Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Alternative Windows

By the way, the poster has wrong date imprinted!

On 15 October 2008 I watched the last Presidential Candidate Debate at the SUNY Albany Campus Center Ballroom. I went home after midnight as I was so much engaged into the post-debate discussion with my new friends, the Campus Republicans and Democrats, all the way from the Ballroom...downstairs...passing Indian at the Commons section of my campus... until I got into the bus!

Do You Believe in the Media?
It was verry interesting to watch the debate after I finished reading Bennet's News, the Politics of Illusion. I have so much thoughts to confirm to the real American voters. Despite of the negative tones in the campaigns and the preliminary concerns on the political apathy among young voters, I was first impressed by the eloquence of the young voters in describing the reasons why they would vote a candidate. They seemed so sure, so well informed, and so decided, while in Bennet's book, and later, Hallin, in his article on sound-bites in electoral coverage, and Watts and his team, in their article on elite cues and media bias in presidential campaigns; the media took a significant role in weakening the core issue delivered in the campaigns - that later brought public to bear the consequence of being distorted from the “real story” and becomes the misinformed public or the object of agenda-setting. Oh. Wow. Sounds serious, isn't it?

The discussion in my group moved from the opinion sharing on what the students thought about the debate, to the affirmation of their choice, and how far they considered the media role in informing them.

All of them agreed that the live debate on TV provided clearer information on what the candidates plans and policies are. From this point, a student raised my aimed issue: he mentioned that so far the electoral coverage - the hard or soft news did not really provide them with enough information about the candidates. Republicans pointed out that the media were biasing in favor of the Democrats, and the Democrats said that the media didn't provide enough clarifications to counter back the negative campaigning launched by the Republicans. NONE of the discussion participants in my group were satisfied by the mainstream media!

The Reinforced Choice
I then asked them if their peers felt the same. They said, maybe. But the most interesting thing is that, they all agreed that the media adversity toward the candidates had led to predominant negative tones in the election. They confirmed that the media, in a way, have confused the non-well-informed, and the non-politically aware public, in this case, the young voters. They, in their apathy, started to figure out the image of voting "the lesser of two evils", as mostly what they heard, and what were blown up by the media were negative critiques toward the candidates or the opposition to the candidates' plans.

They, my discussion buddies, said that they were among the little part of the students who have been politically aware, and they actually reinforced their belief toward a candidate through alternative media: the INTERNET and their peer groups - the fellow Republicans or Democrats.

Some of them admitted that the choice that they made was based on their "identification" toward candidate's backgrounds and policy. However, there was an interesting discussion between a Republican and a Democrat regarding on their social background, where both claimed to come from difficult background - with the struggle to gain better life. The Republican said that he did not agree to Obama's plans in the tax and social security-related policy, as he felt that it is sort of in favor of the "lazy" people - to live well, while the hard workers play hard to earn th better living. He called Obama a "socialist" (unsurprisingly, like many other Republicans), and he said that socialist values will destroy the Americans, and their American Dreams. In his opinion, American Dreams is where people who do their best effort will be rewarded unlimited opportunities. Of course, he added, "the "Socialist" system won't encourage this to happen". To support his argument he said that he had learned a lot about Socialist when he was travelling to some Scandinavian countries.

The Democrats countered back by mentioning that those who don't work are not necessarily lazy. They just didn't have any opportunity to live the basic standard and to have proper access to education, mostly due to economical reason. Without basic provision to secure their life, it's difficult for the citizen to make their first step toward their dreams!

Hm. I love that "American Dreams" term! It's like EEEVERRYYWHERE... in political speeches or motivational books. But let's have a look. In general the term of American Dreams refer to James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America, which was written in 1931, where he states: "The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" (cited from the Library of Congress page).
Comments, anyone?

For me, if we see with bias eyes that put the emphasize on "better and richer and fuller for everyone", we might perceive the dreams as the socialist-like concept. But if we see with another bias favoring the capitalism, we might see "opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" clearer that the "for everyone". So, I guess, trying to be neutral with my outsider eyes, I think American Dreams is none of Socialist, nor Capitalist. It's a mid-way, it's grey, it's a moderation that integrates a common welfare with individual hard works.

