I’d Never Win a Presidential Election 5: I Assume People Are Smarter than That (Or Should Be)

Frankly, I think that’s why I’m a teacher: I believe, deep down, that people are capable of more than they are at the moment, and I think that a proper course of education can realize potential for thought and discernment.  The problem is that there are people in the world who work at the opposite: they run into people who can discern and think, and they educate so that people stop thinking and start shopping.  Those folks, of course, are the advertisers.  And when they work for politicians, they’re the campaign strategists.

I suppose, then, that the folks who write and produce television ads for politicians on one hand and I on the other hand share a pair of assumptions, namely that people can get smarter and that people can get dumber.  And we share an assumption about media and messages a la Marshall McLuhan: whereas I devote my life to encounters in which students ask questions of me, fight over philosophical texts, and generally strengthen their minds by using them to fight for their convictions, they produce 30-second political ads to which nobody can talk back (without looking silly) and for which response consists in pressing a button in a voting booth.  There’s no essay question on election day, and whatever means the advertisers can use to get the right button pushed, even if that means reducing a complex world into false simplicity, that’s what they make the big bucks for, and they do it.  Having been a teacher most of my adult life and hoping to continue being one for the rest of it, I just don’t think I could devote that kind of money and confidence to an effort that turns thinking human beings into button-pushers.

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3 Comments

Filed under Why I Could Never Win a Presidential Election

3 responses to “I’d Never Win a Presidential Election 5: I Assume People Are Smarter than That (Or Should Be)

  1. ahandkerchiefsandwich

    My favorite of the presidential posts so far. The scary part is that as the line between ad and content disappears (for example, the news this week that Obama is buying ad space within a video game, but this is old news in TV) the content is often influenced by the ad. There is no product placement in Plato, and Plato doesn’t need to worry about ad space. The same can’t be said of 21st century texts. We had this discussion in class today. One student argued that there is a distinction between academic texts and pop texts. My response was that Paine’s book Common Sense sold the equivalent in books that the superbowl draws in viewers.

  2. vaindeludingjoys

    The academic versus pop texts dichotomy sounds a lot like the high vs low art argument. Whenever a student brings this up, we usually end up talking about Deschamps’ “Fountain” and the perception of theater in Shakespeare’s London.

    The line, I think, is negotiable, contextual, and subject to the forces of consensus. Paradoxically, though, except in some of the most extreme individual cases, most of us can readily agree on what’s art. This says to me that there are sub/unconscious cultural forces that shape our tastes, and no matter how resistant we are, we are subject to them.

  3. Mr. Bones: Thank you. As you might have suspected, I pounded this ten-part series out in a hurry so that I could rest for a few days and think of some good posts. With regards to content and form, I’m more concerned about the human capacity for sustained thought –while I know that we post-Derrideans are supposed consider all artifacts “texts,” but I do think that video games and Platonic dialogues require and develop different mental processes, and I do teach Plato rather than Playstation precisely because I think that the mental processes involved with reading paleo-texts are more adequate to complex human problems and lead people into the kinds of cogitation that are more fully human. (I’m a classicist that way–that’s why my colleagues sometimes think of me as a stodgy conservative.)

    El Ick: I do think that the low art vs. pop art distinction is often more a function of nostalgia (and thus contextual, as you say) than of any intelligible account of what art is. It seems that most ages have in mind already what the “good old days” held, irrespective of what Dante’s Florence or Shakespeare’s London or Stravinsky’s Paris actually thought of the artists when they were still walking about. That said, I do think that brain activity is palpable enough that one can make real and intelligible distinctions between, say, a television ad and the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

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