The Republican “Brand” as metaphor.

1703324043_f63b7962ae "Complaints about vacuous official rhetoric and the "dumbing-down" of presidential speeches, news conferences and interviews are standard fare. Lim found strong evidence to support those complaints, not just in his interviews with retired speechwriters but in the presidential texts themselves.

In what must have been a heroic effort, he applied standard techniques of content analysis to state papers of every president from Washington to the second Bush. His tool is something called the Flesch readability score — a measure of the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word. The higher the Flesch score, the simpler to get the meaning.

Applied to the annual State of the Union addresses, the average score has doubled from the first few presidents to the last few. Those "messages were pitched at a college level through most of the 18th and 19th centuries," Lim says. "They have now come down to an eighth-grade reading level." The same trend, but more pronounced, is found in inaugural addresses. Their average sentence length has dropped from 60 words to 20.

Simplification has its advantages, if it serves to increase public comprehension. But it comes with a huge risk: The complexity of real-world choices can be, and often is, lost."  Broder


"Levelling" has become the Zeitgeist.  Actually it has been the goal of many for a long, long time.  The numbers in the study mentioned above illustrate that trend over centuries.  "Elitist" has become a term of absolute condemnation.   The downward drift in general education is now undeniable.  College audiences are now so poorly informed about general culture that even the simplest references to popular literature, film, etc. are greeted by blank stares.  Many audiences at college lectures are difficult to talk to because everything one says is "news to them."

A classics professor once told his class in my presence that there no longer existed the possibility of the creation of an American national epic poem, something like the Iliad, Aeneid, the "Divine Comedy," "John Brown’s Body," etc., because the declining cultural level and the lack of common values among the "American people" had destroyed the basis of wide comprehension and acceptance that would be needed for such an effort.  That was fifty years ago.  What would he think now?

Today, outside the elites of a few universities, we have little in the way of intellectual life in this country.  We also have little in the way of political life.  NBC’s Political Director just referred on MTP to the "Republican Brand."  My.  My.  Marketing rules.  pl

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42 Responses to The Republican “Brand” as metaphor.

  1. Jay McAnally says:

    “Today, outside the elites of a few universities, we have little in the way of intellectual life in this country. We have little in the way of political life. NBC’s Political Director just referred on MTP to the “Republican Brand.” My. My. Marketing rules. ”
    But Colonel: In an MBA world, Governance *is* a Marketing excercise…

  2. jr786 says:

    I think this ‘branding’ is part of the cultural logic of late capitalism. We are no longer subjects in a political sense but rather subject consumers targeted with non-stop advertising. Our political consciousness extends no further than brand loyalty. Thus capitalism; any critique of the educational system has to begin with its political economy and that simply is not going to happen.
    My experience with students is that they are starving for anything that makes them think. The reluctance on the part of many educators to meet them halfway is in large part due to the negative classroom leadership that thrives on the Pipes’ model of academic excellence.

  3. The “Closing of the American Mind” published several decades ago seems to really ring true in many respects. That is why the stakes for the world are so high here in the US. We are not unique and subject to the same human frailty of other peoples. That is why outlets for real thinking and insight are in short supply. Thanks for this opportunity Pat. Here’s to differences of opinion and the chance to express them.

  4. jr786 says:

    I neglected to add that this ‘leveling’ is another way to phrase the ‘massification’ traditionally associated with leftist educational models. Whaterver the description, however, we are left with the unavoidable fact that higher education has been corrupted by market forces, labor supply and demand, etc. and has little to do anymore with the true meaning of a liberal education.
    Current American values have little room for the humanities.

  5. Mama Africa says:

    great post! thanks very much for sharing!

