth expected people to come away from his most recent novel, The Plot Against America, thinking about, but I’m thinking about it nonetheless. And maybe it’s some kind of misguided nostalgia talking, but Robert Putnam adroitly points out that I’m not misguided feeling this way:

Technological advancements in newsmedia dissemination have weakened American communities and their relationships to politics, and the relative absence of a social base for political knowledge-gathering has drastically affected the workings of American politics.

It’s a small example, and a friend of mine rightly pointed out that this is not the whole story behind our current political disengagement. But here is the picture that Roth painted in my mind: Prior to the widespread appearance of television, and television news, people had to go to theaters to watch the news, where they were surrounded by many other people, all also there to watch the news. They sat in dark rooms, and learned, collectively, what was going on in the world.

This simple act created a sense of community that we are sorely lacking, and which is a fundamental necessity in a functioning democracy. Now, we can all come after an arduous day at work, and watch the nightly news while we’re cooking dinner and trying to make our kids do their homework, half paying attention, and feeling that we’re actively engaged and knowledgeable, because, hey, at least we watch the nightly news. There’s no effort involved, and, more significantly, there’s no community involved. Everyone is in his own home, watching his own television, and not, afterwards, talking about what he just saw with everyone else who just watched the same thing.

There are new communities developing–I will use this word once, and only once, ever in the history of my writing here: the blogosphere. But one has already to be politically curious and driven to bother seeking this community out in the first place. It is simply too easy now to disavow any community, and any connection to politics, and to news events generally.

And the eternal question–how to re-engage people, in an intelligent and reality-based way, in public policy? Do we, as my friend’s comments perhaps inadvertantly imply, need another Great Depression? Another Great War? Or are we too jaded and satiated by SUVs for things even of this magnitude to be able to impact us anymore?

Maybe I’m just too disheartened and full of hatred for humanity these days to formuate a rational argument, or even a rational thought, anyways.

We’re going to hell, in a nicely tailored Kate Spade handbag. Sweet, dude.

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Written by laura k

November 14, 2004 at 6:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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