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A Marginal Sociologist on How to Understand Media Bias and Combat Fake News: A Case Study of a World Cup Tweet

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Having studied a lot about media and society, I am keenly aware of media bias. Sadly, it is something that is all around us. Since the advent of mass media (which really kicked off with the television), Horkheimer and Adorno’s culture industry has become deeply intertwined with news media. In fact, recently, it has become more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction and—most alarmingly—news from entertainment. The French Sociologist Jean Baudrillard understood just how this new hyperreality works; as the boundaries between information and entertainment implode, news commentators “disguise culture industry hype as ‘facts’ and ‘information’ (Best and Kellner, 1991: 120). Given that this is the state of the world we all live in, it makes sense to pay a little bit of attention to how media bias operates, and how it can frame our opinions of even the most basic of topics and events (indeed, it is a topic I have written on before).

One way to better understand how media bias works is to pick a topic you are familiar with and also knowledgeable about (so just “Googling” this topic occasionally likely does not mean you are “knowledgeable”). Once you have your topic, then look at the ways in which varying news outlets report on—or view—the topic you chose. Ideally, since you will be very familiar with the topic at hand, you will be able to pick out bias and fake news from miles away.

In my case, the topic I chose for this short example is football and American politics, with the specific topic being U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent Tweet Regarding the “North American bid” (a joint bid between NAFTA(!) members Canada, Mexico, and the United States) to host the 2026 World Cup. This particular Tweet is interesting because 1) while Mr. Trump Tweets prolifically, it is not usually about football; and 2) because Mr. Trump’s Tweets themselves embody the blurring of the line between information and entertainment; indeed the responses from most media outlets seem to suggest that bashing Donald Trump has become a national sport (i.e., entertainment). Thus, the topic is perfect for a look at how media bias perpetuates itself, while preying on those who cannot be bothered to check things out for themselves.

 

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The Tweet in Question. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

For this short example, I just used the first six websites to come up on a simple Google search with the term “donald trump fifa” [sic]. Because this is a quick look it is by no means “scientific”, but it is still instrumental in terms of showing just how media bias works in both blatant and more subtle ways. In fact, given Google’s tendency to filter out results it doesn’t like, this small search is likely even more representative of the “hyperreal” state of modern mass media.

 

The Search

The first thing that is clear is the fact that most of the headlines are nearly identical—if that does not imply media censorship, than I don’t know what does (Image courtesy of:. The second thing that is clear is that many of the outlets that reported on this event have a certain bias embedded in their interpretations. Below, I provide a brief discussion of each outlet’s presentation of the story, followed by my own judgement.

 

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The Search Results Look as if There is no Diversity in Thought! Image Courtesy Of: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&ei=TmnlWs7SE4mYjwSiqKiIBQ&q=donald+trump+fifa&oq=donald+trump+fifa&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0l2j0i22i30k1l2.3155.5396.0.5632.11.11.0.0.0.0.165.1222.0j10.10.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.10.1219…0i131i67k1j0i131k1j0i10k1.0.TPuv10s-Ibw)

 

CNN.com

Article by Sophie Tatum: (27 April 2018) “FIFA points to its ethics guidelines following Trump tweet”. The first thing to notice in this article, clearly, is the headline—it stresses “ethics”. The implication here is that, in some way, FIFA is standing up for ethics in the face of Mr. Trumps unethical Tweet. Within the article, however, there is no mention of FIFA’s own considerable corruption (Cite own work here). This inability to give the whole story makes me rate this item fairly neutral towards Mr. Trump with a pro-FIFA slant.

 

Huffington Post

Article by Mary Papenfus: (27 April 2018) “FIFA Cites Ethics Rules After Trump’s Threatening World Cup Tweet”. Here we again see the stress of “ethics” in the headline, along with an important value judgement as it calls Mr. Trump’s Tweet “threatening”. Like all news stories, this one also has filler; in this case it is background information on Trump’s travel ban and the “shithole” countries fiasco which all amounts to a bizarre conclusion by the author that there is a “perception that the U.S. is increasingly hostile to foreigners”. It even contains this gem of a sentence: “The U.S. won’t be playing in the World Cup competition in Russia this summer because its men’s team wasn’t strong enough to advance”, where the writer seems to take a dig at the “men’s team”; when radical feminism is at the point where we gloat at the failures of our nation’s athletes you know you are reading a biased—and far-left wing—piece. Only in the last sentence is there a mention of FIFA’s own past ethnical issues, contextualized by what the author sees as a “surprising” low for Mr. Trump, being “schooled” on ethics by FIFA. Overall this article is very slanted negatively towards Mr. Trump with a slight pro-FIFA slant.

 

Reuters

Article by Simon Evans: (26 April 2018) “FIFA points to ethics rules after Trump tweets threat to World Cup bid opponents”. Again there is a stress on “ethics” in this headline, along with an interpretation of Mr. Trump’s Tweet as “threatening”. Reuters then has a short paragraph referring to—but not detailing— FIFA’s having faced “repeated ethics questions over past bids to host the tournament”. Nowhere in this article do we see the kind of filler used by the Huffington Post. Overall, this makes Reuters’ piece about as neutral as we can get in this day and age.

