Thursday, September 21, 2017

Echo Chamber

I enjoyed watching parts of the Emmys on Sunday. TV actors tend to make for better speech-makers, because they're a little less self-important and there's a lot of awards set aside for comedians. There are also a lot of awards - and writers sometimes get to receive them, which makes for better-written speeches. I like comedy, so this is a good awards show at which to laugh.

Stephen Colbert hosted the Emmys and one of his early gags was to joke about the size of the audience and then have Sean Spicer (one-time Trump spokesman) come out on a rolling podium (reminiscent of the Melissa McCarthy parody of Spicer on SNL) to joke about the size of the audience,
the way he once, very seriously, lectured the White House Press Corps about the size of the Presidential inauguration crowd.

I found this funny. I suspect lots and lots of the home audience found it funny. The attendees of the event and the pop culture press found it tasteless and inappropriate. All I've heard, in interviews with actors and writers, and in commentaries on the event, are critiques of this moment "in an otherwise great awards show."

I want to call BS.

This is the kind of hypocritical self-importance that plays directly into the hands of people the left tends to criticize for hypocritical self-importance. Is it totally absurd that Trump, and his administration, spent the better part of his first few days in office persisting with the obvious falsehood that his inauguration crows was the largest in history? Of course. That's hypocritical self-importance. Is it equally absurd to demonize a professional PR guy (a profession that basically gets paid to lie for a living - excuse me "massage the truth" or "accentuate the positive") because he worked (and got fired by) a guy you don't like?

I know, I know, "Trump is the antithesis of morality and decency, a dangerously incompetent President and the worst person alive" blah, blah,
blah. He's portrayed a Satan by a certain class of left-wing elitists and thus contaminates anyone in his orbit. By not taking a joke, Hollywood is sort of proving a point.

The left characterizes the right as a greedy, heartless mob of rich businessmen willing to sacrifice the lives of the poor for personal gain.
The right characterizes the left as sheltered intellectuals with no real grasp on how most people live. Each side calls those characterizations baseless. This is the message of the echo chamber - "am too," "are not."

The reality is both of those bogeymen do really and truly exist, but those aren't really characteristic of the majority of the opposition. I imagine most people, both democrats and republicans, can laugh at Sean Spicer making fun of himself. Stephen Colbert knows this, which is why he's a pretty popular guy (much to the bemusement of the head-scratching pop culture media). The guy understands regular people and they like watching him.

Ricky Gervais was the best Golden Globes host of all time, because he made fun of celebrities honestly. He played to the TV audience and not the one in the room. The actors hated him for it, but the ratings were fantastic.

Now what I'm not sure of - what has yet to be proven - is if this overemphasis on the echo chamber can really change reality. If all we're given is the propaganda of the extremes, will it, in turn, change the vast middle into a polarized confusion. I'm fairly certain Breitbart and DailyKos don't represent the majority of people they claim to represent; what I'm unsure of is whether that will always be true.

I'd like to think there will always be a sane middle, that can recognize the positives and negatives of whatever is presented to them, but I'm not entirely confident that's true. What causes me concern is the seeming inability of the extremes to admit their own absurdity. It's even more troubling if we're refusing to let the opposition laugh at theirs.

If we've really gotten to a place where we can laugh at you, but you can't laugh at yourself, then we may have moved beyond the place where we can even talk to one another. Don't let the caricature become the portrait. The best thing you can do to turn enemies into friends is agree with their critiques when they get them right and be willing to laugh at yourself.

I've watched most of Spicer's recent late night interviews. I still cringe and disagree with most of the things he says and the opinions he expresses. But I'm much happier about the guy who's stepped out of the echo chamber than all those who've double down and settled in (on both sides). At least we can talk to each other - and we should be able to laugh at each other, too.

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