Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the ways America has come to celebrate ignorance: POTSIs the Person on the Street Interview

On the ways America has come to celebrate ignorance: 
POTSIs the Person on the Street Interview

When I was young ignorance was embarrassing.  Most people would avoid a public display of their ignorance.  We preferred not to comment on things we knew nothing about.  But Americans have slowly embraced ignorance, first making it OK to be ignorant, then ever more celebrating ignorance. 

Somewhere in the last couple decades the media began to seek out the ignorant for comment.  Interviewees are selected for being "representative" not knowledgeable.  And if the public is generally ignorant, then the best representative is ignorant. 

Interviews of the random person off the street are often perceived as given the same weight as experts. The usual Person on the Street Interview, or POTSI, is a gimmick to try to relate whatever the story is about back to you the audience.  Remember that the next time you hear or see a POTSI, some producer thinks the POTSI represents you and that you are interested in the POTSI.  The stupider the POTSI, the stupider they think you are, news audience.

The interviewer of POTSI rarely questions or challenges the POTS.  Their word is taken not because it is right or wrong,  Whether a statement is informed is not even at issue, it is valid simply because a POTS said it.  On the other hand, when interviewing an expert, reporters tend to look for exceptions and to challenge their conclusions. 

We've all seen POTSIs  saying "I don't think global warming is real, why look at all that snow [pointing to the '78 rusted pickup truck on blocks in the front yard under ten inches of snow]." 

Nearly every local tv news story wraps up with some statement by someone whose only qualification is that they happen to be in the proximity of a reporter.  The reporter turns to the camera

 "There you have it, many people still don't believe climate change is real.  This is  Katie Hairdo reporting live from Hooterville.  Back to you Dufus."

What you won't see is the reporter saying-- "Whoa, do you really think the infinitesimally small bit of the globe you personally see this moment is truly representative of the entire planet [you moron]?"

But, when the same reporters interview a climate scientist it's time to ask the "hard-hitting questions" and challenge authority [then usually ignore the answer-- the point was to question them publicly, not learn from them]. 

"But aren't there other scientists who don't agree with you?"   "Hasn't the climate always been changing?"

I use climate change as an example, but POTSIs are pervasive.  After a shooting, we get the POTSI  "This used to be a good neighborhood."   [No mention of actual statistics on shootings.]  After the fire "It took forever for the fire trucks to get here."  [No mention of actual data on response times.]  Before the election "I'm voting for Greed E. Monger because I think we need a change."  [No follow up question on what policy exactly Greed E. Monger will change.]  Watch for POTSIs-- you will be dismayed how pervasive they are and how they'll dumb down almost any news story. 

The media (mainly television and radio news) give equal time to the ignorant, but only challenge the experts.  It just isn't considered fair to expose the ignorant to possible public ridicule, after all, the reasoning goes, they aren't experts....

The subtle message assimilated by the public after a couple decades of daily POTSIs is that ignorance is acceptable, nothing to be ashamed of, and often something to celebrate.

It remains to be seen how much further the bar can be lowered.  The news might have to dig a basement so they can keep lowering it.

No comments:

Post a Comment