 

Yahoo Sports

Article by Henry Bushnell (26 April 2018) “Dear President Trump, please never tweet about soccer again”. This article is the only one of the bunch to not use a similar headline as the others; indeed, it is phrased as a suggestion to Mr. Trump and implies the author’s view of President Trump from the outset. The second sentence sets the tone for the article: “Donald Trump tweeted about soccer on Thursday. And, in a wholly unsurprising development, he had no idea what he is talking about.” As the piece goes on, the author slams Mr. Trump for his threatening language and calls his Tweet “about the worst thing the president” could have done in terms of supporting the U.S. bid. Apparently, in the author’s mind, Mr. Trump has already hurt the bid simply because of his existence, noting that the U.S. is looking for votes from “207 people, or groups of people, whose fellow citizens don’t like the U.S. because they don’t like Trump”. In order to back up this “claim”, the author cites a Gallup poll which reveals that “the worldwide approval rating of U.S. leadership has dipped to 30 percent, the lowest recorded since the poll was first conducted over a decade ago”. Perhaps the author is an ardent imperialist—and is lamenting the fact that the U.S. is not “leading” the world”—or the author is simply un-informed; the “lowest” approval rate in “nearly a decade” is hardly an informative statistic as it doesn’t include, for instance, the Vietnam era (indeed, if this statistic is to be of any value, one might want to read it as a reflection not of Mr. Trump but of his predecessor, whose attempts at “king-making” were on full display around the world from Ukraine to Libya). In this article, like a few of the others, there is absolutely no mention of Fifa’s own ethnical questions and scandals. Because of this failure to present both sides, this article is highly biased, with a negative slant against Mr. Trump and a fairly favorable position on FIFA (which is praised, throughout the article, as a “democratic” group—after all, the author claims that “Germany’s vote counts for as much as Guam’s”).

 

ESPN.com

Article by ESPN Staff (27 April 2018) “FIFA points to ethics rules after Trump tweets support of World Cup bid”. As part of the main (lame)stream media, it is not perhaps surprising that ESPN’s article should be a little biased. Again, we see a similar headline to some of the other articles mentioned here, stressing “ethics”. In their filler section, ESPN refers to some of Donald Trump’s missteps, albeit in a much less abrasive manner than Huffington Post, noting that the vote between the U.S. and Morocco is closer than expected “due in part to Trump’s foreign policies — including a travel ban against mostly Arab countries — and rhetoric in describing poorer countries. Lingering resentment over the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into FIFA corruption has also hampered the U.S.-led bid’s effort to attract votes”. Indeed, the second sentence of this passage is the only one which mentions the FIFA corruption scandal.  Given ESPN’s inability to properly point out FIFA’s own questionable ethics, I must rate this story biased, with a negative slant against Mr. Trump and a slightly favorable to neutral slant towards FIFA.

 

The Hill.com

Article by Max Greenwood (27 April 2018) “FIFA refers to ethics rules after Trump tweets on US World Cup Bid”. Like other articles, this headline also focuses on FIFA’s “ethics”.  While this article also provides an interpretation of Mr. Trump’s Tweet—calling it a “veiled threat”—it is much less negative than many of the aforementioned articles. Additionally, The Hill’s filler has no mention of Trump’s travel ban or rhetoric regarding poorer countries, but does contain the lengthiest statement regarding FIFA’s own history of corruption: “FIFA has its own history of scandal. It is facing criminal investigations into the bidding process and allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments in Russia and Qatar, respectively.” Given that this article spells out FIFA’s own history of corruption, I would say that this article is neutral, with a neutral to slightly negative presentation of Mr. Trump and a slightly negative to neutral slant towards FIFA.

 

So what does this exercise in media literacy teach us, in the end? I believe that it shows just how slanted the news media—and main(lame) stream media in the United States has become. Given that just two out of six of the aforementioned articles have any reference to FIFA’s own (in)famous scandals—while three of the six refer to irrelevant and non-football related topics like the “travel ban” and Mr. Trump’s “rhetoric regarding poorer countries”—it is clear that most media outlets have some sort of an agenda. They are looking to, depending on their perspective, further a certain narrative. In one case, it is that anything Mr. Trump does is inherently bad and has negative consequences for the United States; in order to further this narrative journalists tend to use filler to disparage the U.S. President. In another case, it is to further the idea that somehow FIFA—which itself is a major globalist entity—has a democratic ethos; in order to further this narrative, of course, media has to conveniently ignore the problematic aspects of FIFA’s past actions (a topic I have written about before).

