June 1996, Volume 3 Nr 10, Issue 34
Call-in talk shows permeate the AM radio dial. Many are separating, hate-filled, critical diatribes that blame the always present other for personal ill and societal failure. From time to time, while looking for interesting dialogue, I stumble across these programs. The first thing I notice is the programs are hosted by rather big egos. (I keep forgetting that the cassette player is a wonderful way to listen to music, good books on tape and other uplifting messages.)
Recently, I attended a small gathering of people where the effects of persistent listening to some of these programs became very clear. I came across an individual whom I hadn't seen in years. Literally within moments our conversation became embroiled in political attack and name calling. Each of us hold differing political opinions and a discussion or debate between us was not uncommon. I was, however, surprised at the level of hostility and anger coming toward me. I found it both sad and fascinating. It was as if this person was walking loaded with negative emotions waiting for an opportunity to let them loose. I was the trigger for that release.
Many talk radio programs fill our heads with thoughts and images, which, if repeated often enough over a long period of time, become our own. If anger is espoused toward an individual or group, we may take on the anger and accept them as scapegoat. We may walk around loaded ready to do battle with anyone perceived as opposing our thoughts or views. Unwittingly, we develop what we falsely believe is our own personal mental mode of operation. Instead, we have adopted an artifact of a well orchestrated group-think, a deception which I call thought loyalty.Thought Loyalty
Thought loyalty is not unlike product loyalty. Product loyalty involves those consumer items which have brand names. We may buy bath soap or shampoo or cheddar cheese but have absorbed the notion that is more than simple habit, that we should buy one brand. Interestingly, product loyalty is strongest when the products provide no real benefit at all, such as colas, cigarettes or beer. And the frantic, constant commercial barrage of those products is the only way to maintain such flimsy sense of community identity. Thought loyalty works the same way. It requires a continuous, dulling barrage of reinforcement to keep one from thinking at all.
Thought loyalty has us remain faithful to a continual cycle of purchase and consumption. For example, although we know that cigarettes kill us, we continue to smoke. We relate to the Marlboro Man's macho, virile message and wish to be like him. We continue to smoke and perhaps imagine being like him. It matters not that the actor who played that role has died from lung cancer himself. Thought loyalty negates the personal consequences of walking loaded with anger, hatred and dissatisfaction. It is easier than coping with constant change. Thought loyalty is a hang-on to the self-defeating belief that when we get angry enough, when we find enough people to blame often enough, then we will somehow get what we want and the world will be more sane. If we don't recognize it then we are stuck. If we believe it, we are lost.Talk Shows Everywhere
During the summer months I ride my bicycle as often as I can. While pedaling through small villages I often hear people listening to negative, blaming talk shows. I hear the now-too-familiar voices of anger while people work at gas stations, restaurants, post offices and in their back yards. There are not only dozens of talk shows and talk show hosts, there are even associations of talk show hosts! Last year, the Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts gave G. Gordon Liddy an award. This is the same G. Gordon Liddy who instructed listeners where to shoot federal agents in order to make certain that they are killed.
Why have talk shows become so pervasive and popular in our culture? Why are they taking up so much time in people's lives? Why do people turn to talk show hosts for advice and answers to their frustrations?Oil and Phone Catharsis
During 1973, at the height of the so-called Arab Oil Embargo, millions of people per month bought, installed and operated CB radios in their cars. CB quickly became a fad. The long lines at the gasoline station, the underlying dissatisfaction with the present situation and the inexpensive nature of this interactive communications medium, contributed to CB's explosive popularity. For fifty dollars or so, millions of Americans daily complained to each other. A cathartic communal give and take developed. Millions of people released built-up tension by pressing a microphone button. The catharsis was often ongoing, continuing from day to day. There was anonymity. The CB phenomenon was unorchestrated. There was no attempt to unify nor create dissatisfaction in order elicit anger toward anyone or group of individuals. CB radio was a good way for people to work out their frustrations with each other.
The Citizens Band radio fad and its associated catharsis was short lived for two reasons. The first is technical and the other evolutionary. CB radio operates in a range of radio frequencies that provide localized communications via ground waves. The range is typically up to 25 miles. Every eleven years the sunspot cycle repeats itself, going from minimum to maximum. In 1973, the sunspots were in their minimum allowing disgruntled Americans to easily communicate with each other while in close range. Six years later however, with the return of solar flare activity, sky wave propagation allowed all these Citizens Band radio user's signals to travel thousands of miles, thus rendering CB communications useless. People abandoned their radios and looked for other sources of diversion and catharsis. By this time, the oil crisis had come to an end.
