Monday, January 7, 2008

sHuckabee's gob factor

sHuckabee (aw, shucks, guys) has a certain kind of appeal. Sort of. Because of his gob, both the gob he can't seem to shut (it's like watching a wreck; you know you shouldn't look for parts on the road, but you do anyway) and his 'good old boy' factor. I am not terribly surprised by his appeal, not necessarily because of his theology degree (which has the appeal, to me, of roadkill sushi), but because of his use of the common folks approach.

I have *pokes index finger into air* a theory: the influx of technology is creating a divided population, polarized at a basic level by the desire to retain a certain kind of privacy and simplicity and the ability to commit certain kinds of abstractions. The conversion of things like record keeping, literacy and communication to primarily digital forms changes the parameters for privacy and literacy such that acts of communication are increasingly nuanced and multipartite. Communication comes, of necessity, across different cultures (and therefore styles of interpretation) and multiple channels in terms of method (auditory, word and image), requiring digital communicators to be technological generalists to be effective. Digital communication requires communicators who are a little graphic designer, a little artist, a little writer, fairly well-read and at least marginally witty. Formal styles of discourse, legacy of paper literacy, were originally intended to bridge the gap between cultures (and attempt to compensate for unintended gaffs) are neither efficient in terms of net communication (though appreciated, if anyone feels like commenting) nor adapted to net and digital culture. For starters, formal styles are a bit... wordy.

And it uses language, now that we can rub cultures across the planet, that is associated with enforcing status quo, which is why it tends to make certain groups of people more comfortable than others.

Privacy is utterly changed in a digital environment. Since computers are being used to store personal information, they are basically collections of everything from thoughts to social security numbers and bank passwords. This condensation of information only makes people nervous (no one likes to be reminded they can be broken down into a pile of data), and since very few people can afford to either have a separate computer for storage, not be online or do all their personal business in person, a problem in a period where the local customer service is being outsourced overseas, this creates a situation in which anonymity is difficult at best and reserved for specialists or people who can afford their services. I know enough to run several anonymizers, when I like, but I am not convinced that my knowledge is complete or common.

These kinds of factors create the generalized anxiety that gob appeal is so attractive to, in a population that feels outstripped, generally manipulated and longs for a feeling of competency. Of course, the rosy past they're pining for doesn't really exist (life has never been a terribly simple place), and staking your desire to be competent on an imaginary time that you need to get back to has the rosy effect of making you feel more competent by proxy (you'd have really fit in, back then; any inability to cope with now is not your fault, you were born in the wrong time) and creating tremendous apathy and easily diverted motivation; what can you do to change your anxiety can very quickly become a sort of generalized fondness for 'stand-up' guys who promise to simplify things.

*cough* Bush *cough*

I find myself not so much surprised as much as a little annoyed and somewhat resigned by the fact that sHuckabee got the Iowa primary and the amount of momentum he seems to be currently enjoying. After Bush's manipulation of the gob (and god) factor, with resulting fall out, you'd think some of these voters would think back on that campaign and be wary of the gob approach, but the pervasive intrusion of technology creates a constant, low level buzz of anxiety to be taken advantage of by those kinds of appeals. (As well as the 9/11, terrorist-- pronounced tourist-- appeals, which are beginning, thank god, to wear thin.)

I suppose that the history of politics is as much the history of fear as it is of the decisions groups of people make (a few at a time or many.) And the gob factor here is completely a fear based argument. Because of that, when I go to analyze politics, even the politics of (I lurve you!) Kucinich, which are remarkably free, rhetoric wise, of the kinds of fear I see in some of the other campaigns, I still look first for the fear. I think this is sadly becoming a very valid way to examine the political system here in the US; sad because it is not a productive kind of fear. Gob factor appeal is not based on long term planning, it's based on reductive and dangerously exclusive thinking. Productive appeals to fear have a much stronger emphasis on the future.

To make all this a little funnier, my ultra-conservative mother just dropped by. Unable to resist the siren call of someone else's writing, she read the first few paragraphs, then stopped to remind me that the thyroid problems running in my father's side of the family cause disordered thoughts and the prescription for it was really cheap, ahem. I mean, criticizing sHuckabee means my thoughts are obviously disordered.

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