Thursday, June 03, 2010

Theoretical Thursdays: The play's the thing

Hey, kids! Welcome back to the occasional detour into the land of "exactly what are you people doing up there on the fifth floor, anyway?" Today's theory is symbolic convergence, which --- among other things -- tries to figure out what people are talking about by looking at the sort of dramas they jointly construct from the stuff they encounter in their lives. SCT started life as a small-group theory but has proven lots of fun for media and political comm too because -- well, where else do people get their information about the political world?

The world is a big and confusing place, after all, and the quicker we can slot something into a familiar category, the quicker we can figure out who the good guys and bad guys are and how we ought to interpret things. When you say "I'm starting to get a really bad feeling about this,"* you're not just being Han Solo for a day -- you're also suggesting which side of the room the Empire is on, with you and your friends as the rebel alliance.

Our example here is Saturday's entry in the Impeachment-Worthy Scandal of the Century over at ... aw, we told you not to peek! It's another "Rahmbo" storm, but it's a Rahmbo storm that you're supposed to think about in a particular way. And even though the story itself (and, to be blunt, the "facts") never mention the magic words, the audience knows exactly when it's supposed to go "Aaaaaaay" or "Dy-no-MITE!"

Here's the hed:
Sestak Case Puts Rahm Emanuel's Backroom Politics Back in Spotlight

Sure, it's a question-begger's banquet, but the fun thing is how little the manifest content of the story has to do with its intent:

The White House official behind the controversial offer to Rep. Joe Sestak is no stranger to hard-nosed political horse trading.

Fine. Is this a case of that?

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who enlisted the help of his former boss Bill Clinton to approach a congressman about sitting out a Senate primary race, has been involved in several political controversies during his 20-year-plus career in Washington. And the current controversy is only the latest for Emanuel in the past 16 months, since he joined the Obama administration.

... Now Emanuel's brand of bare-knuckled politics is back in the spotlight following Friday's release of a White House explanation on Rep. Joe Sestak's allegation of a job offer last summer.

So for all this to be true -- right, this would have to be a particularly bare-knuckled offer, yes? Which is a place the story never goes. It doesn't have to, because the point isn't to shed any light on what happened; it's to let readers know which drama they're watching and who's playing Al Capone:

It just wreaks of old style corrupt Chicago politics.

Why are we surprised at this? Who did we think we sent to the White House? It's now "Chicago Politics" in the White House!

Funny, since the only geographic locations mentioned in the story are ... what's that, Ben Stein?

"The whole thing has about it a Huey Long or Deep South political machine or Boston political machine or Democratic political machine or Republican political machine," he said.

Indeed, "Chicago" never makes an appearance in text or hed. But it's in the url, as "rahms-chicago-style-politics" (meaning it could well have been in an earlier draft), so it's hard to escape concluding that Fox knows exactly what sort of drama it's writing. After all, that was the theme of the Sestak story 10 days ago:

Truth has no place in liberal Chicago thug politics! It's politics as usual for BO.

... and the discovery that the Census (hullo, Stalin!) hired a convicted sex offender:

I just hope someone blows the whistle on all the Chicago thugs and their cronies before someone get killed for knowing too much.

... or legislation on how Puerto Rico might vote on its status:

The "Chicago Way" enhanced! Need votes to stay in power? Just add another poverty minority state! Voila!

... Obama lets Bibi cool his heels:

It's about what I would expect. Chicago politics at its finest.

... the possibility of giving "national monument" status to some lands in the West:

Obama using the Chicago Way! It is so easy to accomplish things when you are a criminal and hopelessly corrupt!

... subpoenas over the leaks of security modifications:

This is a Chicago style warning to all journalists.

... "Crashergate":

This is just like a Chicago Drive by shooting, 25 Witnesses but no one knows anything, no one saw anything, and the Gang Leaders won't let anybody talk. Soooo Transparent!

... "Climategate":

This is what we expect from a corrupt Chicago Politician. The will of the people means nothing... only his objective of destroying the economy and for show.

... and, of course, Obamacare:

Please don't tell me anyone is suprised that O and his ilk are using strong-arm Chicago tactics.

Lies, threats, intimidation, payoffs ... just more of Obama's Chicago-style antics to push his agenda.

He only knows Chicago brute force approach, and that won't get him far.

When you've been writing the script long enough, you don't have to say "Hi, Norm." Hell, you barely have to get out of the commercial and into the theme.**

* As John's entertaining and well-observed post today suggests, journalists do symbolic convergence as well as anyone.
** If you like where this one's going, come see it in Denver in August.



Blogger John Cowan said...

"Wreaks"? I think not.

2:30 AM, June 04, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Dang, John beat me to it.

Another point: guys, who do "poverty minority states" actually vote for?

Those in the top ten for both (according to US Census data) include Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina...

You might have a point with 'minority' - there's California and Delaware and Hawaii and Maryland and New York that went blue last time, but then Georgia and Alaska certainly didn't. And poverty? Of the top 11 (there's a tie in there) only New Mexico didn't - the others are Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and W. Virginia ...

So yeah, maybe Puerto Rico as a state would vote Democratic, but being "poverty minority" is no guarantee of that.

10:15 AM, June 04, 2010  

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