Sunday, June 21, 2015

The internet and the intensification of stupidity

Look, modern technology is truly wondrous.  I own a telephone that you can now buy for $59 and it will read the radio signal from a few satellites, do some calculations and pinpoint me on the face of the planet within about 10m, possibly less.   How awesome is that?  $59 to usefully access the signal from atomic clocks in orbit?   I could also be dictating this entire post into the phone, with pretty good accuracy, if only I could work out the weird and convoluted Google account system with sufficient certainty that I was still maintaining some skerrick of privacy.  

But for all of this, what price have we paid as a result of modern communications, including in major part the internet?

This came to mind yet again last night after watching the 1958 Gregory Peck movie "The Big Country".   I'm pretty sure I had seen it decades ago, as I remembered something about Peck navigating across the treeless plains with a compass.  But it was great to re-watch a classic style Western again.

Except, in retrospect, it wasn't all that "classic" at all, really.   It is very liberal thematically:  probably that accounts for Gregory Peck's involvement, as I see he co-produced the movie as well.

Without going into too much plot detail, the retired sea captain played by Mr Peck goes West to meet up with his fiancée and her family, not knowing that her father and the near neighbours ("white trash" she calls them - I didn't know the phrase had that lengthy a heritage) have been feuding for years over water access to a river.  (Although I may have missed it, I'm not sure the story is all that specific about how the feud started.)  Our hero in fact attempts to take on the role of peacemaker between these rather pointlessly fuelling clans,  and restrains himself from fighting for his own honour on more than one occasion.  The resolution of the matter is readily seen as an allegorical take on Cold War era mutually assured destruction, with both sides (sort of) losing.

Why does this all bring to mind the current bout* of American Right wing stupidity?  Because it struck me that George Clooney is the modern day equivalent in terms of politically motivated actors (although with more sex) and the recent example of the pre-emptive attack of the Drudge and Breitbart flying monkeys on his Tomorrowland movie shows the power of the internet to gather and cement political opinion against a commercial product.  (OK, many liberal critics were cool on the movie too, so I am not saying that Right wing nutters offended at a movie mentioning climate change is the only reason it was not a commercial success, but stay with me here...)

The thing is, here in the 1950's (and into the early 1960's, when Peck again trod into race relations with To Kill a Mockingbird) you have a huge Hollywood star making movies with liberal themes in a country with (as now) more than it's fair share of strident right wingers.  But did they have the power to band together and reassure each other that this guy was, like, the death of America and all that is great in the nation because he was a liberal?   No, they did not.

See,  people with idiosyncratic stupidity used to have put effort into finding each other and their favourite figureheads.  They had to buy a book, read a magazine, write a letter, go to a meeting on the other side of town, etc, to find the false re-assurance of shared, nutty, offensive and/or dangerous opinion and interpretation of the world.

Now, they just log on, and have virtually live interaction (or, failing that, daily updates) with their favourite polemicists and dis-informers.   They have a media mogul who can see how to make a megabuck from political opinion he doesn't actually always endorse, and so sets up a cable network that is designed to reinforce disaffection with the state of their culture and demonise the other side of politics.

The example of how Gregory Peck was a Hollywood liberal and how the Right ineffectively reacted to him just seems to me to be a great example of  The Great Unintended Consequence of the Internet and Cable TV - the intensification of stupidity.

* see my post yesterday on reaction to the Charleston killings. (Hey, it's right behind this one, but the link might be useful for someone.)

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