I'm pretty convinced at this point that one of the biggest powers of TV media (particularly the 24 hour cable news channels and the talking-head sports shows that so resemble them) is the ability to model the discussions they want us to have. I think for a lot of people, they never hear or have even a tenth the amount of actual in-person conversation on any issue that they hear/see on TV. That provides the model for what people are thinking about some issue, and how you should think and speak and react, in order to fit in.
If you can make sure that those conversations *don't* raise some issues or *don't* point out some pretty-obvious-looking facts, then most people somehow leave them out of their model. That's not what people seem to be talking about. Must not be very interesting.
Presumably, there is some explicit decisonmaking going on about what ought not to be discussed--things that piss off too many advertisers or viewers, or that trigger retaliation from sources in media or sports or entertainment, or that run counter to the interests of the media company you work for (like having commentators on the Olympics coverage opine that probably everyone competing with any chance of winning is doping) probably get an explicit rule. Similarly, some issues are sufficiently politicized to get a rule by media organizations, like not referring to the race of criminals when they're black, or not calling anything Americans do torture.
But probably a huge amount happens implicitly--some topics just aren't discussed in the community from which their commenters are drawn, or are universally seen as improper for public discussion. Even if there isn't an explicit rule saying that you can't speculate about Americans doping, it's just a whole lot less acceptable to bring up the issue about American gold medalists than foreigners. ...
A few comments:
- I seldom watch unscripted talking on TV anymore. I used to, but with the coming of the Internet, there's so much to read, and reading is so much faster than sitting, looking, and listening.
- The Internet, however, remains less influential than television. That's Putin's big insight: control television and you don't need to control the Internet. Maybe have a few writers you don't like turn up dead, but mostly just make sure the good-looking, personable people on TV aren't causing you trouble.
- Because I don't have cable, I only recently noticed that the vast explosion in the number of channels has likewise increased the number of individuals who could, with some plausibility, think of themselves as television stars. In turn, a not insubstantial fraction of the rest of the public thinks that they might be on TV someday too, so they should pay careful attention to how people who are on TV talk.
- I have this strange opinion that you should be pleasant and inoffensive to average people you meet, but the ideas of those who voluntarily put themselves "in the arena" are fair game. Many people, however, feel that the arena is not the place for debate, it's for affirming consensus values, and that the people in the arena deserve deference (because their hair is so nice, or whatever).
- I continue to be struck by the division between comedy and serious (i.e., boring) talk. For example, I had always heard Tina Fey's sitcom "30 Rock" acclaimed as liberal, but when I finally got around to watching it, I found it very much on my wavelength. A couple of jokes per episode tended to be distinctly iSteveish.
- In general, I like things that combine humor and serious analysis, but I seem to be missing an appreciation for the human desire to keep separate the Profound and the Profane.