It is important to recognize implicit media bias like this, because false reporting—or agenda-setting reporting—affects us all. Regardless of ones’ personal opinions about Donald Trump or his presidency, the general public would do well to recognize that biased reporting does nothing to emancipate human beings on a wider scale. In fact, it just serves to further imprison people into their own ideological cages. Given that many social media studies show that many people tend to get their news from social media—which itself tends to segregate people into camps based on political ideology—this means that many people do not look at 6, or even four, articles about the same news story. Instead, they tend to look at just one; often sent to them by a friend who thinks similarly. Imagine, for a moment, if the only piece about Trump’s World Cup Tweet that you read was the aforementioned Huffington Post piece? This would give you a very biased—and very incomplete—picture of the events. In fact, you might even believe that FIFA is some paragon of virtue—which is really the wrong take-away. This is why it is important to always do a thorough search of the news items on any topic so as to ensure that you are always striving to find a balanced portrayal of the events in question. This will help to create a more aware public and, hopefully, one less susceptible to manipulation by the mass media. Fake news is a very real problem, and the only solution to it can be found by using the human mind in a critical and discerning manner.

 

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Indeed, As Is the Case With So Many Globalist Entities, FIFA Pays Lip Service to the World While Making Off With Huge Profits. Image Courtesy Of: http://theconsul.org/2015/11/when-a-huge-corruption-takes-place-in-a-huge-nonprofit-organization-the-2015-fifa-corruption-scandal/

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.cartoonmovement.com/cartoon/2668

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.indianlink.com.au/backup_old/fifa-corruption-affects-us-all/ 

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://anticap.wordpress.com/tag/qatar/
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The Two-Faced Nature of the Political Narrative in the United States Reveals the Depth of Corporate Media Control in the United States: The Perspective of a Marginal Sociologist

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The great American Sociologist C. Wright Mills once wrote that the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) were analogous entities. Mills pointed out that while in the Soviet Union intellectuals were crushed physically, in the United States intellectuals were crushed morally; this is to say that if one said something against the dominant narrative in the USSR they were sent to a gulag (like Dostoyevsky), while in the United states they are shamed morally and—thus—lose their legitimacy in the public eye (one recent example would be the globalist news outlet The Guardian’s odd shaming of pop artist Taylor Swift for not voicing political opinions). Of course, Mills was not the first to note the odd similarities between the two world superpowers in the Cold War era; the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” noted the similarities between their very names.

And, in 2018, it seems that we are still noting the similarities between the United States—the “leader of the free world”—and the Soviet Union’s successor, Russia. Again, The Guardian provides a great example of the narrative I mentioned in the title: In a 2017 article, The Guardian slams the Russian media for being state-owned. Predictably, The Guardian’s analysis is blatantly biased, inevitably connecting the topic to—as the narrative would have it—U.S. President Donald Trump:

 

There are, of course, many lessons to be learned and many parallels to draw with the current fraught relationship between Donald Trump and the US media. But it’s important to keep in mind that Putin has amassed far more power than Trump can possibly hope to during his time in power. However, one thing is clear: both in the US and in Russia, the media are often distracted with outrage over absurd behaviour and nonsensical public statements while ignoring what those in power want to be ignored.

 

There is, however, a small problem with the globalist main (lame)stream media’s narrative here. It is that Donald Trump has so little control over the media in the United States. In fact, the situation is not at all parallel to that in Russia. The U.S. news media is against Mr. Trump’s position and, it seems, will go to extreme lengths to paint over the very real problem created by their inherent biases.

On 31 March 2017, Mr. Trump slammed Amazon.com for what he calls “scamming” the U.S. Postal Service. Of course, America’s state television channel (when a channel has contracts which guarantee it a monopoly on televisions in airports across the country, it becomes state media), CNN, slammed Mr. Trump for slamming Amazon.com! While Mr. Trump certainly has a right to criticize Amazon.com for its role in pushing out small businesses (how many bookstores exist in the United States anymore?) and for skirting around sales taxes—Amazon.com is, effectively, a faceless corporate monopoly which cares little for the people as long as it profits off of them—this (more important) problematic aspect of Amazon.com’s role in corporate America was not discussed in the U.S. news media (even though Mr. Trump’s political rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, agrees). This is because the U.S. news media is—like its counterpart in Russia—hardly free. Rather, it is beholden to political lobbyists.

 

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Mr. Bezos and Mr. Trump. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.stern.de/wirtschaft/news/amazon–trump-attacke-kostet-bereits-milliarden—persoenliche-fehde-mit-jeff-bezos–7922072.html

 

Please take the recent Washington Post article as an example. In his 31 March article, Philip Rucker writes:

 

Trump is typically motivated to lash out at Amazon because of The Post’s coverage of him, officials have said. One person who has discussed the matter repeatedly with the president explained that a negative story in The Post is almost always the catalyst for one of his Amazon rants.

