To the Editor:
Why do we like drama? My experience of U.S. history began in the late ’40s. Many problems I’ve witnessed are related to our attraction to drama.
Drama sells or the National Enquirer would have gone out of business long ago. Why do we keep watching daytime TV drama where there is a victim, a persecutor and a rescuer going around and around in a thousand variations of that theme? Drama fueled Senator Joe McCarthy’s “Red” probes about communism. Labeling others as communist still creates division and drama. Newt Gingrich rose in fame as people loved the drama of witnessing opponents attacked on the political stage.
FOX and CNN political commentators love to skewer the opposing party and improve their ratings. Trump’s claim to fame was “You’re Fired” on “The Apprentice.” He continued the drama as president of the U.S., and 74,222,958 voted for him even though his treatment of others was often scathing and condescending. People loved it. He said publicly things people might have thought, but wouldn’t say themselves, creating a strong identification with him.
So why do we like drama? In his 1964 book, “Understanding Media,” McLuhan wrote that TV was a cool medium where we could vicariously feel things through the drama of the TV program. He warned that if we don’t have legitimate feelings with others, we can have counterfeit feelings through identifying with the characters on the screen. Many of us have found ourselves crying in a movie over a scene similar to our own life experience in which we did not fully let ourselves feel the experience in real time. In the 57 years since he wrote that book, the detachment has only intensified with text, Twitter, computers and TV contributing to the distance of human experience and emotion.
Negative drama sells better than positive stories because it triggers stronger emotion giving each of us a false sense of connection. Former President Trump acted the victim of fake news and it played well across the country. His Twitter account was huge as followers loved his battle with persecutors. Citizens’ identification with him relative to not wearing a mask and his claim of a rigged election (before it even happened) increased the “us against them” mentality, fueled by media who supported these negative claims.
How do we get out of this mess? Once upon a time I thought Christian churches were a source of forgiveness and community, but participation has dwindled due to the disconnection of people with others. Many denominations are in negative battles over abortion and homosexuality, positions I see as exclusive rather than inclusive. Churches have created their own drama.
Biden’s promise to be more bipartisan with legislation is encouraging, but when he was vice president, President Barack Obama’s effort to compromise still resulted in no Republican votes on compromised legislation. Biden is not likely to be burned twice.
The answer really is in making the inner city and rural areas prosperous. Black communities need grocery stores and gas stations, not liquor and pawn shops. Rural areas need to have decentralized industry where manufacturing and web services are in small towns. Both are a wasteland of neither opportunity nor health care. Strange as it may seem, when people think their government is concerned about them and is including them in a cooperative way, positivity is infectious. Living a life genuinely connected to others decreases the need for “fake” excitement. This will require major news media to not take the opportunity to snipe at every mistake and play into a nation’s need for drama.