The increasing politicization of all things media has continued unabated since President Trump’s election. It has become not only favorable, but almost necessary to include veiled (and not so veiled) jibes at the president’s conduct and decisions. The latest media spectacle was this year’s Miss America contest.
While the competition has always had a mild political edge, the questions asked this time around were heavily weighted in such a way as to make any dissension from the (clearly) expected answer seem ludicrous and illogical. This method of questioning is considered too biased to be used in a court of law, yet is a fairly common tactic when carrying out polls paid for by political parties. The questions are framed with reference points to negative aspects leading to a final “closed” question. In this case, the only “right” answer being that the contestant disagrees with Donald Trump’s actions.
“One hundred and ninety-five countries signed the Paris Agreement, in which each country sets nonbinding goals to reduce man-made climate change. The U.S. is withdrawing from the agreement citing negligible environmental effects and negative economic impact. Good decision, bad decision? Which is it, and why?” Here, the questioner, Maria Menounos, was calling upon an “argument from authority.” By pointing out that the combined governments of 195 nations considered Trump’s actions “bad,” how then would the contestant argue against that combined “wisdom?”
Most major media events from music awards to the Oscars now contain an element of anti-Trump revelry. It is, unfortunately, all too self-serving. By making statements about the present administration, the event can guarantee that the mainstream media networks will actively promote them. CNN, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and many others have all run trending articles on the “questioning” portion of the competition; all gleefully proclaiming how bad it was for the President.
But in many ways, it is difficult to blame the events themselves for this complicit activity. The American media has become a moral barometer and executioner rolled into one. Consider that in May, the Miss USA competition filled the headlines negatively when winner Kara McCullough, a scientist at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was asked an open-ended question. She was asked if "affordable health care for all US citizens is a right or a privilege," and answered that she considered it a privilege. A fair question and a fair answer, but not one that was apparently acceptable to the mainstream media machine.
Miss McCullough was widely lambasted on regular and social media, and the competition itself was facing organized boycotts from activist groups. Sunday’s competition made sure to not make the same mistake. The questions were not open-ended and begged no other answer than a socially and politically left one. Perhaps it would not have been such a harsh outcry until McCullough was asked her opinion on feminism. She replied that she did not consider herself a feminist and that “we are just as equal as men when it comes to opportunity in the workplace," thus slaying the liberal Shibboleth.
From all the negative publicity, and the inevitable questioning of the competition’s existence, organizers are no longer willing to take such chances again; and this is why all questions are now “closed,” and the responder is led carefully towards the “correct” answer.
But it’s not just beauty shows and award ceremonies that are suffering under this mildly despotic coercion; daily life has been swept into the fray and now home, and work environments are being scrutinized for GoodThink.
Job seekers are scrubbing their social media accounts of any support or affiliation to politicians and political groups that are not part of the “socially acceptable” factions. When we consider that mentions of Donald Trump or Conservatism are now likely to hinder one’s job prospects, it makes it difficult to see how functional and honest communication can take place. People of all kinds have begun prefacing their speech with “signifying statements” and adding almost meaningless phrases into the discourse that are having a deleterious impact on how we speak to and understand each other. As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language:
(W)ords and meaning have almost parted company. People who write (speak) in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying.
And regarding making people think of better ways to express themselves, he said:
But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need, they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
And this is where we have arrived at with our media and entertainment. It is not that the people involved can only express themselves in this simplified and politically correct manner, it is that they are expected to. They know that if they stray far from the path of “expected speech” they will be ostracized and vilified. It is not enough to just demur; they must now be activists in condemning “the other,” even if it is the majority opinion.