 

While Rucker’s rationalization of Mr. Trump’s criticism of Amazon’s business practices (which are well deserved) leaves much to be desired, one passage in particular seemed to be an insult to any Washington Post reader with an independent mind. Rucker writes:

 

The president also incorrectly conflated Amazon with The Post and made clear that his attacks on the retailer were inspired by his disdain for the newspaper’s coverage. He labeled the newspaper “the Fake Washington Post” and demanded that it register as a lobbyist for Amazon. The Post is personally owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, and operates independently of Amazon.

 

If one were to assume—as the Washington Post would like people to—that there is no conflict of interest here, they would have to be extremely naïve, to say the least. That Mr. Rucker goes on to lament that Mr. Trumps tweets caused the company’s shares to fall goes to show that the Washington Post may—indeed—be a lobbyist for Amazon. Yet, instead of Americans questioning the legitimacy of their news media—and questioning corporations, like Amazon, for their role in shaping political opinion as purveyors of the culture industry—we see that most Americans are all too happy to support corporate interests over the people’s interest. It is made all the more shocking when looking at how the main (lame)stream media in the United States responds to events like this in other countries.

On 21 March 2018—just ten days before Trump’s fallout with The Washington Post—fellow traveler in the state media The New York Times was quick to criticize the take over of one of Turkey’s major media groups, Dogan Media, by a pro-government conglomerate owned by Demiroren Holding. The New York Times explained:

 

The Dogan Media group owned the newspapers Hurriyet and Posta, and two of Turkey’s main entertainment and news channels, Kanal D and CNN Turk. The government had accused the company of being biased against it and the governing party.

 

A well-respected Turkish journalist, Kadri Gursel (who was recently released from an 11 month stint in jail for being critical of the government), Tweeted that “The process of gathering the Turkish media industry in one hand according to the Putin model is completed”. Given that Dogan media owned much of the sports media in Turkey as well, it is clear that the new ownership of Mr. Demiroren, whose son Yildirim is the head of the Turkish Football Federation, will affect the Turkish football world as well. In a sense, it is a further “Erdoganicization” of the Turkish culture industry and, by extension, Turkish football.

 

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Both Mr. Demirorens and Mr. Erdogan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gundemotuzbes.com/dogan-medya-grubu-erdogan-demiroren-e-satildi/38776/

 

The point of this post is to show that when corporate interests take over the media in order to further political agendas in foreign countries, it is seen as an unquestionably bad thing. Yet, when the same thing happens in the United States it seems that people do not even bat an eye. Remember that Jeff Bezos—the owner of both Amazon.com and The Washington Post—has strong progressive leanings and his purchase of the Post has worried many commentators even in liberal circles. It seems that we should be more worried than ever about the connection between corporate wealth, politics, and the media. It is a connection that sociologist Thorstein Veblen made clear more than a century ago, and it is one which should concern people all over the world; as my example from Turkey shows, this problematic melding of news media, big business, and politics affects people regardless of their country of citizenship. If only the main (lame)stream media in the United States could drop their (perhaps racist) tendency to criticize other countries (like Turkey) at the drop of a hat and instead do their jobs—which is to keep their own societies honest.

 

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Sage Words From a Great Writer. Image Courtesy Of: http://dream-prophecy.blogspot.com/2015/12/cia-mind-control-over-american-and.html

 

United_States.jpg  This Is Why People Must Take Back Their Countries, Before They Are Subsumed By Commercial Interests at the Expense of Their Citizens. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/pictures/flags/unitedstates.html

Gianluigi Buffon’s Battle with the Culture Industry as Emblematic of the Postmodern World’s Double Standards

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Buffon: A Legend, Who Is Not Afraid to Talk About Depression Or Anything Else. Image Courtesy of: https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/qkqy7m/gianluigi-buffon-from-darkness-into-light

 

Author’s Note: This Post Was Originally Written as an Assignment for a Qualitative Methods Seminar. Please Excuse the Excessive Use of Academic Citations.

 

Paul Atkinson’s Thinking Ethnographically explains one facet of the modern world well: Citing Harold Garfinkel, Atkinson explains that “degradation requires a ‘perpetrator’ to be denounced before some witness or audience, and for there to be agreement that there has been a serious infraction of collective values, in such a way that displays the true character of the perpetrator, and is not a minor blemish. Nowadays such degradations and character threats are likely to be seen in mass media and social media” (Atkinson 2017: 89). Atkinson ties these “degradation ceremonies”, as he calls them, to labelling. For Atkinson “labeling implies attribution. In the course of labeling our fellow actors, we attribute to them particular kinds of motives, characters, and other attributes” (Ibid.: 90). Here we see that the label is tied to the individual’s character, which carries with it a strong moral connotation.

