Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Context is More Important than the Medium or the Message

One of the most maddening issues on the right is their obsession with technology and youth. That's all they have been talking about- but they obviously know little about the subject. I teach technology and work closely with college kids as a professor and academic librarian. Kids don't care. One day after the inauguration and they are already "over it." But a post by Michael Powell at New Majority (David Frum's new website) warns:
The Party has failed to fully comprehend how the young interact and communicate in an era transformed by the digital revolution. We do not yet appreciate their passions and their fears, nor pause to look at the world through their eyes. Battling to be a voice of technology and innovation is vital. In the world of youth, you must first “get it” before you are listened to.

Hugh Hewitt has been talking about the same thing and the enormous amounts of information youth are comfortable with, but if you read any academic journals or library journals, or secondary ed stuff you will hear teachers complaining about how kids only use the first few hits from Google and the wikipedia entry. Now I am one of those few academics who really likes Wikipedia, but I have to agree. These kids dont process enormous amounts of info and their technical skills are surprisingly minimal. They only learn what they need for the moment and rarely move beyond that.

Now Hewitt and Powell and the rest are absolutely right about the need for a conservative presence on the web. But even more important than that is establishing the context. I have discovered that it is possible to defuse the inevitable leftward tilt simply by stimulating youth to think about who the establishment is. As a lover of classical liberalism I abhor the Orwellian approach my colleagues take to education. I don't want my students to think the way I do, but rather "to think." One of the best ways to do this is to get them thinking about who really has power in our country. Who controls all the things that create and monitor our sense of self and identity. The Left has made this pretty easy by turning "tolerance" and "diversity" into laughable double standards. The greatest irony of contemporary society is that the current cultural establishment still pretends to be anti-establishment. When my kids realize that they can predict and even make their professors arguments (insert movie star, rock star, journalist, etc for professor) beforehand they start to "smell a rat" as Jack White would put it. They may even start to think.

Advertising professionals are discovering that Youth, especially millennials are jaded to coercion because they receive more advertisements and messages than any generation before them. They tend to turn off most of it except at the most subliminal levels, which is why their gut level instincts are leftist- they are saturated in those values even if they have not consciously thought about it. There are two answers to this challenge that advertisers developed. One is imaging. Think Apple and ipods. Now I think that many aspects of Apple computers are superior to Windows- especially Vista- but like many in the tech world I can't stand the whole Itunes philosophy and approach. But Apple has imaged themselves as the mp3 player to have just as the Left and the democrats have imaged themselves as anti-establishment, pro poor, pro environment, pro education, uncorrupt, and generally the party of the cool and the hip. When I ask my kids why they think ipods (or democrats) are better they never have any substantial answers. They have simply been trained to think that way, because those are the cultural myths that make of the foundation of our society.

The other things advertisers try to do is create grassroots movements that have a life of their own. The Cloverfield movie promotions were a good example. My favorite was Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails genius viral marketing scheme (must read). These movements are founded on a web 2.0 platform and philosophy. Make it interactive and make it communal.

I have used the second approach in revitalizing my dead library. And it was dead when I took over 3 years ago. But due to the fact that I embraced youth culture and used their modes of communication to rebrand and reimage the library we are one of the most popular places on campus.

Now reimaging the conservative movement is a thousand times more difficult because the fight is fixed. The ref is against us, the bookies are against us, the organizers are against us. Everyone who controls the game and its rules is pretty much against us. The left gets to start on our 20 yard line, but we start on our own goal line and only get 3 plays. You get the picture. Very discouraging. But this context is also the key to a comeback. Americans- and our next generation is no different here- hate a fixed game. They love the underdogs. We all cheered when the Giants beat the Patriots, and even people like me who don't like baseball root against the Yankees because they try to buy their way out of everything.

By pointing out what should be obvious, but isn't- namely that the left is now and has been for a number of years the establishment, I completely reorient students way of thinking about the entire situation. It's like suddenly discovering that the game is fixed. All this without even beginning to discuss "free market economies," "limited government," etc. The beauty of the approach is that the Left has made it too easy for us- not even my most ardent and radical leftists students have ever denied that every professor and teacher teaches the same thing. From there, it is a challenging but manageable jump to identifying who controls the rest of our culture. I like to use Rage Against the Machine's ( a radical Left band) chorus from "Killing in the Name", "Now you do what they told you, Now you do what they told YOU!" When students recognize the deep irony, even hypocrisy of the song, they have begun to think. It is hard to turn that off, and it sets them up to begin questioning authority in a meaningful way.

Finally, levity is good. I like to cover my mouth, breathe deeply and give em the old, "Luke, I am your Father." Image is critical. Darth Vader is cool, because he represents the new type of hero- a bad guy who earns redemption. The subliminal suggestion is that conservatism is edgy and dark- like Batman. Even though in all reality we are actually the "rebel scum."- The point is not that we need to get on Twitter, Facebook, and be cool. Youth can see that goofiness, and because we are not the establishment we can't get away with obvious pandering like President Obama did with his," Been to Whole Foods and seen the price of arugula?" cluelessness. Don't be cool. We don't have to be, because we are the ones who question authority, we are the anti-establishment. Get out there Sith Lords!

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