The "civility wars" have highlighted a larger question: If we wish to be heard by the kind of people who get their news from Fox, how should we speak? With kindness? With guile? With Spock-like dispassion? With insults and verbal violence?
I doubt that any current readers knew of this blog back in 2004, when I began. But the message of this post
The post was inspired by the defunct (and missed) radio network Air America. Thus, when I speak of "this medium," I mean radio
. The lesson, however, applies equally well to television and especially
to the ongoing war of Troll Against Troll on the internet.
* * *
Is it true -- as many have alleged -- that nuance has no place in this medium? Do listeners always prefer broadcasters who do their jobs with all the understated refinement of Conan the Barbarian?
The history of allied radio propaganda in Germany during World War II may provide an answer.
The allies faced a big problem: Any German caught listening to a broadcast unapproved by Goebbels could receive the death penalty. What was the best way to fetch an audience under those
The British and the Americans decided upon a subtle approach. They put together German entertainment programs featuring music, comedy, and so forth. The broadcasts seemed
to originate within the Third Reich. The news segments were pro-Hitler. But the broadcasts gingerly questioned the competence of Reich officials and emphasized wartime losses. The use of such understated methods would -- it was hoped -- slowly undermine confidence in Hitler's regime.
The Russians, by contrast, used "meat cleaver" tactics. No subtlety for them: They filled Germany's airwaves with incessant anti-Hitler rants, which took on a nearly hysterical tone. They also discovered ways to interrupt official Third Reich broadcasts with sneering commentary. They even heckled Hitler himself during his broadcast speeches.
Which form of propaganda worked best -- the subtle approach or the thuddingly obvious in-your-face approach?
Despite the risks, Germans listened to the Soviet harangues. Russia's propaganda campaign -- the verbal equivalent of a punch in the eye -- had far more impact than did the British and American equivalents.
The lessons for today are obvious. Anyone wishing to get a political message across through the use of the radio medium should take off the gloves and get ready for some bareknuckle brawling. Like it or not, that's what works.
I wish the situation were otherwise. I prefer more measured forms of discourse. But we have to take the audience as it is.
* * *
Cannon 2018 here:
In light of the 2016 cyber attacks, it is fascinating to note that the Soviets were the original masters of the art of signal hijacking. Decades before the "Max Headroom" incident, the USSR had used the same basic technique to heckle Adolf & co.
The Russians even interrupted Admiral Doenitz when he delivered the official announcement of Hitler's death. Moments after Doenitz declared that Hitler had died a hero's death in the fight against Bolshevism, a mystery voice -- never identified -- hissed "This is a lie!"
One can only guess as to how all of this affected the listeners; life must have seemed quite surreal at that moment.
(I'm not sure which part of the announcement was supposed to be false: Hitler's death or his alleged heroism. We now know that he did not
die in battle. Some aver that he did not die at all, at least not at that time and place -- but that's a controversy for another post.)
Re-reading the 2004 post reprinted above, I find myself becoming depressed, as is my Eeyore-ish wont. It seems that subtlety and reasoned discourse do not reach the average citizen. Crude propaganda and sensationalism work
. When they go low, we must go lower.
This is a fundamental flaw in our democracy, and I don't know what to do about it.