 

Ostertag and Ortiz’s 2017 article regarding bloggers writing about hurricane Katrina touches on the same moral point, as they note that bloggers “communicate personalized stories packaged with emotional and moral messages (Ostertag and Ortiz 2017: 63). In fact, the authors quantitatively point out just how often “moralities” are mentioned in the blog content they analyze, showing that “blogging served [for Katrina bloggers] as an outlet to direct their emotional energies and voice their senses of moral indignation” (Ibid.: 70). Unfortunately, I believe the authors miss the mark on their analysis when they claim that this stress on “morality” facilitates “the development of social ties rooted in trust, compassion and companionship” (Ibid.: 76). Quite the contrary, I believe that the stress on morals—which carries with it an implicit character degradation (in the manner that Atkinson discussed it) of all who might disagree—means that the bloggers are only erecting boundaries between their own (moral) selves and the amoral “others” who may not agree with their writing. It is in this sense that we can clearly see that social media can, sometimes, merely serve as an echo chamber.

 

Wendy Griswold’s (2013) chapter does a good job of showing that the culture industry plays a major role in defining—and even encouraging—the division of society along (perceived) “moral” lines. Griswold, citing Hirsch, explains that “the culture industry system works to regulate and package innovation and thus to transform creativity into predictable, marketable packages” (Griswold 2013: 74). Indeed, “morality”—or at least the perception of it, given its short supply in the hyper-consumerist society of postmodern Western civilization—is a “marketable” commodity. As Griswold notes, “once an idea has been put into words or symbols (a manifesto, a peace symbol), it is a cultural object” (Ibid.: 82). In this sense, morality is just another “cultural object” in the post modern world. The Katrina bloggers Ostertag and Ortiz write about—knowing full well that moral indignation gains more followers—play a role in turning “morality” itself into a “cultural object”. This is how the culture industry gradually homogenizes culture itself (Ibid.: 75); by adhering to what sells—what brings home emotional or financial capital—would-be opponents of the culture industry end up succumbing to its effects. Put another way, Griswold explains this process by pointing out that “if cultural creators can frame their product or message so it resonates with a frame that the audience already possesses, they are more likely to persuade that audience to “buy” (an idea, a product, or a taste)” (Ibid.: 88). For many cultural creators—like the bloggers studied by Ostertag and Ortiz—it is “morality” that is the frame.

 

Griswold shows us that there are two competing schools of thought regarding the interpretation of culture: The first is mass culture, which posits that culture overwhelms recipients. The second is popular culture, which sees individuals as “active makers and manipulators of meaning” (Ibid.: 90).  I would say that the truth lies somewhere in between; it is a mix of both mass culture and popular culture theory which explains the emphasis on “morality” in modern culture. Although, as popular culture theory posits, we might make our own cultures (and meanings), it is only a matter of time until the mass culture appropriates those meanings and sells them back to us, leaving us bereft of any other interpretation. Whatever meaning we, as individuals, might make, it will always be subject to the logic of producers and consumers and thus subject to homogenization.

 

I will provide an example of this process by discussing the case of Italian footballer Gianluigi Buffon. Although Buffon is a legend in Italian—and world—football, his career has not been one without controversy. At the beginning of his career, Buffon was criticized for choosing the number 88 (because some deemed it an anti-semitic number) and for wearing a t-shirt with a slogan which had been used by Italy’s fascist leaders (Brodkin 2000). Of course, due to this perceived amorality, Buffon was vilified. And the culture industry of the media ran along with it. Fast forward almost two decades later, and it is a very different story. Indeed, Buffon was praised by the culture industry for his enthusiastic rendition of the Italian national anthem before a football game (Lloyd, n.d.) as well as for is “class” in applauding the Swedish national anthem when some Italian fans booed it (Polden 2017). What, then, is the true story of Gianluigi Buffon? Is he a fascist, or a neo-Nazi as some tried to brand him for donning the “88” shirt? Or is he just an Italian patriot, who supports the patriotism—and national anthems—of other nations as well? I would interpret him as the latter since there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Buffon is a bigot. Unfortunately, however, the soil of his previous experience with what Atkinson called “degradation ceremony” remains. The controversy—immortalized as it is by the internet—cannot be escaped.

 

Here we see the hypocrisy of the culture industry. The culture industry, in praying on the general search for “morality” in the wider public (which itself lives in a postmodern world devoid of morals), will vilify—or sanctify—in accordance to popular demand; if what is being sold resonates with the frames possessed by the masses it will sell. While it was easy to degrade Buffon as a “fascist” or “anti-Semite” when he was an up and coming player, it became harder to do so after he established himself as one of the best players of his generation. This is why the media narrative did a proverbial 180; it was not selling anymore because Buffon had become a national hero. Unfortunately, what Atkinson does not recognize, is that “degradation ceremonies” are part of the tool kit of postmodern fascism; they can be used at any moment to attack the “morality” of an individual and sully a reputation in an instant. It is just one danger that the independent thinking individual faces in the hyper-commodified hyper-consumerist society we now find ourselves in.

