Bright, shiny things in the media

We like bright, shiny things.  Starting in our baby years.  And continuing into our adult lives. But now the bright shiny things are often political or cultural.  Or both. Greta Thunberg is a bright, shiny thing.

A conservative friend repeated several times on my facebook site that Greta Thunberg was unqualified to talk about climate change.  He wanted facts and not the thoughts of a “girl” who a Fox News host had deemed “mentally ill.” 

Facts regarding climate change had not appealed to this friend of mine.  And yes, I have friends that are Republican/Conservative. Only requirement for not getting blocked is not being an ass—respectful dissent is always welcome.  And I hate those moments he makes a valid point.

Anyway, he said Greta was unqualified.  After consideration, I had to conclude that she was indeed by her background, by education, by earned degree—she was unqualified. And then I concluded “So what?”   When did we get to an era when qualifications are required to be able to influence the public? We are certainly not there today.  

Some of the biggest influencers now are in social media.  According to Mediakix, the most popular social media influencer is Amanda Cerny (@Amandacerny). She has 24.7 million followers. She was recently in a Cardi B music video.  She did comedy sketches on You Tube which have gained her 2.6 million subscribers.  I watched several of the videos and there were absolutely attempts at humor.  

Other social media influencers have gained millions of followers based sometimes on their qualifications, sometimes on their looks and sometimes looking good though their qualifications are

But when did an education become a requirement for influencing society?  It hasn’t.  But unqualified people have led social change for decades.  

Some of our most influential folks in recent decades didn’t know squat.  But they said some stuff that got our attention.  Consider influencer Lenny Bruce. He changed the world of comedy.  By saying lots of four letter words.  And conjugating other words into profanities as long as 12 letters. And he did this in a time when such language was not allowed in public.  He was arrested at least five times for his vulgarity.  

George Carlin called him a role model to the degree that he got arrested with him just to say he did.  Lenny opened the doors to every comedian who followed.  If you are old enough to remember Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy in his prime—they did their thing because Lenny did his.  Lenny’s qualifications to change society?  None. Except he thought society needed some change to escape a suffocating hypocritical society.  And he was funny.  

Another unqualified funny man who made a difference: Dick Gregory. An African-American comedian who did his work when people didn’t refer to him as African-American, but instead used a term I won’t use. How can you not appreciate someone who explains his experience in the South like this. “I spent 20 years there one night,” Gregory began. “I walked into this restaurant and this waitress said ‘we don’t serve coloured people here’ and I said ‘that’s all right, I don’t eat coloured people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.’” (source:  obituary from The Guardian, Aug 20, 2017).

He went to Southern Illinois University, served honorably in the army and served as a bridge between the races in the 60’s and for many years after.

He must have accomplished something of value.  Nixon put him on an enemies list and had the FBI do surveillance on him.  He was a black comedian on the Tonight Show back when Jack Paar hosted it.  Mr. Gregory insisted on being interviewed on the Tonight Show instead of just doing his routine.  

He changed minds and changed world and influenced the media.  His education that allowed him to pontificate on such matters.  Not much formal.  But he lived it. He knew it.

Conservatives also are led sometimes by the unqualified.  One is known by 80% of all Americans and has the sixth most popular radio show/podcast and has been named the 2nd most famous radio host in America (behind Howard Stern).

Baby boomers are his biggest fans.  Millenials think he’s the 40th best.    Yes, we’re talking Rush Limbaugh. He has been nationally syndicated for 31 years.  He wrote seven books, two of which became best sellers on the NY Times list.

Rush’s qualifications to pontificate on politics, to lead the republican party, to sow seeds of discontent like the people named above:  none.  Dropped out of college after two semesters.  His mother said he failed at everything except radio.  His career as a national leader of conservative thought happened because the Reagan administration got rid of the Fairness Doctrine.  Rush is unqualified to speak of political matters.  Or social matters or things that matter.  But he is highly rated.

So this is a long story to a short point.  Anyone else tells me that Greta was unqualified and uneducated in the details of science and climate change—well, the media has always given its time to bright, shiny things.  Those people who get our attention.  Some are qualified.  Many are not.  

We are a society not based on facts but our fascination by bright, shiny things.  Babies like bright shiny colors because their eyes are not fully developed.  Kind of like many America’s critical thinking skills.  And their media literacy skills.  So often we focus on bright, shiny things instead of finding out from experts what the truth actually is. Unfortunately, many experts are not telegenic. So, the focus goes back to bright, shiny things.

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