Anyway, enough for the American Dreams for now, and let's go back to the role of media.
Of course it's interesting that the best-selling jargon of American Dreams is perceived differently, in respect to individual beliefs. But the thing behind this discussion is that I want to introduce you to the fact, that actually each person holds their own bias, based on their existing salient belief. People has their own filtering system that defines their latitude of acceptance toward an issue. It is not impossible that one news is perceived to be biasing in favor of the the Liberals by the Conservatives, but at the other hands it is also perceived to be biasing in favor of the Conservatives by the Liberals. O-oh. :)

In the world where journalism and democracy has grown soooo loooonggg... before Indonesian independence (we, Indonesians proclaimed our nation's independence on August 17, 1945, yet we have never really had journalistic freedom until the end of 1990's), there have been so much development in media and in the citizen's mindset toward democracy. Added with the rapid growth of internet and its accessibility, Americans have bigger privilege to develop alternative media and to access it.

As admitted by my discussion buddies, they turned their back from mainstream media, that sells cliché pundit talks and commentaries, plus polls and horse-race journalism, to the alternative, more independent media that offers deeper analyses, reveals more facts, and provide different perspectives than the frames developed in the news stories. They, who care enough about politics reinforce their belief through those media, not as the supplementary source, but as the anchor within the massive waves of mainstream news.

However, back to the issue of bias again, I always keep in my mind that those who turn to alternative media are those who already have significant bias toward a certain political stand. There is a reason on a corresponding bias that refers to "wanting dispositions", which simply explains that "human tends to see the world as they wish to see it". In this case, it is very probable that the existence of the alternative media will pull people with different bias to different polars. The Democrats will be polarized to more liberal-toned media, and the Republicans to the conservative-toned ones. So, what do you think about this?

My biggest question now is, how will those politically aware-but-polarized society perceive their American Dreams? How about the others who are still clueless about what is actually happening in their Dreamland's politics? To whom are they going to refer to, who will help shaping their belief on an important democracy process? Or just let them be apathetic and shallow, and let the media keeps on going with their "entertaining" horse-race news, because after all, it looks just exciting?

Uh, gosh. My viewpoints on news and media effect have been deconstructed since I had more understanding on American politics and media. By the end, I just can say that as an alien in this country, it might take me a little longer to figure out what the real American Dreams are about...
Better life? Survival? Dreams? Awakening? Democracy? Achievement? Welfare? Opportunity? Being a champion? Do the Americans really know what they are into now?
I'll let you know when I have figured out the answer...


  1. Although this was to have been a debate focused exclusively on foreign policy issues, the grave financial crisis that almost undermined the debate was the top issue addressed during the first half of the debate. Both Senators came to Mississippi from Washington, where they had been involved in the effort to put together an emergency package to stem the crisis.

  2. Saya gak peduli dengan amerika, mau presidennya baru kek, lagi debat kek, saya gak peduli. Saya hanya tertarik dengan indonesia dengan segala kelebihan dan kekurangannya:)

    Tadinya pingin komen pake bhs inggris, tp krn sama2 orang indonesia ya lebih enak pake bhs indonesia jg .

  3. Saya cuma sedang "membuka jendela dan melihat ke halaman rumah tetangga" sembari ngobrol dengan mereka. :)
    Sudah ada banyak ide buat menulis tentang Indonesia kok. Ditunggu saja ya!
    Komentar pakai bahasa Indonesia lebih seru kok. Lebih banyak ekspresi yang bisa diungkapkan. Terimakasih ya...

  4. Ngomong-ngomong, tetangga kita itu tuan tanah yang berkuasa di mana-mana... makanya saya tertarik untuk tahu lebih banyak tentang mereka. Tulisan saya tentang Amerika juga banyak menunjukkan bahwa Amerika ngga sesempurna apa yang kebanyakan orang kita bayangkan loh... dalam hal demokrasi, layanan umum, kualitas pemberitaan, pendidikan pemilih, dan menurut saya, itu menarik untuk diceritakan. :)