The Offended States of America: Is The Intolerance in American Higher Education A Product of The Culture Industry? Kanye West and Internet Memes Might Help Us Find an Answer

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Image Courtesy Of: http://imgur.com/gallery/13HUEao

In addition to what my “About Me” page says, I am a PhD student in the department of Sociology at a University in the southern United States who grew up bilingually in both the United States and Turkey and carries two passports. Racially—a category Americans obsess about but something that I cannot understand—I look phenotypically “white” (although I have, on occasion, been mistaken for being Hispanic). That’s me. Just another human being trying to make sense of the world, combining my experiences to reach a cogent understanding of the chaos around me. I give you this information because—due to my background—I do not feel safe in President-elect Trump’s America. But it is not the kind of “unsafe” most “educated” people on college campuses would assume.  In this climate of rising intolerance, it is impossible to feel safe. It is like trying to stay dry in a Florida hurricane. It is chaotic, it is loud, it is unpredictable, and…it is wet. Really wet. Like the rain, the intolerance surrounds you until you can barely keep your head above the water. They say that the rain will wash you clean, but what if it only makes the dirt cling to you more?

I was sitting in a gender sociology graduate seminar last week as students vented their frustrations at the election. In a country where campuses have organized cry-ins and professors have cancelled tests, we have seen education—one of our most vital national resources—be sacrificed in the face of fear. That is why it is a good discussion to have, and a necessary one at that. But only if it is, actually, a discussion. I emphasize it because Merriam-Webster describes the word as “the act of talking about something with another person or a group of people; a conversation about something” or “a speech or piece of writing that gives information, ideas, opinions, etc., about something”. Both definitions describe a process of a dialectic—exchanging opinions and ideas is the goal. As critical theorist Jurgen Habermas said, we need communicative action, where “participants are not primarily oriented to their own successes; they pursue their individual goals under the condition that they can harmonize their plans of action on the basis of common situation definitions”.

I didn’t experience that kind of communication last week. When a fellow student told the class that we, as educators, need to tell the students what is happening and that we are here for them she said that she told her class that she rejected the President-elect and expressed an opinion that, unequivocally, supported one side of America’s political debate.

I had been silenced all year in this class, by nature of being a “white” (in quotations because I am unsure as to what it even means) heterosexual male in a gender Sociology class. I was told that “fathers didn’t matter” and that [white] males are to be blamed for everything that is wrong with our world. I bit my tongue all for three months. It was difficult, because such divisive essentialist statements that reek of sexism and bias are disgusting but I didn’t really care for the discussion; my research focuses on nationalism and national identity—not gender identity, so I let those with more knowledge of the topic have their say. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t speak. I was a male in an environment where males were tolerated but not wanted. I could only be savaged if I ever dared open my mouth. So I didn’t. I was complicit in accepting the seminar’s fascistic atmosphere. I was scared and certainly didn’t feel safe. But I let it all go—it was just three hours of a 168-hour week. I could deal with it.

This class was different. When I heard this student—who is also an instructor, working within the purview of the exploitative nature of higher education—explicitly advocate bringing politics into the classroom I could not hold back any longer. I had been asked before by fellow instructor/students if I brought politics into the classes I teach. I said absolutely not; it is unfair to the students. My fellow instructor/students were incredulous, which—in turn—made me incredulous. The job of higher education is not to indoctrinate but to present facts; the troubling result of such indoctrination were made clear this election. So I decided to test the waters—I told the student she should follow the rule I follow, the “Max Weber” rule. He said that politics does not belong in the lecture-room,

the prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic platform […] speak where criticism is possible. In the lecture-room we stand opposite our audience, and it has to remain silent. I deem it irresponsible to exploit the circumstance that for the sake of their career the students have to attend a teacher’s course where there is nobody present to oppose him with criticism. The task of the teacher is to serve the students with his knowledge and scientific experience and not to imprint upon them his personal political views” (Max Weber, Science as a Vocation. Emphasis Added).

Had more academics followed this line of thought, we wouldn’t be in a situation where universities have arguably systematically indoctrinated students, thereby creating a situation where those who hold certain political views come to see themselves as “more intelligent” and “morally superior” to those who hold opposing views. To conflate a political position with “intelligence” is dangerous, and leads to a situation where one side continually ignores the other. I want more critical debate and less shaming. Sadly, I didn’t get what I was looking for.

After my comment suddenly, like a thunder crack, all hell broke loose. The student asked me if I was aware that Max Weber’s close associates joined the Nazi party. I was taken aback—I couldn’t believe it was happening. A harmless comment made her liken me to a Nazi. It was amazing. But it was also as American as Apple Pie and Chevrolets unfortunately. When in doubt, call the other person a Nazi or a racist and you win the argument, no questions asked. Admittedly, as someone accused of being something they are not, I gave an emotional response. If someone calls me something I am not I will give an emotional response; the response to being called a racist will be the same as it would be if someone called me a Yankees fan (I’m from Providence—Red Sox all the way) or a Fenerbahce fan (I bleed Galatsaray’s yellow and red). I asked her how she could compare me to a Nazi. She raised her voice and it all just fell away into a haze, one of those heated moments when the heart is beating and its tough to keep composure. As her voice rose I tried to calm her down—just “relax” I said, because (after all) its just politics. She berated me. She yelled. My telling her to relax apparently belittled the fact that she didn’t feel “safe”. When I told her I was the one who didn’t feel safe and that I would leave the class she didn’t mince words: “GO! JUST GO! GET THE F**K OUT!”. It was surreal. I was being kicked out of a graduate seminar by someone who couldn’t see things any other way than her own. It certainly wasn’t healthy. But it needed to happen if only to—maybe—wake people up. The toxic environment on American college campuses does not affect just one end of the political spectrum. It affects both. And that is something we need to—in fact, we must—change if we want to have a semblance of a functioning educational system and, ultimately, democracy.

