Mike the Mad Biologist

If you haven’t heard by now, some theopolitical conservatives are angry at the Krispy Kreme doughnut chain because they used “doughnut of choice” in an ad campaign. I think Amanda’s take on why these wackaloons fear TEH DONUTZ is right on target:

What made reading this move from the “merely hilarious” column to the “fucking scary” column for me, though, is that I’m currently reading Matt Taibbi’s latest book The Great Derangement, and he spends a good deal of his time in the book pretending to be a Christian attending James Hagee’s church in San Antonio….what Taibbi explains is something that’s ignored in most mainstream representations of the fundie megachurch culture, because it’s probably considered impolite to reveal how much the yokels act like yokels. Taibbi discovers that the church members believe that the world is literally haunted by demons around every corner, and they’re all seeking ways to enter your body and make you a sinner, and that the only way to get rid of them is to playact exorcisms.

This casts the fundie boycotts of this or that in a much different light. Most of us tend to think of boycotts as things you do in order to pressure companies to change policies.* But I suspect, reading this Taibbi book, that it’s more about adding to the already long list of Things To Avoid Lest The Demons Get You. Taibbi experiments at one point by shaming his “fellow believers” when they reach for fortune cookies by claiming that he believes fortune cookies are Satanic. Sure enough, they all toss the cookies back, fearful and ashamed. I get the impression that the more mundane the sinful thing, the better, because it helps keep followers in a state of constant paranoia. Also, it makes it impossible for demons not to get into your body, meaning you have to keep coming back for regular exorcisms. Or, short of that, it makes it impossible to avoid being a wretched, no-good sinner, no matter how hard you try, so you need to cling to the church (and right wing politics) for dear life, or you’re going to hell for sure. Taibbi is repeatedly appalled at how much the church breaks people down, by relentlessly driving home the message that they are nothing, that they’re debased and worthless. Putting Krispy Kremes on the list of demon entry points is sure to be effective at the aim of making the followers feel like they’re constantly besieged by Satan.

The shorter version is that the donut fearers are batshit loony. But what bothers me about all of this is that these lunatics were ever taken seriously. To put this another way, Congressman Pete Stark can propose a ‘liberal’ healthcare plan, that according to the Congressional Budget Office would provide the most healthcare at the best cost, and it still won’t be discussed. Meanwhile, for most of the last two decades, the doughnut fearers, who are a considerably smaller fraction of the population than liberals and progressives, were taken seriously–even though they are afraid of doughnuts.

This, coincidentally, ties into a post by Jay Rosen about how the media serves as an arbiter of what is acceptable for political discussion, even though they are bad at it, in part, because they don’t realize they’re doing it:

It’s easily the most useful diagram I’ve found for understanding the practice of journalism in the United States, and the hidden politics of that practice. You can draw it by hand right now. Take a sheet of paper and make a big circle in the middle. In the center of that circle draw a smaller one to create a doughnut shape. Label the doughnut hole “sphere of consensus.” Call the middle region “sphere of legitimate debate,” and the outer region “sphere of deviance.”

That’s the entire model. Now you have a way to understand why it’s so unproductive to argue with journalists about the deep politics of their work. They don’t know about this freakin’ diagram! Here it is in its original form, from the 1986 book The Uncensored War by press scholar Daniel C. Hallin. Hallin felt he needed something more supple–and truthful–than calcified notions like objectivity and “opinions are confined to the editorial page.” So he came up with this diagram.

It’s funny that the diagram looks like a doughnut (AAIIIEEEE!!!), but Rosen has a good point when he writes:

Deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate is–no way around it–a political act. And yet a pervasive belief within the press is that journalists do not engage in such action, for to do so would be against their principles. As Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post once said about why things make the front page, “We think it’s important informationally. We are not allowing ourselves to think politically.” I think he’s right. The press does not permit itself to think politically. But it does engage in political acts. Ergo, it is an unthinking actor, which is not good. When it is criticized for this it will reject the criticism out of hand, which is also not good.

How the doughnut fearers were ever taken seriously, when the Coalition of the Sane was not, escapes me. Even though much of the country realized after Schiavo that theopolitical conservatives were nutty bonkers, the political press corps didn’t (and to this day, I’m not certain that many of them realize that Schiavo was the beginning of the end).

Once we realize that liberals and progressives were considered outside the acceptable political discourse for the last two decades, but theopolitical lunatics afraid of doughnuts were not, the last decade or more makes a lot more sense.

Epic media fail.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua
    January 18, 2009

    It’s funny that the diagram looks like a doughnut (AAIIIEEEE!!!)…

    Funnier still that the “acceptable” part of the donut, the part that the media actually reports on and treats as legitimate, is the freakin’ hole in the middle. It’s the perfect metaphor, really.

  2. #2 Tony P
    January 18, 2009

    I’ve always said that if the media covered what was REALLY going on we’d have regular riots in the streets.

    I’m not saying that would necessarily be a bad thing. As the most recent election proved, and energized electorate is a force to be reckoned with.

    I forget who said it but to paraphrase, in parts of Europe the governments are afraid of the people whereas in the U.S. the people are afraid of the government.

    I’m not afraid of government. I’ve openly called our Governor, House Speaker and Senate President assholes.

    I requested Taibbi’s book at my public library. Should have it in a few days. Can’t wait to read it.

  3. #3 Mike the Mad Biologist
    January 18, 2009

    Tony P,

    Taibbi’s book is good albeit depressing–so much stupidity…

  4. #4 jay
    January 18, 2009

    Am I missing something? Exactly who is taking them seriously?

  5. #5 Mike the Mad Biologist
    January 19, 2009

    Jay,

    For the last twenty years, much of the garbage spewed by the theopolitical right has been taken seriously (birth control, stem cell research to name a couple) in the sense that they were allow to be part of the national discourse when they should have been told to sit in the corner with a dunce cap.

  6. #6 iRobot
    January 19, 2009

    Jay, they have succeeded in shifting the sphere of what is acceptable. Rush L is an open racist and he gets personal meetings with repub presidents. Howard Dean’s “scream” is taken out of context and he is considered crazy.

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