Monday, September 27, 2010

Sound Bite History

We live in the era of the sound bite. It is a time in which complex ideas and policies are boiled down to no more than 15 seconds of explanation. Of course, this tack conveys little substantive information and it helps to explain why Americans seem so uninformed on a wide variety of issues and topics.

It certainly goes a long way toward understanding how some conservatives and Tea Party adherents could have the audacity to call the president a socialist. Not genuinely understanding what the concept of socialism entails, it becomes a word that means solely whatever the person uttering it wants it to mean, even if that definition is 100 miles away from what the term ACTUALLY signifies.

Our "sound bite mentality" affects not only the way we view current society but our view of history as well. Instead of trying to learn about the myriad of complex issues that shaped any historical event, people are much more prone to cherry pick simplistic phrases or renditions of days gone by. Glenn Beck did this very thing recently when he laughably declared that he was picking up the mantle of civil rights activism from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr!

What made Beck's choice of symbolism so absurd is that the conservatives of today were the kinds of people King was struggling against then. While I have no doubts whatsoever that Beck himself recognizes this dissonance, it played well with angry voters who know little of the true struggle Dr. King and his cohorts were involved in.

There is a good article, "Today's Tea Party Isn't Quite Like 1773's," posted today on NPR. It illustrates quite well that many in today's Tea Party movement have a comic book-like view of the real Tea Party of the American Revolution.
Kathy Laughlin makes sure her students know the difference. Laughlin, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. history at William Byrd High School in Vinton, Va., says she has been teaching her students about the Boston Tea Party as part of a "Road to Revolution unit" this school year.

She pre-empted questions about the contemporary Tea Party. "I explained that the current movement deals with big government and excess taxes much like the colonials did, but that the colonials truly had no representation in the legislature that was instituting their taxes," Laughlin says.

Laughlin goes on to explain to her students that today's Tea Partiers have representation; they are just not pleased with the representatives. "Therefore," she says, "the present movement's goal is to unseat incumbents and elect ultra-conservative members to congress..."

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