In this environment free speech is only good if someone thinks the same way as you think. Just like democracy is only good if your candidate wins. Those protesting Mr. Trump’s victory feel the same way; the same people who were worried his supporters would not accept the election’s outcome are the same people taking to the streets today—even assaulting those who they think voted differently. They are those that cruelly savage a Muslim woman for daring to explain why she voted a certain way. This climate creates a situation where people fabricate attacks on campuses which only serves to mask the fact that there are real attacks, perpetrated by supporters of both sides. This is a product of a society that promotes “Me” over “Us”: More selfies, more Tweets, more “ME”.  It is symptomatic of a society left rudderless, with no ideology other than “MY” ideology. There is no concept of what America is supposed to mean. But that is not what I am here to write about; I am here to point out that lumping almost 50 percent of the population into the categories of “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic” and who knows what else, people really miss the point.

People miss the point that there are points of convergence which, if seized upon, could actually improve our democracy. People miss the point that the working class is divided along racial lines. People miss the point that institutionalized slavery has been replaced by “political slavery”; the rich are coopting the vote of the poor by appealing to racial difference and are really failing black Americans. People miss the point that—in most of the world—one faces deportation for entering a country without proper documentation (or, to put it more simply, “illegally”) and that allowing it to continue is unfair not only to Americans, but those immigrants who wait years following the legal path to citizenship. People miss the point—perhaps most importantly—that America’s interventionist foreign policy is based on “American Exceptionalism”, an ideology that could be construed as racist and fascist by promoting an idea that the United States is inherently “better” than the rest of the world.  Many innocent (and other not so innocent) people have died at the hands of this ideology, yet some people are fighting for a continuation of this flawed ideology and lamenting its (possible) passing.

The world we live in is no longer the immediate aftermath of the second World War, when America had to fund the world through the Marshall Plan. Other countries have advanced economically. This is not the Cold War era, when capitalism had to be forced on the world through the barrel of a gun. Capitalism has been accepted as the dominant economic philosophy, the United States doesn’t need to continue driving it through neo-liberal policies and ignoring human rights in the process. The national mission must evolve with the times. Francis Fukuyama’s end of history has not materialized, its time policies recognize that. I’m not unaware of the oddity that it is a billionaire espousing some of these positions. Of course it’s odd.

But, it’s a necessary shock to the dominant ideology and may actually be a chance to return to true American values of liberty and freedom for all. I wish slavery hadn’t happened; it destroyed the fabric of the country. Now we all must deal with the repercussions. Political correctness has only put a band-aid on people’s true racism by silencing them. Now some bigots are coming out and spewing hatred and promoting racist attacks. By lumping all such misguided individuals together as “Trumpists” we again miss the point. Because these hateful people are coming out and expressing their views we now know who they are, they have been uncovered, and law enforcement can take care of them so that—instead of band-aiding racism—we clean it up and get such people off our streets. Indeed, when I spoke up about political correctness in another class, arguing that the policy of “language policing” actually exacerbates racism rather than solving it, another student dared support my position and was savaged by an African American student because he was “a white male who couldn’t understand”. It was a racist statement. But, it was accepted because it was within the purview of political correctness. This kind of behavior can only divide people further.

Just twelve years ago, back when I was in college, “left” minded people would have been voting in droves for a candidate who was against foreign intervention and who was against the exploitation of workers (foreign and domestic) through free trade agreements and outsourcing that promotes child-labor. They would have been jumping for joy at a president-elect who promises to work for free, eschewing the presidential salary of a not insignificant 400,000 dollars and who is interested in scaling down the funding for transnational security agreements like NATO so as to free up money to spend at home in social services like healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Instead, people only look at the surface. “Racism” and “sexism” are the buzzwords, no criticism is focused on policy at all. This is why it is important to move towards a post-ideological society. Less left and less right and more critical thinking about the issues, and about society is what is necessary. Respect our values and traditions, positive nationalism that is not fascistic. Foreign policy that leads by example, not force. And an understanding that, in modern society, the “left” and “right” might have more in common than we realize.

