Jazz, Politics, Edward Kennedy and the Ghosts of Richard Nixon: Our American Dialogue and the Hatfields and McCoys

Carl L. Hager By

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That ended it for the Hatfield and McCoy families, just as "Devil Anse" Hatfield had anticipated, although the two families' descendants did hold a joint family reunion one hundred ten years later on June 10th, 2000, to symbolically put an end to it for all time. That should have ended if for the rest of us, too. But it didn't.

To this day, the ingrained, nearly Jungian symbology of North vs. South, and its tormented social model of the Hatfields and McCoys, is kept as luridly alive as ever in our national dialogue, as defined and dictated by our daily newscasts and print media. Instead of North vs. South or Hatfields vs. McCoys, it is The Rich vs. The Poor; The Insured vs. The Uninsured; Socialists vs. Capitalists; Patriots vs. Apologists; Government Employee Unions vs. Union-Busting Governors; Republicans vs. Democrats; Occupy Wall Street vs. the Tea Party; ad nauseam.

"AMERICA DIVIDED!," a grim-faced news anchor intones sternly each day (no doubt advised to do so by his producers) while a solemn black-and-white graphic of the same message appears at the bottom of the screen. But who is dividing it?

The people who profit from the division, of course. People like the news anchor and his employers. Such individuals want you to believe a cancerous political division is threatening to destroy us all. They encourage you to "stay informed," i.e., continue listening to them day after day, finding guidance in their tidal flow of information and counsel, hoping to learn what to do next in working your way through the confusions of conducting your life.

So that we may mend the division? Not exactly.

Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews use their electronic bully pulpits to shout, badger and scream at you, night after night, lecturing you unceasingly about how we are a politically and culturally polarized nation. Worse yet, their other message is that instead of mending the divide, we should each dig in our heels and battle the half of the American population who disagree with our personal political beliefs—after all, there are only two sides, right? The battle lines have been drawn, and you're either "fer us or agin us," as the Hatfields and McCoys would say.

Every day our elected representatives go to work on Capitol Hill and endeavor to guide the ship of state. But every night they are undermined by commentary accompanying sound bytes and video clips edited with scientific precision to create the impression that compromise, the very essence of the political process, is impossible—and since none of them can agree on anything, that the problems are unsolvable. Have a nice day.

If people didn't spend much time watching television, you might dismiss this concern. But they do. And contrary to popular wisdom, the older people get, the more they watch. According to the Nielson Company, teenagers between the ages of 12-17 watch the least television of any age group, averaging a mere 23 hrs. 41 min. per week. Once people reach voting age, the average climbs... and climbs, until it peaks at an average of 47 hrs. 33 min. for the 65+ age group.

Coincidentally, voter turnout percentage is highest for that same demographic. Per the most recent census information, a consistent 70% of people between 65 and 75 voted in the 2000 and 2004 elections, by far the highest percentage of any age group. No more than 45% of voters between 18 and 29 ever show up. Taken at face value, these particular statistics (from Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin who teaches polling analysis, and writes a fascinating blog called PollsAndVotes.com), and the ones from Nielson, show that at the very least, a correlation between age and both voting and television-watching. Further digging could be done in related areas, like whether there is a connection between watching television news and voter participation and/or voting tendencies. Franklin may have already analyzed this (I just discovered his website). But for now, let's just look at these few facts.

I won't take it beyond one single point. Media influence on the electorate? Are you kidding? When the age group that watches the most television is the same age group with the greatest likelihood of voting, the impact of television news is pretty significant.

So when these pundits and media vultures who are accepted as your eyes and ears start preaching that there is an enormous, unnegotiable chasm separating you from half of the people in the country (or more, if one accepts the thumb-in-the-eye, incompatible-with-everyone model), where does that leave you?

Sitting in your chair, waiting for the next bulletin. Just as it was intended to be.


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