The development of the screened call-in talk radio program formats filled the vacuum. Displaced CB radio operators (and others) could now listen to en masse, and participate in, whining, complaining and blaming. In addition, the disappearance of the "Evil Soviet Empire" had us look elsewhere for enemies. The enemy turned out to be us.
The Rush Limbaugh Show claims to have 20 million daily listeners. While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, Tom Devries in The American Prospect, no. 25 (March-April 1996): pg. 43-50 sets the figure at 12 million. He states,
For the public, the body politic, the electorate, talk radio is doing for the quality of information what tabloid TV did to TV news. Too bad.
There is a vast difference between working things out with your fellow traveler and listening to one person manipulate huge masses of fellow travelers on the path toward groupthink and thought loyalty. Rather than participate in interactive dialogue with other people, we listen to and addict ourselves to one person's neuroses, who chooses the flavor and content of interactive dialogue between talk show host and caller. We became party to each others' nationally broadcast loneliness and deprivation. We substitute the limited and contrived talk show "family" for the extended family of grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles and close friends with all their stories, history, experience and wisdom. These need not be actual blood relatives - they do need to be physically present people, elders, mentors, with whom we can have one-on-one face- to-face dialogue. In some cases, the talk show fills the void created by a lack of spousal interaction and dialogue.
Consider one Internet description of talk shows, whose homepage is called Goy Division: Pranking Talk Radio 'til it Hurt where they state:
Last week I bicycled into a gas station to pump air into my tires. Rush Limbaugh was on the radio in the background. I dropped in to say hello and noticed a political poster in the window urging the reelection of Vermont Congressman Bernard Sanders. I mentioned that I liked the poster. The owner then let loose with dozens of expletives calling Mr. Sanders every name in the book. While I can understand disagreeing with someone's point of view or disliking an individual, I cannot understand this rudeness. I did not know this person's name nor did he know me. Yet, he felt it appropriate and necessary to use foul language exhibiting vitriolic anger toward a stranger.
Imagine, if you will, the impact of hearing the same message over and over daily for months or years. Imagine the psyche of an individual who hears anger, resentment and hate over a long period of time, having only the telephone as a way to express themselves and finding only a busy signal. All of a sudden, they come face to face with a trigger for their anger, resentment and hatred. Walking loaded becomes talking loaded and unloading.Equality of Intellect
There are many call-in talk shows on radio with varying formats, personalities and political perspectives. Not all of them peddle separation and blame. By nature of the medium, however, all of them to one degree or another sell ego and pseudocommunity. Many local radio talk show personalities, in an attempt to achieve greater appeal and recognition, to cash in on a successful formula, mimic the nationally established hosts. One local talk show host, a Rush Limbaugh wannabe, strikes me as a child intently playing karaoke.
One day, I heard Tim Philbin of WSYB Radio in Rutland, Vermont, chastise women for being whiners and complainers. He complained that women complained about not being able to get into the exclusive men's military academies and then, when in, dropping out and whining that the program was too tough. Immediately following this diatribe, during a break for commercial advertising, there was a spot by a human rights group urging people to respect each other and their diversity. The irony was hard to escape.
Television and radio programming over the past few decades have spread the illusion of equality of intellect. We are not created with equal intellect, nor do we develop our intelligence to achieve such equality. While some of us may understand advanced calculus or quantum mechanics others do better with music, writing or art. Personal taste, exposure and other factors are part of the picture, too. Many talk shows hide the hidden agenda of common denominator intellectualization of its listeners.
Thought loyalty and equality of intellect, the belief that every caller and talk show host has similar and elevated intelligence, set the stage for the state of walking loaded. We are forever prepared to do battle with anyone who presses our buttons even in the slightest, even if they are a stranger. The prepared-for enemy, with an intellect presumed to be equal to or lower than our own, has arrived. Thus, we attack, not so much to make others feel bad as to make ourselves feel better. Doing so, however, does not help.
Talk show hosts, who are, after all, in the business of selling commercial time in order to receive a salary, know this. This is how they keep listeners coming back for more. In the same fashion that commercials keep telling us that if we just buy the product we can have it all, but never quite enough, talk show hosts tell us that if we just keep listening in we will find out the answers and know The Truth. But there is always more to know. Both leave us empty, feeling that we don't have or know quite enough.
