Friday, October 08, 2004

The power of media

Go me. I did a good job lecturing about the presidential elections of the US today and yesterday. I think. The students seemed to be genuinely interested and asked very good questions. And made excellent comments on the clips of the first debate I showed them.

I'm not a political person, far from it, at least when it comes to standard party politics. Lately there have been a few people who have said I should get involved, but actually I enjoy other ways of making a difference, like teaching high school kids about the Finnish democracy (and telling them they have a responsibility to vote as soon as they are able to). But even though the game of politics as such isn't my favourite thing, I've enjoyed digging into the US presidential campaign a lot. I've surfed all the official sites of the two main parties and both senator Kerry and president Bush. Absolutely fascinating. Especially the role of media in today's politics. It doesn't seize to amaze me how detailed the planning is behind the seemingly flawless performances of the candidates.

The first "debate" for example. Rules, rules, rules. In these vast documents the representatives of both parties had compiled, were regulations on the distance between the two podiums, camera angles, what type of pencils the candidates would have available for them... and the list just goes on. It's easy to undestand why the republican side would be interested in the distance of the podiums. If the candidates would've been too close to each other, senator Kerry would've seemed every inch as tall as he is, while president Bush would've seemed shorter. So what, one might think, that's just the way it is. But think again. Throughout human history it has been obvious that the strong, tall people are the fit & able ones (as mislead as that conception may have been at times). Many leaders in world history have been tall. Many short military leaders have worn tall hats to compensate. Nowadays we know that the employers tend to hire taller people (I read an article on that some time ago, unfortunately most of the details escape me). Ergo, when it's absolutely necessary to make use of every psychological weapon in the arsenal, you set the podiums so that it's not that obvious that the other candidate is taller than the other. In that way the primal gut instinct of "taller is better" won't kick in. The whole campaign is full of these details. It's a media war and every single psychological weapon will be used, whether subtle or not. (And I won't even go to the rhetorics of the speeches, which are every bit as interesting as the ways of influencing the subconscious through the gimmicks of modern media.)

What I really hope is that all my American friends do go and vote on November 2nd. And that all my Finnish friends vote in the local elections on October 24th. That's my little piece of propaganda for the day. Vote! :)

Whee, it's Friday already! Whee and yikes. I have to get some serious work done this weekend with the lesson plans for next week or I'll be in trouble. Luckily it will be easy to avoid the "all work and no play" -type of weekend, since Suvi and Pasi are having their house warming party tomorrow. Whee. I expect it to be quite literally that. They have a small apartment in the student village and I think there'll be at least as many people there as there are square metres available. :) Have to remember not to wear a thick sweater, I suppose. It'll be fun though, I'm sure. There's bound to be some new people there besides all my old friends, which'll be refreshing.

Oops, have to go and check on the dinner. It'll be overcooked in a moment, if it's not that already...


Anonymous said...

It is good to see you have interest in sharing our American Presidential debates. I knew there were 32 pages of rules governing the debates but did not know that the angle of the podiums was addressed. Not surprised just did not know. I enjoy your blog and yes I will vote on November 2. I too share your ideal that all should partake of democracy. Keep up the good work! Greg from Newton Illinois USA

Johanna said...

Greg, so nice to have you visiting my blog! One more thing about the podiums. :) Try to find a picture or a video clip on the debates of 2000 and the distance thing will be even clearer. Al Gore and George W. were allowed to have their podiums a lot closer to each other than this year's candidates. It's really amusing. Oh, and today I read in the paper that Mrs. Laura Bush has announced that she'll be wearing a blue outfit for the next debate in order to avoid the humiliation of wearing the same color as Mrs. Teresa Heinz Kerry for the second time. I had been wondering whether the almost identical outfits in the first debate were planned on. Obviously not. :)