Thursday, August 6, 2015

The far right's closed meme-system

Jon Stewart's penultimate Daily Show episode started with a self-deprecating look back at how little difference his tenure on the show has made. It was a swipe at left-leaning media's (bad and annoying) habit in recent years of turning the previous night's bits into clickbait by creating ridiculously hyperbolic headlines.

Some of the issues the show has tackled obviously were not going to be solved by any TV show or pundit (ISIS, for example). On the other hand, there was Fox News, one of the audience's, and apparently one of the writing staff's, favorite targets. It's terribly discouraging for progressives to face the reality that for all Stewart's needling, Fox News is at least as strong today in terms of total viewership, audience share, and profit as it was when Stewart started hosting.

How is it that the man who destroyed CNN's Crossfire with one guest appearance couldn't even dent Fox News with years of often hilarious (and accurate) hectoring?

It comes down to one often-noted characteristic of the audience for avowedly right-wing media: its absolute belief in that media's truthfulness, and its absolute lack of interest in anything that non-right-wing media says (unless it agrees with right-wing media).

Putting it another way, the Fox News audience simply doesn't give a shit what anybody else thinks about either Fox News or far-right media generally.

CNN, on the other hand, is watched by people who aren't fanatically devoted to it. They accept that CNN could be wrong, and they're receptive to the kind of criticism that Stewart leveled at Crossfire. CNN's management knows that the audience's trust can't be taken for granted. Far-right media's relationship with its audience is much stronger.

Why? Because far-right media is expertly pandering to its audience's preconceptions and biases. Far-right media is telling its audience exactly what it wants to hear.

You can extend the Fox News audience's refusal to consider criticism of right-wing media to include certain public figures, notably (and only for the moment) Donald Trump. Trump has been pilloried for weeks by non-right-wing media and comedians like Stewart for saying breathtakingly dumb, offensive and sometimes flatly untruthful things, yet his poll numbers have held steady. That's because the same people who don't give a shit what anybody else thinks about far-right media also don't give a shit what anybody else thinks about Trump. And again, that's because Trump is telling them what they want to hear. He's patting them on the back and telling them, "You're right".

Contradicting Trump, or far-right media, is tantamount to telling their audience, "You're wrong" — or, to match the tone of Jon Stewart's way of delivering this message, "You're grotesquely, ridiculously, and worst of all, knowingly and deliberately wrong".

It's unsurprising that audience doesn't want to hear it.

But oh brother, it needs to hear it.

These people are literally telling themselves a different story about the world than the rest of us, and they don't give a shit what we think or say.

This is a big, big problem. They're claiming their own facts. This was merely delicious in the 2012 election, when Fox News' Karl Rove kept dismissing the exit polls showing Obama's lead in some swing states. It ceases to be amusing, though, when these people dismiss what scientists have to say about how the world works. Refusing to look at the world as it is leads to disaster, and if the rest of us can't contain this delusional bunch they're going to take us all over any of multiple cliffs by embracing totally wrongheaded policies.

Somehow, some way, somebody has to crack the self-sustaining, closed meme-system the far right has created for itself. As long as their votes count the same as yours and mine, we can't afford their denial of reality and logic.

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