Monday, November 08, 2004

One of the points that was debated on the TV show was how well-informed people are. There seems to be a fairly wide current of leftist opinion that the American people don't understand the issues, nor do they understand their own self-interest. They react to primal emotions such as fear of the other, patriotism, religion, social conformity, and the like. Bush knows how to play to these emotions by simplifying issues so that the "sheeple" can understand them in emotional terms. Then, of course, there's the Chomskyite argument that an evil conspiracy controls the media and churns out pro-system propaganda. (The evidence that this is false is, of course, that the evil conspiracy would shut Chomsky and his ilk down if it existed, and you'd never have heard of Noam because an FBI death squad would have disappeared him in 1958 anyway.)

Well, I dunno. First of all, I figure about 20% of people in both America and Spain are simply incapable of voting, whether they're senile, illiterate, crazy, in the hospital, in prison, stoned, or just too damn dumb to find their way to the polls without anybody to hold their hands. Like certain cousins of mine.

Of the 80% remaining who are more or less sentient beings, here's what percentage of them are exposed to various sources of information.

IDIOTIC CRAP PEOPLE TELL YOU: 1OO% in both countries. You'd be surprised at some of the stupid shit people believe and repeat if you stopped and paid attention. I mean really ridiculous crap. And now it's going around incredibly fast due to cellphones and text messaging. The rest of you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

LOWEST-COMMON-DENOMINATOR MEDIA CRAP: 99% in both countries. This includes most movies, nearly all television, nearly all radio, nearly all popular music, sports, pornography, and advertising.

LOWEST-COMMON-DENOMINATOR MEDIA CRAP YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO READ: Maybe 60% in both countries. This includes sports papers, revistas de corazón, the National Enquirer, Family Circle, Harlequin romances, Tom Clancy novels, and the like.

MIDDLEBROW TELEVISION AND RADIO: This includes US late-night talk shows and their Spanish imitations and fairly serious morning or afternoon talk programs, e.g. Oprah or Julia Otero. Maybe 60% in both countries.

BROADCAST TV NEWS: Local TV news probably reaches 90% of the sentient, at least occasionally, in the US. Network TV national news probably only reaches about half the sentient in the US; it does better in Spain, probably reaching 80%.

TALK RADIO: Surprisingly popular. A lot of people listen to it at work in both countries. I'd bet half of Spaniards listen to some kind of talk radio every day, and maybe 30% of Americans. Talk radio trends conservative in the US and leftist in Spain, except for the COPE network.

CABLE TV NEWS: I bet half of our sentient beings in the US at least occasionally watch one of the cable news channels. Doesn't really exist in Spain.

MIDDLEBROW CULTURE: By this I mean "serious" fiction, "good" "cinema", PBS, your theater and dance and more sophisticated music, museums, non-fiction books, and so on. Sentient human beings in Spain tend to have somewhat more interest in and knowledge about this than sentient Americans do. I emphasize "tend to". It's considered socially preferable and even admirable in Spain to be "culto", which means familiar with and knowledgeable about this stuff. That's not true in America, at least not among most of the middle class. You could, however, make a fair argument that Pepe Español is more likely than Joe American to know a little something about classical music, his country's literature, or fine art. Or you could argue that the American is less likely to be pretentious and pretend he knows something when he really knows almost nothing.

NEWSPAPERS: Hard to say. Maybe 70% of the sentient in America, not even 50% in Spain. American newspapers are generally much more locally specific than Spanish ones, and Spanish newspapers contain more hard news and a good deal of middlebrow culture. They're also aimed at a high-school-graduate level, not a sixth-grade level like many smaller American papers. Quality newspapers are read by maybe 10% of the American sentient. One thing is that newspapers in Spain are not home-delivered and cost a euro, rather than appearing on your doorstep every morning and costing just $17.95 a month or whatever.

MIDDLEBROW MAGAZINES: Time, National Geographic, etc. More popular in the US, reaching maybe 30% of the sentient. In Spain 10% at most.

INTERNET: That's really hard to say. Probably 60% of American and 30% of Spanish sentient beings use the Internet at least sometimes, but I'm damned if I know for what. Probably chat and porno. I will guess that maybe 5% of Americans look at serious stuff (i.e. blogs!) on the Internet. That percentage is going to be smaller in Spain.

CONCLUSION: Probably about half of sentient beings in both the US and Spain ingest almost nothing but media crap and whatever rumor or story or other BS is going around the office. As for the rest, most aren't especially well-informed, I don't think, not in either country. There are a lot of available resources for information out there, many more in the US than in Spain, but most people don't take advantage of all of them and few in either country are what I'd consider knowledgeable about political issues.

Yet somehow society survives and even thrives.

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