May 30, 2007

Response to "A Rosie By Any Other Name"

The following is most of a comment I left at Izzy Mo's post, A Rosie By Any Other Name.

At first I was going to write a smarmy “we don’t have this sort of problem here” comment, but then I thought about this a little more. It is true, we don’t have these types of programs on here - no Rosie, no Glenn. (You can get Faux News on cable here, but I doubt that many people subscribe to that channel. We certainly don’t.) But why aren’t these programs on here?

Your politics is not our politics. What concerns American voters doesn’t concern Asian voters. Asian politics is often about pragmatic issues. During the last S’pore general election, even I was surprised to hear that a major campaign issue here was infrastructure: “We want better lifts (elevators) that will stop on every floor instead of those that stop on just three.” The US, by and large, doesn’t have infrastructure concerns except on a limited, local level, and those are treated in a more-or-less bipartisan manner. Instead, US politics have mostly degenerated into vague issues, like “values.” US politics have degenerated into contests that are shaped through religious and ideological litmus tests, which have increasingly polarized society. “You’re either with us or against us.” Values aren’t as important in politics here, not only because pragmatic issues like economic development are the higher priority, but because Asians don’t lack for values. With so many diverse religions here, it’s far easier to work together by not holding one group’s values above the others.

Smaller countries make for better media. Much of the media here, magazines and TV in particular, are spread over a wide geographic area that include many different countries. When I watch, say, "Law & Order" on the Hallmark Channel, they’ll show the program’s air times for Seoul, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Some programs will even show air times for as far east as India and the Middle East. That’s a lot of countries between Japan and the KSA. With so many countries, cultures, religions and governments to contend with, it’s easier not to make waves by being controversial. On the other hand, we want our news straight here. There isn’t the celebrity overkill here that there is in the US. JonBenet Ramsay? So what? Anna Nicole Smith? Who cares? The media here is also less likely to dodge difficult issues. Check out the covers for Time and Newsweek magazines here and here. These are the covers for the US and three international editions. Given the choice between a cover story about the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan vs. a story in favor of teaching the Bible in schools, which one really is more important? What’s the more important story, “Losing Afghanistan” or Annie Liebovitz’s “My Life in Pictures?” Yeah, Americans have got their priorities straight.

The situation in America isn’t going to improve until you change the culture and the way people think. Many people go to college, but few develop critical thinking skills. It’s far easier for people to be sheep, to be told what to think, to follow “Dear Leader” (regardless of who “Dear Leader” is, the President, the local pastor, whomever). The government and media gives the people what it wants; right now, yes, the US is in its panem et circenses stage, and I doubt that it will leave that stage any time soon. Perhaps never, insha’allah.

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