  6. David W. says:

    There is a lot to unpack here, and the Col goes much deeper than the Broder column does. (btw, How intellectually lazy can Broder get by quoting Peggy Noonan as being in agreement? Her entire audience are these same people–from ‘middle America,’ of course, which helps explain and mitigate both their ‘dumbness,’ as well as her’s and Broder’s, for that matter.)
    While right wingers are not generally good at creating media content, they are certainly aware of how to use the mass media in general to achieve their goals, which basically involve maintaining a fragmented and superficial society which values the transitory spectacle above all.
    However, I’m leery of crusty Classics professors (mine were non-crusty), who believe that all great works are behind us, as they are forever looking with longing at ancient Greece. Only a few years after your anecdotal experience, an epic American poet came onto the scene, who wrote lines such as this:
    Come you masters of war
    You that build all the guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build the big bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks
    While it is true that Dylan’s words and message are all too easily lost in the wide but shallow stream of American consciousness, I think the ‘Golden Age’ is an oversimplification, and things like the Iliad can be seen as the media of the day.
    The lens of time also occludes looking at the present–today’s bard will likely not be speaking in iambic pentameter, nor will he (or she) be playing a lute (btw, Shakespeare himself was an argument against the Classics–discuss)

  7. Duncan Kinder says:

    A classics professor once told his class in my presence that there no longer existed the possibility of the creation of an American epic poem, something like the Iliad, Aeneid, etc., because the declining cultural level and the lack of common values among the “American people” had destroyed the basis of wide comprehension that would be needed for such an effort.

    If he were any good, he would know that Homer actually was pre-literate, that he composed his poems through oral formulation, as the poet of Beowulf apparently also did.
    He also would know the difference between parataxis and hypotaxis, which is basically the difference between Hemingway (parataxis) and Faulkner ( hypotaxis ). It was also basically the difference between Euripides and Aeschylus, the debate between which Aristophanes lampooned in the Frogs.

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    David W.
    “Bob Dylan?” Same – same as Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Benet?
    Well, if you say so…. pl

  9. Patrick Lang says:

    That is rather cruel to the old boy. He is dead now so he can’t answer you.
    You did not address my point and his as to whether or not there is enough left in our civilization to generate epic. “Epic.” I’m sure you know what that is. pl

  10. peony says:

    Colonel Lang:
    Have you seen Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker about the escalation of U.S. covert operations in Iran? This is looking like a repeat of Iraq. The Democratic leadership has agreed to fund this escalation without knowing what exactly they’ve signed onto. Please comment if you will.

  11. Cujo359 says:

    I think Shakespeare said it best – “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Short, simple sentences tend to be more memorable. Complex sentences are somtimes necessary, and they can be used to deliver an ironic point. As a general rule, though I try to avoid them.
    I don’t take a lower Flesch-Kincaid score in speeches as proof that they are less intellectual. Communicating is also an intellectual process. In some ways, it’s comparable to engineering, in that how you try to communicate an idea is designed to appeal to a particular group of people or to a particular mood.
    I’ve done technical writing for a living here and there, and while I don’t find it easy, I’ve learned to communicate complicated thought in relatively simple language. To me, the ideal communication wastes no words, and is clear enough that there is no possibility of misunderstanding. The longer the average sentence is, the less likely that is to be true.
    Rather than being another sign of the intellectual decline of America, lower F-K scores might be taken as proof that the speeches are getting better.

  12. Cujo359 says:

    Susan Jacoby wrote an interesting op-ed on the subject of how the term “elite” has become a slur, and synonymous with “elitism”.

    PITY the poor word “elite,” which simply means “the best” as an adjective and “the best of a group” as a noun. What was once an accolade has turned poisonous in American public life over the past 40 years, as both the left and the right have twisted it into a code word meaning “not one of us.” But the newest and most ominous wrinkle in the denigration of all things elite is that the slur is being applied to knowledge itself.

    Despite my previous comment about F-K scores and their relationship to intellectualism, I agree with Jacoby. Intellectual achievement has become a negative thing in this country. I don’t think that’s an accident – it serves the purposes of the politicians who foster that view, as well as their sponsors.

  13. JohnH says:

    How appropriate that the Republicans should be concerned about their brand. A brand, if you recall, is typically associated with cattle, often from Texas. A brand is often placed on the haunch near the place where the BS comes out…
    So, to make a long story short, the Republican brand is synonymous with BS.

