Back in the ‘50s, Edward R. Murrow was labelled the “most trusted man in America.” Calm and composed, and often with a cigarette dangling from his fingers, Murrow reported and editorialized with the virility of a silent-movie star, enlightening his viewers with the softest touch. People “heard” what he had to say while feeling comfortable doing so.
In a dedication to Murrow, British scholar Harold Lasky wrote, “We can compete successfully not only in the area of bombs, but in the area of ideas.” You’ve got to credit Lasky for his optimistic vision of a future in which intellectual diplomacy might trump aggressive war-mongering. Nowadays, we live in a media culture in which many television journalists and pundits regard volume and boom as the only attention seekers worth deploying, spreading their ideas with the boisterous intensity bombs.
It should be noted that Murrow was a liberal. Even today, many liberal reporters maintain the same toned-down gusto that Murrow did; with a few exceptions of course (Keith Olbermann, anyone?). Rather, it is the political right who seem to believe that if they can’t express themselves logically, the only alternative is to do it by force. I mean that literally. What better way is there to win an argument than by drowning out your opponent with vigorous shouts and blusters, no matter how brainless it is? Fox News, for example, is famous for this. When commentator Billy O’Reilly gets debated into a corner, he often reverts to “blasting” his way out. If he can’t drop a pragmatic last word, he drops bombs instead. After all, bombs are loud, both in sound and in message.
This tactic is by no means new to our world. People have been dropping real bombs on other people to settle disputes for centuries; although they probably looked more like rocks in ancient times. Yet just as our methods of destruction have evolved, so have our methods of argument. They have gone from proving points by, perhaps, pounding our fists against our chests, to proving it with verbal eruptions, and now, as far as I can see, to a new outlet known as the Internet — the place where we are all safe to speak up as doggedly and as crudely as we want.
When a scandal breaks, it doesn’t take long for everyone, and I mean everyone, to hop online and ensure that their opinion is heard. When Kanye West recently decided that his opinion was the only sound one, boldly interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Music Awards to make it heard, he spent the next week at the whim of a rampant Internet crucifixion. I will admit to having been somewhat glued to my computer screen during that week, reading much of the negative sentiment on West’s behavior. Of course it wasn’t the argumentative and objective analysis that most caught my eye, but rather the immature and bull-headed bellows. When the best that people can do is declare West “a fucking asshole,” and even resort to some racial remarks, you can’t help but let those be the things that hit you hard and remain lodged in your mind. The smart and articulate people have their voice too, but let’s not deny that the dumb and reckless people, with their colourful language and hateful rhetoric, are the ones who stand out the most. For lack of a better word, they are the “loudest.”
What’s worse, the “smart” people are often the ones who find themselves victimized by such callousness. In the blogosphere, for example, it’s hard to make a name for yourself as an astute editorialist without also incurring the wrath of truly mean-spirited opposition. With enough time, and enough exposure, such things will take their toll on even the most seasoned writer. The irony is that many bloggers and journalists are often just trying to create healthy and objective debate within their choice of media and exemplify the type of diplomacy that makes war and dropping real bombs obsolete, yet it’s the ones who drop the figurative bombs in those debates that succeed at crushing the process. They live by that age old conviction, one that is now alive and well on the Internet, “if they don’t agree with me, I’ll just blow them up because of it.”
When written print suddenly has the power to come to life and overwhelm the masses with subjective, conjectured and downright nasty propaganda, you can practically see the Harold Laskys and the Edward R. Murrows of the past rolling in their graves. So much for “calm and composed.”
Matt Abra is a fourth-year Art student and was completely composed as he wrote this.