I often wake up in the middle of the night, usually for 30-45 minutes. I listen to the radio to put myself back to sleep and usually it’s the BBC World Service on MPR that’s playing. I find it soothing to listen to the calm delivery of a variety of stories from around the world.
Early Friday morning I woke up and heard something completely different: the BBC played excerpts from Thursday’s Republican debate. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump were all shouting at each other and I could hear Wolf Blitzer in the background pleading, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, you all agreed to the rules…”
This sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it. Over the weekend it came to me: the Republican debate sounded like The Jerry Springer Show! People yelling at each other, insulting one another, trying to air tawdry details about someone’s life. I went back to look at the video and I’m surprised that the candidates didn’t start tearing at each other’s clothes or hurling furniture.
So why is an economist bringing this up? My thinking is that there is a market for this kind of entertainment and that politics-as-usual can’t cut through the thicket of other media without adopting some of their characteristics. If you like Jerry Springer, try Donald Trump! If you like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, try Bernie Sanders!
This isn’t anything new (e.g. I always go back to The Selling of the President 1968 and what I’ve learned via my wife and daughter from Neil Postman) but it is terribly toxic when the culture that is being reflected is itself so destructive.