How did politics get to be so personal? Another take

How did politics get to be so personal? Another take
A political rally on one side, the stands at a football game on the other. Notice the similarities.

New York Times op-ed writer Thomas Edsall has an interesting column today titled “How did politics get so personal?” It’s a question I’ve long wondered about myself, and Edsall does a good job of digging for an answer, turning to political science — specifically to research by Shanto Iyengar, of Stanford. In a 2012 study titled “Affect, Not Ideology,” Edsall writes:

Iyengar and two other colleagues used a polling method known as a “thermometer rating” to measure how Democrats and Republicans feel about each other. The temperature scale goes from 1 to 100. One means the respondent feels cold toward the group; 100 implies that the respondent has warm feelings. Iyengar and his colleagues found in 2008 that Democrat and Republican ratings of the opposition party had dropped to just below 32 degrees. In comparison, Protestants gave Catholics a 66 rating, Democrats gave “big business” a 51, and Republicans rated “people on welfare” at 50.

One of the most striking findings of Iyengar’s 2012 paper is the dramatic increase in the percentages of members of both parties who would be upset if their children married someone in the opposition party.

Iyengar’s explanation for this phenomenon is the homogeneity of residential neighborhoods, which makes it “easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters.”

The article goes on in this vein, tilting slightly left (this, is after, all the New York Times).  In the end, it’s well worth reading, though ultimately I think there is another, more fundamental explanation for the fractious nature of present-day politics and popular ideological allegiances.

I submit that the mass media’s influence on professional sports his trickled up (or down) to politics. An item at the Daily Dot in 2013 analyzes the phenomenon as it pertains to sports:

For more than half a century, the watching of big, traditional sports remained largely the same: a broadcast, two guys talking up play-by-play and colorful commentary. Talented broadcasters, sometimes revered by fans, called the games—but still, it made for a pretty limited perspective.

With the advent of new visual technology, televised sports began to add some bells and whistles. Flashy stats and infographics, superimposed visual cues, super hi-def instant replays and even dancing robots now fill our screens. But one thing still hadn’t changed: fans either saw the game live or they listened to the game as interpreted by sports commentators in the game’s broadcast.

We’re now entering an era where that element of sports watching is dramatically changing. The viewing of sports is becoming much more interactive and social. 2013, I predict, will be the tipping point. Call it The Year of Social Sports, because most people watching games — either live, on TV or streaming online — will also be interacting with a second screen at the same time. And this doesn’t mean just checking scores, Googling sports trivia facts or half-watching another channel.

Before the advent of the Super Bowl in 1967, the NFL championship game was a low-key affair, played Sunday afternoon. Halftime was 12 minutes long, the same as in the regular season, and the only entertainment available to fans was a visit to the john (to eliminate the beer consumed during the first half) or to kitchen to make a sandwich (to be consumed during the second).

Now, the Super Bowl is the most lavish and most-watched media spectacle of the year, with the cost of advertising rising to new, previously unimagined industry highs with each passing year.

But even games during the regular season are no longer the exclusive province of diehard fans willing to brave the cold (at least in northern climes) to watch two squads of eleven men do battle in the mud and the weather. Non-enthusiasts are also on hand to take part in the tailgating beforehand, the flowing of suds during, and whatever follows after the stadium empties out.

With this new fandom — if that is the correct term — comes a new tribalism, which in turn carries a burden. Witness the cretins in Houston who cheered in 2013 when their own quarterback, Matt Schaub, sustained an injury and lay on the field writhing in pain. I grant you that this is not a common occurrence (be thankful for small things), but fans have become increasingly disgruntled, brutish, and disconnected from the game and the meaning of “sport.” When fans in Baltimore are unhappy with a call by one of the officials, they have on more than one occasion chanted “Bullsh*t.”

Sadly the same ugliness has infected politics. When former President George H.W. Bush was hospitalized in late December, complaining of shortness of breath, some on the left rejoiced, expressing their hope that he would die. Nor is the right innocent of lowlifes. One of them, a third-grade teacher, yet, wished aloud on public access television that Barack Obama would come down with a case of Ebola.

Obviously, the internet with its many opportunities for anonymous drive-by insults has greased the skids for this sort of bad action. I can’t offer any solutions at this point, but consider the forum open. And let’s keep it clean.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.


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