Our intellect is seldom served by listening uncritically to preachers of anger and resentment. Our psychic well-being and state of heart are never improved. Consciousness is recognizing our dependence on thought loyalty. Thought loyalty is ego massage. When in the company of groupthink egos become joined; not hearts, egos. This joining is less a position of strength as it is coverup for the fear that dwells within.Reactionism
Reactionism is the belief that order must prevail over everything else. One weekly essay produced on the Internet, called The Reactionary Weekly, claims that the reason why parents, teachers and society have lost control of teenagers is that we no longer "beat our children." In an essay entitled, "Beat Your Children!", they state,
I pray that corporal punishment is revived in public schools...the very place where most youngster violence occurs. If a kid smarts off at a teacher or smacks another student, he or she should be punished in front of the class. These incidents of embarrassment and physical pain will keep our children in order.
What happens when these same people come across an adult who "smarts off"? There is a well-known psychological theory of a cycle of violence, and children who learn to use violence. Not as a situational defensive reaction as many other animals do when in immediate danger, but to initiate violence, and to attack those who are weaker. Corporal punishment, in schools, juvenile courts or families, would be sanctioned punitive violence. The patterns of the dominant culture would be repeated in the subculture of the students themselves.
What happens when more and more people adopt reactionism, fostered through phone catharsis and thought loyalty, in response to a quickly changing world? What happens when lack of intellect is replaced by anger and hate?Hope
While we may not all be capable of having equal intellect, we can agree to debate issues with a modicum of civility and respect for the points of view of others. In my research for this issue, I came across Women Leaders On-line, a group formed in New York City on February 2, 1995 with a goal "to reduce the level of hatred and paranoia in contemporary political debate." WLO understands that people have differing points of view and hold them with passion. Their concern, like mine, is that these passions create environments that "cross a line where they become advocacy of hatred and invitations to violence."
There is hope in that there is a growing awareness throughout the nation that we have gone too far in our criticism and hatred of people with opposing views. Women Leaders On-line in order to "honor the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing -- and to prevent future bombings" is circulating a "civility pledge" as part of its "Love Creates/Hate Kills Campaign." The text of the pledge follows:
Everything that I have read and studied over the past seven years has reinforced my belief that whatever we do or choose to believe, that love or fear are at the root of our choices. It is hard for me to believe that people who walk loaded, talk with persistent anger and venom come from a loving place. If there is any truth to the phrase "misery loves company" then surely talk radio has capitalized on it.
I've heard the voices of resentment disparage thinking that comes from a place of love as if people who do so are somehow weak, sissies or walking around with their heads in the clouds. These same people will then claim to be "true Christians" as some talk show hosts do. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and hold a minor in theology from a Jesuit college. I surmise with some confidence that Jesus, as the avowed and accepted Prince of Peace by millions of people, would always choose love.
Even during disagreement and debate we can choose love. This is, in fact, the best place where love can dwell. We can always be loving in our dealings with other human beings though our stands differ and our passions heighten in defense of our position.
Consider the possibility that the talk show phenomenon is publicly bringing to light a large reservoir of fearful people. Since fear is the absence of love, think of it as a call-in talk-show calling out for love. Leo Buscaglia, in his book, Love, writes, "Each man lives love in his limited fashion and does not seem to relate the resultant confusion and loneliness to his lack of knowledge about love."
Responding with defensive posturing, another ego tactic, would simply fuel the fear. Gerald G. Jampolsky in Love is the Answer writes,
The belief system of the heart is based on unconditional love, with a perception of ourselves as global citizens, each with a passionate desire to be helpful and loving toward everyone, no matter where they might live in the world.
To this I might add: "No matter what they think or how they disagree with me." Regardless what they say, there is no need to respond with ego reciprocity. There need not necessarily exist a dichotomy of spirit where one exists of position.
To walking loaded we might respond with walking in love. In response to blame, name-calling, anger and rage, we might respond with kindness and understanding. To do otherwise would negate what we are. A Course in Miracles states, "Teach only love for that is what you are."Quotes
Fanaticism and ignorance
The only devils in the world are those running around in our own hearts. That is where the battle should be fought.
I am going to do something terrible to you; I am going to take away your enemy.
To refuse another's shadow you don't fight back, but like a good matador you just let the bull go by.
© 1996 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski