In practice, what television’s dominance has come to mean is that the inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics, and the influence of those who contribute it. That is why campaign finance reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas will continue to play a diminished role.
The big problem is the cliches and extraneous words. This world of business, these job creators, have specialized to the point where they have developed their own language. This is normal, but the problem is that their language is as tepid and lifeless and dumb as any language that ever existed. It personally bugs me that most of these ideas are for apps, for tiny little pretend squares less than an inch on any side that sit on jittery screens in people’s pockets. And as a critic, it bugs me that these apps are presented in charisma-free pitches, dumbed-down versions of the evangelical corporate slide show that Steve Jobs popularized starting in 2001 when he unveiled the iPod. Everybody knows the routine so well by now that you can practically ignore the whole thing.
You can do anything you want with an idea. It can be as big as you want. It doesn’t have to solve a minor problem that nobody ever really realized was a problem. It doesn’t have to fit into something the size of a button crammed into a “folder” the size of a button on a screen the size of a playing card. But everywhere I look, I see tiny little ideas, ideas that are almost petty in their inconsequentiality. And I come back to those cliches, and I think the real problem is in how little thought goes into the language these people use. When the language you employ to communicate your ideas is small and boring, your ideas are going to be small and boring. And when all your ideas are small and boring, your future gets dimmer and dimmer and more claustrophobic until it’s finally just a pinpoint of light on a dark screen, in danger of going out at any time.
Constant’s critique is rather scattered and amorphous, ironic given that he criticizes poor use of language and attendantly mediocre ideas at Startup Riot. His command of words is superb in the span of a given sentence, but he fails to convey a coherent message overall.
He gets at something important though. I don’t think he’s wrong to connect mediocre language and tame ideas.
Language is a powerful arbiter of ideas, and maybe it’s true that we can’t expect people who only speak from a narrow lexicon, a sort of “Silicon Valley pidgin”, to be the stewards of ideas, big ideas, that require a robust lexicon to conceptualize and convey.
It’s funny how being described as “naive” can come across both as casual comment and rather scathing criticism. Lack of context broadens the potential for offense. Being naive about some specific phenomenon is far less damning than being more broadly of an unsophisticated disposition in mind.
Between ‘Correct’ and ‘Politically Correct’
I hate it when people label things ‘politically correct’ when they are actually just ‘correct’. The term is insidious in its ability to undermine a stance by implying that we are only guarding delicate sensibilities, even in those cases where we are also, and more importantly, defending truth.
I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us [conservatives]. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.