Ears Wide Shut: Epistemological Populism, Argutainment and Canadian Conservative Talk Radio

From an academic paper in 2011:

* For many people, radio has a slightly anachronistic air about it. Perceived as technologically inferior to image-based media and less serious than textual media, radio is often ignored as a marginal and ephemeral medium
with little enduring political significance.

* we have examined the rhetorical strategies of Adler On Line (AOL), the pre-eminent commercial PTR program in Canada. While our analysis has revealed many interesting findings, in this article we have chosen to focus on two elements which we believe are both noteworthy and previously unexplored. The first section of this article argues that the program’s rhetorical practices establish a specific epistemological framework we call epistemological populism, since it employs a variety of populist rhetorical tropes to define certain types of individual experience as the only ground of valid and politically relevant knowledge. We suggest that this epistemology has significant political impacts insofar as its epistemic inclusions and exclusions make certain political positions appear self-evident and others incomprehensible and repugnant.

In the second section, we argue that the style of debate as performed and enforced by the host serves to privilege political speech which is passionate, simple and entertaining. More importantly, however, we show that this style, which we call argutainment, plays a key role in helping establishing the political preferences and views privileged by the program. The article closes with a speculative conclusion in which we identify some of the potential theoretical, political and normative implications of our findings.

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Talk about receiving, giving, and taking in radio interviews: ‘doing modesty’ and ‘making a virtue out of necessity’

Here are excerpts of an academic paper from 2005:

* The following excerpt from an interview with the internationally acclaimed Canadian jazz singer, Diana Krall, illustrates how talk of giving and receiving is a site for doing modesty. In this excerpt, contrasts are used by the speakers to create a kind of ‘point and counterpoint’ performance in which the construction of acts of giving and receiving is deftly managed.

* Peter begins this exchange (ll. 1–3) by focusing on what Diana has received from fame and stardom’ and he casts the possibilities in terms of material benefits (‘buy yourself something you’ve always wanted’) and privilege (‘meet people you’ve always wanted to meet’). His initial questions provide two exemplars of ‘perks’ which, if
endorsed, might run the risk of the speaker being seen as boasting. Acknowledging that one has bought oneself something one has always wanted, if this something is extravagant, has the potential to cast one as self-centred and materialistic. Similarly, acknowledging that one has been able to meet people one has always wanted to meet
draws attention to one’s privilege, particularly if one is a celebrity. Both outcomes can place one in a negative light. Peter’s questions can also be understood as tongue-in-cheek exemplars of the ‘good things’ that come from fame and stardom. As such, they provide opportunities for doing modesty via resisting.

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A Political Scientist Rides the Talk Radio Circuit

Political scientist James G. Gimpel writes in 1996:

* Old geezers sitting around in barber shops listening to cattle market and farm commodity reports, grousing about community problems, and bragging about their latest hunting and fishing expeditions. That’s my talk radio producers began requesting interviews, my first thought was, “these folks don’t buy books, least of all books about Congress! They probably can’t even read.”

Maybe talk radio listeners don’t read-and I do have sincere doubts about whether the radio interviews I have done sold many books-but the requests for talk show interviews started flowing only a week after publication…

* But the key reason, I suspect, for the interest of the talk show hoards is that beleaguered hosts are desperate to fill air time. Imagine trying to fill 365 days a year, 12-24 hours a day, with talk. This is a tall order…

* Politics has great entertainment value and it only takes a few shows to learn that radio hosts are not serious journalists. They are entertainers. They often use ideological extremism on the left or right to provoke their audience. Left-wingers pushed me to give-in and admit that the Republicans were cruel and “out to starve” some people. Other hosts would have felt victorious had I admitted that the Republican revolution was dead. Since political ideology is an instrument of entertainment, guests that make controversial points are especially attractive. Many hosts were inevitably disappointed when I provided a straightforward political science-ish assessment of the Contract with America and its prospects for passage. On several stations, the hosts deliberately tried to pick a fight with me, no doubt to hold their audience with concocted controversies. When confronted by an argumentative host, one has two choices: either play along and argue or con- cede the host’s points. Usually, when I argued, I lost. Talk radio hosts are not hired because they can easily be defeated in an argument. Hosts de- light in pushing their guests to stray from the facts to editorialize and speculate. This contributes to talk radio’s tabloid quality: the wilder the speculation, the better. After awhile, the temptation to editorialize became so strong, I gave in on several occasions, often contradicting my remarks on shows the previous day.

* Trying to anticipate the ideological bent of the callers is helpful. After awhile, I learned to ask the producers of the shows about the ideological inclinations of their audience so I would know what to expect. My basic knowledge of Ameri- can political geography also served as a good predictor. Southern stations were by far the most conservative. With a few exceptions, north- eastern stations played to more liberal audiences. Midwestern stations seemed to play right down the middle. The book was treated most fairly by stations in Denver, Topeka, Grand Forks, Omaha, and Madison, WI. The callers and hosts on these shows were less interested in scoring political points. One midwestern caller actually thanked me for my objectivity. I was so shocked, I nearly choked on the air!

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Transforming Normality into Pathology: The DSM and the Outcomes of Stressful Social Arrangements

Allan V. Horwitz, a sociologist of medicine, writes in 2007: “The sociology of stress shows how nondisordered people often become distressed in contexts such as chronic subordination; the losses of status, resources, and attachments; or the inability to achieve valued goals. Evolutionary psychology indicates that distress arising in these contexts stems from psychological mechanisms that are responding appropriately to stressful circumstances. A
diagnosis of mental disorder, in contrast, indicates that these mechanisms are not functioning as they are designed to function. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, however, has come to treat both the natural results of the stress process and individual pathology as mental disorders. A number of social groups benefit from and promote the conflation of normal emotions with dysfunctions. The result has been to overestimate the number of people who are considered to be disordered, to focus social policy on the supposedly unmet need for treatment, and to enlarge the social space of pathology in the general culture.”

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The Case Against The News

From The Guardian:

News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognise what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we’re cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.

News has no explanatory power. News items are bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world. Will accumulating facts help you understand the world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below journalists’ radar but have a transforming effect. The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more information leads to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the pyramid. That’s not the case.

News is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.

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