November 24, 2017

Ratings, clicks, and society

A look at the polarizing effect media has placed on our daily interactions.

This election cycle, along with recent news items within this country, have made my head come close to exploding at least 97 times within the last week. The constant political debates with friends, petty jabs at work and enraged social media posts during this 2016 presidential election have hit an incredibly low extreme of new proportions. Never before has media availability been as convenient for people across the world and never before has its affect on how we develop opinions (and even morals) been so prevalent. The era of “hot takes” has never burned hotter, and the division we see among friends and family has never been wider. Media polarization of our fellow Americans has taken the people of this country for a ride, leaving us unsure if it will end safely.

While teenagers in the lunchroom at school, we all probably saw a fight between two kids whose tempers had boiled over. The reasons for the fight were often emotionally driven, over a girl, a spot on the football team, or who took their seat at the lunch table. The fight probably could have been solved in a more peaceful and logical manner, but the two were angered to a level that a peaceful solution was no longer in the cards. Crowds then gathered around the two fighting, glued to the action as though the fight was a scene out of a blockbuster film that had just hit theaters and was destined for a major award. Had the two kids solved their issues in a more private way, no one would have had any interest in how this event played out. The excitement and raw emotion of the moment drew everyone in the room to attention, just as political banter and hot takes do on national television.

The evolution of media in the 21st century has led to a 24-hour programming cycle which plays out exactly like those two kids fighting in the lunchroom. Countless cable networks providing content (whether news, sports, entertainment) have committed their airwaves to programming that provides hundreds of thousands (or millions) of views and clicks to receive higher ratings and advertising dollars to keep them in business. Just like the crowd in the lunchroom back in middle school, media networks like Fox News, MSNBC or even ESPN receive far more eyeballs and ratings featuring two “talking heads” attacking each others’ views or qualifications than by having a civil debate about a hot button issue within the election. The lunchroom fight lives on.

One of the more polarizing topics facing the United States today are the movements known as “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.” Once again, the same insanely opinionated “talking heads” mentioned above on MSNBC or Fox News rush to conclusions and quickly blame the other side of the issue as the culprit for the shooting or protest. These talking heads ensure that all viewers know the problem is completely the fault of the other side, and there is simply no debating that fact in their minds. “He’s a racist,” one side claims. Meanwhile, the other side comes back: “no, you’re just unpatriotic and hate police.” The attacks and jabs go back and forth, and absolutely no compromises are made during the dialogue. Acceptance that both sides could have valid arguments is simply out of the picture as the jabs and insults outweigh any potential dialogue or progress.

These types of debates rarely reach a consensus, let alone develop a better understanding of the other side of a situation. As mentioned above, the people arguing (whether two people or an entire panel) all make sure their points are made, and that all jabs and attacks are spewed at the other side before the next commercial break. Viewers at home, just like the kids in the lunchroom, are glued to the fight unfurling on their television screen. Just as the panelists on the television set are angry, the viewer too becomes angry and can’t wait for the next segment to begin to see the next big fight to occur on the screen. The segment calls out all people of the opposing opinion as though they belong in prison or should be destined for hell. This calling out of the opposing side empowers the viewer to take this debate to the water cooler at work the next day.

The next morning at work, the politically-enraged media viewer confronts a coworker at the water cooler with the latest talking point or “hot take” they had heard the previous night. This coworker happens to be of the opposing political persuasion and their opinion on the issue had been refuted on the previous night’s show. These two coworkers probably have a lot in common between their families, hobbies or sports teams, but now the lines are drawn: This person is one of them; they must be stopped! A political argument then ensues and personal lines get drawn between the two, all because of an emotionally-driven political show seen the night before. Two people who could have previously been civil acquaintances are now divided, potentially forever.

These types of situations take place at water coolers, family holidays and social gatherings all across the world. As media becomes more available to consumers, political opinions spread more rapidly and divide people faster than ever before. Today, Americans feel more divided over political and social issues than any moment in recent memory and have the social mediums at their disposal to broadcast it loudly to friends and followers. Meanwhile, 24-hour news networks and opinion websites receive record ratings and advertising profits which flow in by the billions… at the cost of civility with our friends and family across the aisle.

Political and social disagreement shouldn’t have to cause this level of division with our friends and family. The United States has always been a nation of two political parties with vastly different views of solutions for the problems it faces on a daily basis. The difference today is the over-consumption of these media outlets, full of radical opinions and emotional jabs which divide us from those we should hold closest. As we approach this election (and family holidays) remember that politics have always been point vs counterpoint, but have not always been a need for vicious attacks and lines drawn in the sand.

As the era of “hot takes” continues to rage, please remember that no matter how hot the take, your friends, your family, and your coworkers are still most important. These people, regardless of political opinion or background, are generally good people as well. Political name calling and attacks on television or social media are only done in the name of viewership and ratings, and bring down these good people who add numerous great things to our lives. The time has come to not allow media polarization to take us on this current ride off a cliff. Instead of using these platforms as means to divide our families, friends and workplaces, lets use this connectivity to build us up to find better solutions to the problems we face in the 21st century. This media driven ride does not have to end with a crash and burn.

Travis Halm 27 Articles

Staff Writer

Travis Halm is an Iowa State Alum living in Omaha, Nebraska. A native of Haverhill, Iowa, Travis has lived throughout the Midwest and in Texas, providing him insight on the Big 12, the SEC, and a wide variety of other sports topics. Travis follows the Cyclones closely, in addition to the Cardinals, Packers, Texas A&M and rarely turns down a ticket to a good sporting event.

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