  14. Grimgrin says:

    There is one, rather simpler reason why no one is going to compose an epic poem such as the Iliad, and that’s that epic poetry is no longer read and enjoyed by the mass audience. For better or worse the cultural centers of gravity have shifted to novels, movies, music and television (in roughly that order of importance). With very few exceptions, what we now consider classics all began their lives as popular entertainment, made by people whose living was entertaining people, and almost no one who wants to make a living entertaining people today chooses epic poetry as their medium.
    I’m also not convinced that the level of popular entertainment today is that much worse than it ever was. You could probably find the Victorian equivalent of that college professor wringing his hands over the Penny Dreadfuls that were so popular in the 19th century. Or the Elizabethan equivalent talking about the popularity of bear baiting and these bawdy plays of the ‘johannes factotum’ Shakespeare. And I’m not kidding about Shakespeare being bawdy in places. There’s a reference to cunnilingus in Hamlet.
    That said, the problem of simplifying our political discourse is a very real one. I don’t think it’s to do with any real or perceived drop in the level of popular entertainment however. The problem as I see it is that as a society we’ve started treating political discourse as if it was just another popular entertainment. A problem which in turn has resulted from a mentality that considers civic responsibility on the part of the entities that control our media to be limited to not broadcasting swearing, genitals or blasphemy.
    I may just be being optimistic here, since it’s far easier to carve out a space for disinterested reporting and discourse than it it to raise the general cultural level, there’s at least a hope of fixing or changing the political system. If the political system really is a symptom of general cultural rot, improvement seems much less likely.

  15. Duncan Kinder says:

    You did not address my point and his as to whether or not there is enough left in our civilization to generate epic. “Epic.” I’m sure you know what that is. pl
    Well, I do know that in the Albert Lord, Singer of Tales book, illiterate Bosnian bards were generating epics back in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
    As for the status of our civilization, I don’t know, but I personally composed and delivered the minutes of a club I belonged to in epic form about a year ago.
    I would be willing to locate and post same, but I doubt if that would further the cause of civilization very much.

  16. frank durkee says:

    Let me add that as a graduate of an “elite” university and a member of what was “a learned profession” at least when I graduated from seminary the commidification of theology and the decline of the background of recent graduates of seminaries follows the trend identified. One illustration in the ealy 2000’s at a diocescan meeting in the SW of roughly 120 people the Bishop described Utilitarianism and mentioned one of its developers Jeremy Bentham. He aske who recognized the name, only one hand went up, mine. Tragic.

  17. Cloned Poster says:

    Your post PL:
    Flesch reading ease score: 60.1
    Automated readability index: 9.6
    Flesch-Kincaid grade level: 8.9
    Coleman-Liau index: 11
    Gunning fog index: 12.2
    SMOG index: 11.3

  18. Walrus says:

    Col. Lang…….and this dumbing down is news to you? More importantly, why do you think that the powers that be prefer it that way?
    A colleague of mine and his wife have recently returned from residence in America where they ran an educational consulting business, working for many States. It was sufficient to provide them with not one, but three luxury yachts.
    I asked him about the the quality of American public education and his comment is unprintable. Badly paid hacks going through the motions of working through dumbed down standardised textbooks.
    The products of this system are the target audience of Faux News.
    Do you understand the implications of this?

  19. Amir says:

    I started using the term “Marketingocracy” as opposed to democracy or capitalism to point out the particularities of the current state of affairs on these shores. Knowing that Μάρκετινγκ stands for marketing and
    Αγορά for market, can someone come up with a better formulation for the term “Marketingocracy”.

  20. john in the boro says:

    I think the Bush administration and the neoconservatives believe that they are living the “Axis of Evil” epic.
    “Sing, O’ Dixie Chicks, the anger of George son of George that brought countless ills upon the Americans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying to his maker, and many a hero did it yield a prey to hubris and oil, for so were the counsels of PNAC fulfilled from the day on which the CEO of Haliburton and great George first fell in with one another.”
    It just remains for Doug Feith or Richard Pearle to set the rest of it to verse. As for the Broder article:
    “In the words of political analyst David Broder, NCLB “may be the most important piece of federal legislation in 35 years’” (Martin R. West and Paul E. Petersen, “The Politics and Practice of Accountability,” p1). I guess Mr. Broder is disappointed. Ironically, he cites a “slim book” about presidential “simplistic sentences” as the authority to make his point in “Dumbing Down the Presidency.” But his implications may be spot on. Politicians look for simple solutions to complex problems, and the public has gotten use to it.

  21. hidebound says:

    Does it really take an post-grad education to understand that sentences like “We want peace (with Iraq prior to invasion)” and “They are the axis of evil” are so very wrong?
    They are short and simple, and lies.

  22. David W. says:

    PL, indeed I do, and I hope that you will take it as an opportunity to expand on your current conceptions–rather than thinking me an example of said malaise;>
    That said, I think it’s important to view literature not only for its mellifluous renderings of language, but also for how it reflects the society that it springs from; in that context, Dylan is much more a lyrical representative of our culture than any of the US Poets Laureate. (see disclaimer #1)

  23. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    Unfortunately, Broder’s analysis creates more problems than it solves and doesn’t address those that are staring him in the face. He seems to forget that ‘dumbing down’ has become a way of life in this country; something not confined to politics and politicians but is part of that well known path of least resistance consistent with human nature that always gets in the way of solving problems wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.
    Broder tries to use Lim’s analysis of presidential speeches, and, by association the work of Tulis to make a limited case that presidential candidates are dumbing down elections because they are no longer trying to influence voters by arguing persuasively for their policies but instead are seeking “. . . to build trust by identifying themselves with those voters and their “common sense” view of the world.” Hit by an acorn of his own making, Broder’s sky begins to fall.
    At the end of his essay, however, he solves the problem by concluding:
    “Lim knows that the forces feeding the trends he describes will not easily be reversed. But he calls on politicians to think about their role as educators of the public and on the public to demand straight talk from those who would be president.”
    Nowhere does Broder refer to the careful, analytic work of Tulis and his colleagues on presidential rhetoric and political decision making, nor does he reflect on the genuine failure of the political system to ensure that citizens are trained in the critical thinking necessary to engage in rational deliberation about their candidate’s views as opposed to demagoguery. Broder’s idea that this can be achieved by simply having the public demand “straight talk” from their candidate is too silly to even qualify as jejune.
    Moreover, whether the speeches of our political leaders are written for an eighth grade level of understanding is only relevant to the extent that this allows the speech maker (writer) to ignore content necessary to inform the citizenry in a way that improves the quality of their political decision making. The answer to this question is not to make speeches longer or more complicated but lies in figuring out how best to educate our citizens in every aspect of their lives from politics to health care so that the choices they make about who is to lead them are the best they can be.
    For example, in an area ostensibly outside of politics, the private health care system has developed telephonic followup programs to help patients with chronic diseases manage their illnesses more effectively. One of the problems these companies face is how best to bring the patients themselves up to speed with the health care information they need that will help them get better and stay well. For too many patients, not having had a basic high school course in health science makes that task more onerous and time consuming for the health care provider, and, ultimately, less beneficial to the patient as a vehicle for his/her care.
    The issue is not the validity of Broder’s shallow view of American politics but the survival of the country itself.

  24. TomB says:

    The Colonel is right and T.V./the visual media is hugely to blame. The medium is simply hostile to reflective thought, including especially the critical, questioning kind.
    Wasn’t it about 10 years ago or so some Congressperson was asked by Spy magazine or some such outfit about his views on our relations with the country of “Freedonia,” and the Boob went on at length about how important they were and how our general policies with regard to same ought to change and etc., etc. (Not realizing even that the very name was taken from a Marx Brothers’ movie.)
    And then there’s Bush. Asked about why immunity for telecoms is so important the idiot said something along the lines of “because otherwise in the future they would hesitate to cooperate with the government again,” literally meaning that gee, when we ask ’em to break the law in the future they might say no.
    As Bugs Bunny used to say, what a maroon.

  25. Patrick Lang says:

    David W
    This was in reference to Bob Dylan’s value as a poet. I would not dispute that, but the question had to do with the possibility of a national epic poem for the US.
    It seems that it does.
    Come on… you know about the application of rhetoric in argument,
    You would have to explain the score to me.
    John in the Boro
    I want to hear them sing it. pl

  26. Cieran says:

    Today, outside the elites of a few universities, we have little in the way of intellectual life in this country. We have little in the way of political life.
    While the U.S. intellectual landscape leaves much to be desired, there are still elements here that are fundamentally important to the life of the mind. One example is that so many intellectuals who are exiled from their home nations do find sanctuary here.
    I recently had the singular opportunity of spending some time hoisting a few beers with Huang Xiang, a brilliant author who has been exiled from China for more than a decade. Few things can make one appreciate American intellectual and political life more than spending time with someone who has been censored, imprisoned and tortured in their homeland for such dangerous acts as “writing damned good poetry”.

  27. Re: poetry – any kind, whether epic or not – depends upon a spoken culture, whether literate or not. Very few of us today sit around in groups talking to each other, except at business meetings. Perhaps because of TV, or the automobile, or both (internet makes it worse but this began happening much earlier, even during radio era but escalated with TV) – we no longer sit around and talk.
    Therefore we no longer sit around and recite poetry.
    In Lebanon (and Peru, Greece, and many other similar places, by report) people were still sitting around and talking within my memory, and I’m 45. The sitting around sometimes led to poetry competitions. Some poems were self-composed and of low-medium quality; often they were poems, ancient or contemporary, by great poets. Simple country people would memorize sections of epic national poetry to recite for the amusement of their friends and relations. Men (and women – see Lila Abu-Lughod’s research on Bedouin women’s poetry) competed with each other to recite poems, their own or others’, which would move or impress or amaze.
    My dad was a decent amateur poet in ARabic. I was always impressed at how the silliest, most materialistic country housewife would listen to his poetry with attention and offer intelligent comment. The fact that he wrote and recited poems made him worthy of attention and respect, and even people I thought were uneducated and uninterested in culture became alert and happy if Dad decided to recite. Whereas we Americans, including his ungrateful children, thought the whole business embarrassing and tiresome.
    Did Applachian mountain people recite poetry to each other? I don’t know, but they sang each other songs, which are *lyrics*.
    I don’t know about the Irish either but they have such a gift for gab and verse that I assume there must have been an Irish tradition of popular poetry.
    Great epic poetry, or great poetry of many other genres, needs the fertile soil of a living poetic culture. It can’t arise out of a sterile medium. It needs plenty of manure, bugs, worms and weeds around it in order to take root, flower and thrive. I say that popular poetry is the manure etc. The true critics among you can discuss whether Bob Dylan is manure, earthworm, cover crop (vetch? clover?) or the coveted flower itself.
    Today there is a popular culture of the “poetry slam” among younger folk. People get together at a cafe or auditorium and read or recite their poems aloud, usually with lots of emphasis and pizazz, looking to wow the crowd. Whatever you may think of the poems arising from this movement, at least it’s popular and it’s poetry and it’s face to face.
    I believe a poem spoken aloud has greater power when heard in the presence of the speaker – the breath is spirit you know. Recordings give you a flavor but nothing beats being in a room with other human beings, listening to a poet (preferably acoustic, unmiked) recite.
    When the oil runs out and we have to turn to homemade amusements, we have a better chance of developing some national epic poem or another. Maybe in the future an anonymous Lebanese-Irish-Japanese-African-American bard in the camps of California will compose an epic poem about the wars of Iraq and Iran and the bloody trials of Americans therein.

  28. bstr says:

    I read the comment of SST with joy. However, I quickly recognize that most of my fellow readers are far too serious to indulge in reality TV. Recently there was a show called something like My Kid is a Star. In the course of making these children “stars” a Hollywood casting director informed their parents that they had to “brand” their child to get the “message” across as quickly and as telling as possible. We are a consumer culture. We are instructed to spend in time of war. Some of our greatest artist fled to Madison Avenue to promote the growth of the consumer culture. We do not have time for the epic. We must multi-taskize consumption to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. Wear your lapel pin proudly, show us who you are with a quick visual reference. I’ve got to go to the store. Viva la Brand. bs

  29. David Habakkuk says:

    Duncan Kinder
    Your point about Homer and the author of Beowulf composing oral epic is thought-provoking.
    But it is not clear that it is necessarily in tension with the remark made by Colonel Lang’s classics professor. Is it necessarily the case that a high ‘cultural level’ in the sense he appears to mean, or indeed ‘common values’, are dependent on literacy?
    Certainly Shakespeare was denounced as vulgar by people who thought themselves his betters. But it is misleading to treat the famous ‘johannes factotum’ quote as the product of the equivalent of a contemporary ‘college professor’ wringing his hands over the dreadful state of popular entertainment.
    Its author, Robert Greene, denounced Shakespeare as ‘an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shakescene in a country.’
    The ‘university wits’ like Greene, and Thomas Nashe or the great Christopher Marlowe came from relatively humble social origins — not dissimilar to Shakespeare’s own. But the excellent grammar schools of the day — their successors destroyed by post-war Labour governments — meant that clever young men from humble backgrounds who swotted away at their Latin (in the best schools, also Greek) could go on scholarships to the universities.
    What Greene and Nashe could not abide about Shakespeare was not his bawdy or his vulgarity — which they could do quite as well themselves. They saw him as a jumped up actor, taking the bread out of the mouths of his betters by imitating them and becoming more successful than they were at doing the same kind of thing as they did.
    And they were by no means simply wrong: Shakespeare started out as an imitator of Marlowe, and made matchless use of a style of vituperation he borrowed from Nashe.
    Incidentally Stephen Greenblatt has suggested — not implausibly — that Greene was one of the models for Falstaff — as he was ‘famous for a life that combined drunken idleness and gluttony with energetic bursts of writing, famous too for his impecuniousness, his duplicity, his intimate knowledge of the underworld, his fleeting attempts at moral reform, and his inevitable backsliding.’ The brother of his girlfriend was one Cutting Ball, the leader of a gang of thieves who was eventually hanged at Tyburn.

  30. jamzo says:

    adapting to the post-print, electonic media has been an experience
    now i think it is a step forward
    i can read books and newspapers
    i can see and hear candidates and their marketers
    and i can read the opinions of independent thinkers and interact with others on blogs initiated by leaders like yourself

  31. rjj says:

    When the oil runs out and we have to turn to homemade amusements, we have a better chance of developing some national epic poem or another.

    To which I would add – when we need to assemble in great rooms to get the benefit our fellow creatures’ body heat.
    What epic has ever been written about peace, prosperity, and well-being? They inspire idylls, pastorals, and satyr plays. We need an Aristophanes. Most of the Classical tragedies were based on 4-500 year old stories. Historians, and later, chroniclers** took over the role of the epic poets.
    But in twenty years (optimistic projection) we will be ready for our Dante or our Milton. Depending on economic conditions, they might be novelists or playwrights.
    ** How is epic defined? oral transmission? poetic form? scale of work? subject matter? late scholarly compilations of folk material such as Mabinogion and Kalevala? Can Snorri’s Heimskringla be counted as one? What about Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility quartet? Frank Norris’ “Epic of the Wheat”? PL’s trilogy?

  32. rjj says:

    David Habakkuk,
    My own personal upstart crow theory is that Greene resents Shakespeare because Shakespeare ridicules him in the Henry VI plays. There are lines in the plays I call Greene-isms. They are SO jarring and incongruous they jump off the page or out of the performance.
    Two examples:
    H6-2 Act I Scene II Eleanor speaks to Duke Humphrey
    Why droops my lord, like over-ripen’d corn,
    Hanging the head at Ceres’ plenteous load?
    H6-3 Act II scene II Richard of Gloucester says (completely out of character)
    See how the morning opes her golden gates
    And takes her farewell of the glorious sun.
    How well resembles it the prime of youth,
    Trimm’d like a younker prancing to his love!
    As Greene says “beautified with our feathers” he may not have realized these lines were a send-up.
    Of course these could be later interpolations but I prefer to think of them as mischief. This could be pure projection.
    But I really am not qualified to have this opinion.
    Ripping off Pandosto had to have happened after Greene was dead in 1594, so that can’t possibly the basis for the accusation of plagiarism.

  33. Ken J. says:

    Are you familiar with David Letterman’s recurring sketch “Great Moments In Presidential Speeches?” Most nights, the bit starts with two known historic speeches — Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan’s “Tear down this wall!”– and the third clip is Bush fumbling and bobbling, or else spouting nonsense.

  34. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    The issue for the imperial faction, which controls both political parties, is how best to manipulate mass public opinion to produce the desired effect and results.
    A lot of thought has gone into this since the 1930s and the Fascist era. Modern technology such as radio, then television, as well as mass circulation newspapers and magazines facilitates the process.
    In the US, I think the rule of thumb for politicians today is to dumb things down to the 5th grade level and work in soundbites and simple slogans. That is what I noted in the 1980s on Capitol Hill and things seem to have gone down hill since then.

  35. jlcg says:

    I don’t think there is any dumbing down of our people. The doctors are excellent, the lawyers are terrifying, the engineers first rate and so on. I realize that strawberry pickers do not enjoy Sophocles, that common people are happy with their races and beers. What I find terrible is the loss of religious points of reference because nothing of value can be understood if the religious substratum is absent. How can you understand or at least ponder about Parsifal? Paradiso is for many people the most boring piece of writing except if you have a strong Catholic background and then you prefer it to everything else.

  36. different clue says:

    Well…parodying an epic for satirical purposes is not the same as writing or composing an original epic. Still…someone would have to know an epic to be able to parody that epic. And someone would have to think that enough other people would know enough of the epic being parodied, as well
    as the current target being satirized; to undertake the labor of writing a satirical
    epic parody.
    And it appears that someone did, several years ago. Behold! The Bushiad.
    And the Idyossey.

  37. David Habakkuk says:

    “What epic has ever been written about peace, prosperity, and well-being? They inspire idylls, pastorals, and satyr plays. We need an Aristophanes.”
    Perhaps a variant on the old Chinese curse would be apt — not ‘may you live in interesting times’, but ‘may you live in times fit for epics’.

  38. zanzibar says:

    The national discourse has devolved into the “campaign” as Pat’s graphic so aptly shows. Its all about process and the horse race. Who screams louder on TV? Who looks “right”? How the attire and lighting played?
    For the corporate media its all about ratings and ad dollars and how the country club boys and girls feel about it and of course for the controlling interests its more than money its about their control of the frame.
    What these folks are not paying much credence to is how below the surface the people are communicating and debating and getting more restless. They know however that they need to also control the tubes and have the sole monopoly on information distribution. Net neutrality will be the next battle just like dragnet style vacuuming of all communications that the Bushie’s have done illegally for years and Congress is working to make legal.
    Sic Semper Tyrannis! Indeed.

  39. Spider Rider says:

    Once the government, the military, even , begins to demand more of it’s people, there will be a shift toward greater intellectualism, again, in the media, and elsewhere.
    So goes the Pentagon, so goes the country, (and some very good things have come from the Pentagon, as well as the bad, sadly).

  40. arthurdecco says:

    Fascinating exchange!
    I can’t think of a blog where I read more good sense focused on issues that matter than right here.
    Thank you all.

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