Friday, April 04, 2008

Power of Groupthink

For many years after the Viet Nam war, TV and movies had a field day with a stereotype of the Viet Nam vet as a unstable, flash-back-prone and quite violent.  Part of the appeal of this character as a plot device was that he was undeniably evil and violent, but it wasn't really his fault.  It was because of the weird Asian war he had had to fight.  In any case, we were told over and over again that Viet Nam vets were unstable mentally and emotionally.  (There was certainly some truth to the idea behind that stereotype in the sense that many Vets were plagued with post-battle disorders of various kinds, plus when they came home it seemed nobody was really interested in them, whereas their fathers had returned to a grateful society prepared to help vets get back into civilian life.)

If you want to try a thought experiment, how about a little "shoe on the other foot."  In today's edition, we're going to pretend that John Kerry was a Republican, and that John McCain was a Democrat.  What would the press make of that?

Obviously, McCain would be deemed by the press as simply too unstable for the American people to trust.  "Questions" about his fitness for office, especially in a moment of crisis, would "linger."  Even if Democrats were foolhardy enough to actually nominate him, the press would persist in showing every old clip they could find of Viet Nam vets in the shadowy jungles, and feature every MD and PhD they could find to talk about the high levels of PTSD and other disorders faced by practically all Viet Nam vets.

Kerry, on the other hand, would be complimented for his height and overall "military bearing."  We'd be shown clips of how he looked in uniform (and of course with his short hair), and we'd be told that his heroism and bravery in action were such that the Democrats would never look "strong" on "national defense."

"Shoe on the other foot" is one of my favorite games.  It almost always helps to highlight the mental handcuffs that limit most mainstream press people from thinking independently and critically.  On the next installment, maybe we'll do "If Hillary were a man," or "If Barack were white."  

No comments: