Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

Chris Bowers, at Open Left, theorizes about the large viewerships of State of the Union addresses:
However, and this may sound strange coming from an avowed atheist such as myself, but mainly I think it is kind of like people who only go to church on Christmas. Apart from voting, watching the SOTU is an annual, ritual form of political engagement for many Americans who are otherwise disengaged. Even nine months from an election, even in an odd numbered year, even when we basically already know what the President will say (which is every year), many still tune in just because, well, for the same reason people go to church only on Christmas. It is just something you do to show you are a part of the team, even if you can't stand and / or can't be bothered by the trappings for regular engagement.
I'm not sure I agree with this, but it is an interesting take. Thoughts?


aznew said...

Hmmm. I agree with the analogy, but not with what Chris identifies as the motivation. I don't think folks go to church on Christmas, or watch the SOTU, to show that they are part of the team (i.e., to create an impression in third parties), but because they see themsleves as, in fact, part of the team, but with limited interest in and time to devote to the team.

I think the difference is an important one. Folks doing something to create a false impression in others, i.e., that they are religious or politically involved, is a bad thing, IMHO, in the sense that its stated purpose is to bamboozle. On the other hand, people participating in religion or politics, even in small amounts, for their own sakes seems to me to be a positive human and social activity.

Drew said...

aznew, an important distinction to be sure. But, I actually read Bower's quote as saying what you would have liked it to say. To "show that they are part of the team," I took as an outward behavioral manifestation of an inward belongingness to the team. To me, showing that they are part of the team wasn't to show-off to third parties, but to act upon their belongingness to the team. So while I agree with you on the distinction, I read Bower's statement to agree with you also. For purposes of clarification, however, he could have phrased it better.

Overall, I don't know how I feel about the analogy. I think it is a provocative one, but I also have other thoughts, both positive and negative. To be very cynical, I wonder if people watch the show because there is nothing else on. And to be very positive, I think that we constantly underestimate the political engagement of the electorate; the electorate, by and large, does actually care. Put those on a spectrum and throw Bower's analogy in between, and I constantly oscillate from one side to the other.