Ratings tell a story, but a very dangerously superficial one.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio has found a way of personally embodying the tragic absurdity of the gun control issue in the US. Associated Press reports on the contradiction between Rubio’s attempt to “show solidarity” with the bereaved electors in his state of Florida after the Parkland school shooting and his sedulous campaign to deprive the city of Washington, DC, of the means of limiting access to weapons. In Florida, he wants to raise the age limit on the purchase of guns. In Washington, he wants to lower it.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, asks, “Why would a senator from Florida take on this issue?” The article suggests this answer: “According to the NRA website, Rubio has an A-plus rating.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
An artificial measure of value based on the random opinions of unqualified people and used to justify initiatives that would otherwise be prone to serious criticism
People may legitimately wonder why an “A-plus rating” with the National Rifle Association (NRA) should be considered so important that a politician will compromise his or her values and morals in the quest to attain it. After all, the NRA only counts around 5 million members, a tiny percentage of the voting population. One Democratic legislative aide, responding under the veil of anonymity, confirmed the absolute power of the NRA (“We do absolutely anything they ask and we NEVER cross them”) and added this in guise of an explanation: “I’m not sure when we decided that a Democrat in a marginal district who loses his A rating from the NRA automatically loses reelection.”
Despite apparent statistical proof that the NRA’s support has little impact on congressional elections, a majority of Democratic candidates and practically all Republican candidates are careful to cultivate good NRA ratings. The same aide explains that “it’s one of the only clearcut ways to demonstrate you’re a conservative or moderate Democrat.”
Although the question of what guns represent symbolically for Americans is complex and can be analyzed from multiple angles — history, mythology, psychology, ethics, economy and sexuality — the Democratic staffer tells us something essential about the political landscape. Democrats, as the party of equality, civil rights for minorities, defense of the weak and defenseless as well as the working class, play a purely symbolic or rhetorical role. They serve to create the impression that the powerless are represented in government. But to get elected, all but a few Democrats must prove they are moderate or conservative — i.e. pretty much the same thing as any bland Republican.
The result is a party that sometimes has a majority, but a majority of its own members share the same philosophy and voting habits as the Republicans. When you add the effect of lobbyists to the recipe, the result will always be a government defending the “conservative” interests of the elite establishment.
Ratings are the unique gold standard for broadcast media — including the news — and the entertainment industry. Truth (in the news) or intrinsic quality (in entertainment) cannot compete with the uncontested power of ratings. Any spectacle that draws eyeballs draws advertisers. That is the main reason for the prevalence of fake news.
No two people better understand that than the now disgraced Bill O’Reilly (his sexual abuse led to his being sacked) and Donald Trump (who may be waiting for a similar outcome). Here’s O’Reilly: “It’s about success. I bring ratings to those shows. When I go on Letterman or I go on the morning shows, their ratings go up. That’s why they have me on.”
When comparing the quality of news programs, O’Reilly reduces everything to ratings. He recently tweeted about Sean Hannity “kicking butt in the ratings,” while adding that CNN’s Jake Tapper was “as low as you can go.” Content doesn’t matter. Only ratings count.
Trump, a former reality TV celebrity, swears by ratings, and when they aren’t good enough, he invents them, as he did with the size of the crowd at his presidential inauguration.
The proverbial melting pot that composes the US population has left the public unsure of its moral, cultural, philosophical and aesthetic values, with a tendency to accept the lowest common denominator (to encourage volume) and to celebrate the highest ratings as the unique proof of value. Most other cultures follow their traditions rather than allowing ratings to adjudicate their debates. That may be the true meaning of American exceptionalism.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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