 

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A Libertarian Celebrity’s Graphic Tries To Bridge The Gap Between Ideologies; Less Spending on International Military Alliances Might Mean More Money Can Come Home. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bigskywords.com/uploads/1/2/8/0/12804055/military-spending-meme.png?605

 

Shockingly, some perspective was offered by—of all people—Kanye West (the rapper whose “Famous” video is worth watching) who proclaimed that, had he voted, “he would have voted for [Mr.] Trump”. Of course, this offended most of the (ostensibly liberal) crowd at Mr. West’s concert since, as an African American, such support for a Republican is unexpected—and we have America’s racialized politics to blame for this. The Tweets in response to Mr. West show an inability—indeed a refusal—to see things from any other perspective, similar to what I have experienced in my own university.

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Kanye West Is Savaged by “Supporters”. He Is my Musician…Only If he Follows MY Politics, Just Like Free Speech Is Good, But Only If You Think What I Think. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/18/entertainment/kanye-west-donald-trump-trnd/

 

Mr. West’s words in Sacramento, California, seemed quite sober to me in pointing out the failure of America’s “free press”:

It’s a new world, Hillary Clinton, it’s a new world […] Feelings matter. Because guess what? Everybody in Middle America felt a way and they showed you how they felt […] A lot of people here tonight felt like they lost. You know why? Because y’all been lied to. Google lied to you. Facebook lied to you. Radio lied to you.

Mr. West continued to hit out at the corruption in the corporate music industry, something akin to the corruption of sport by way of Industrial Football. Passion has fallen victim to money, and this means that in the world of extreme capitalism independence (in both art and sport) is hard to come by. I quote Mr. West’s passage at length below, taken from (state media’s) New York Times:

Turning his focus on the music industry, Mr. West questioned gatekeepers for promoting songs by Drake but not Frank Ocean, and wondered once again why he is often overlooked at awards shows. Referring to this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Mr. West pulled back the curtain on what he said was the political behind-the-scenes dealings that go into booking celebrities for such events.

“Beyoncé, I was hurt because I heard that you said you wouldn’t perform unless you won Video of the Year over me and over ‘Hotline Bling,’” he said.

Sometimes we be playing the politics too much and forget who we are just to win,” he continued. “I’ve been sitting here to give y’all my truth even at the risk of my own life — even at the risk of my own success, my own career.”

However, Mr. West said, such truth-telling was necessary for real progress. “Obama couldn’t make America great because he couldn’t be him to be who he was,” he said. “Black men have been slaves. Obama wasn’t allowed to do this” — the rapper screamed — “and still win. He had to be perfect. But being perfect don’t always change” things.

What Mr. West says is not insignificant. As a musician that represents the Culture Industry—in which an “enlightenment” is produced that actually amounts to mass deception—Mr. West has a mass following. The fact that even his deviance from the dominant “narrative” sparks anger in fans is indicative of a society that has become sheep-like. No one can think for themselves, since they have been force fed beliefs from a culture industry that is, in fact, far removed from the masses of society due to a combination of money, power, and status (to borrow, again, Max Weber’s terminology). This is why we, as individuals who embrace democracy and freedom and equality for all, must fight against this kind of intolerance and resist being blinded by ideology.

I ask student and educators across the country to resist this culture industry in which “consumption of the easy pleasures of popular culture, made available by the mass communications media, renders people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances” and give it a break. To realize that this message is not directed at my institution is very important. I have met some of the best—and I stress, the best—faculty in the world at my university. They have been nothing short of extremely supportive—not just “supportive” but “extremely supportive”, I cannot stress this enough. They are the epitome of what graduate faculty should be. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for some of the students and to them—and students across the country—I have a message. Give your political process a chance before passing judgement. I cannot predict the future—I am, after all, just a marginal sociologist who knows more than to trust a politician—but I can see the present. It is one driven by hate and by vitriol, characterized by paroxysms of rage on both sides. And that is definitely no way to treat your fellow human beings. Politics is not a sport, it is not a zero-sum game. Have some respect for democracy. Have some respect not only for others but, probably most importantly, have some respect for yourselves.

As a bonus, please enjoy the memes below which—I believe—go some way to showing the problems in America’s higher education. Sometimes, it takes the unexpected to challenge the status quo; just look at Hoffenheim’s 29 year old coach Julian Nagelsmann who is taking the Bundesliga by storm!

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This One Is For the Students. Image Courtesy Of: http://thefederalistpapers.org/us/every-college-student-needs-to-read-this-genius-message-meme

 

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This Is, Sadly, a Fascist Strategy Embraced by Many American Graduate Students. Unfortunately, It Merely Ends the Conversation Meaning That No Constructive Debate Can Take Place. Image Courtesy Of: http://dirtyconservative.com/the-liberal-argument-methodology/

 

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Another Sad Way of Silencing Debate In the United States’ Academic Community: Invoking Hitler. Image Courtesy Of: http://imgur.com/gallery/SjQclIQ

 

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More Free Speech and More Critical Thinking Is What We Need in America, Regardless of Ideology. Image Courtesy Of: http://world-visits.com/2011/12/flag-of-the-united-states