Let there be hecklers

June 28, 2008 | By | Reply More

It’s difficult to watch hecklers, even when you agree with them. On a superficial level they are rude. By interrupting formal speeches they are preventing the officially designated speaker from delivering his or her message.

But what alternatives do we have when modern-day powerful politicians carefully exclude people who disagree with the speaker? Here’s the modern formula for political mind-control:

1.    Inept/corrupt politician talks to a large audience; and
2.     Audience warmly applauds the long stream of BS.; and
3.    There is no hint of any dissent.

This combination has worked wonders for George W. Bush.  Time and time again, he speaks only to a pre-filtered and therefore friendly audience that, in reality, represents only 20% of America.   And consider that Bush almost always speaks before private audiences, where dissenters can be excluded even more easily.   When Bush dares to stray out in front of an audience that he has not hand-picked, he gets roundly booed.   John McCain is now picking up where Bush left off by giving most of his speeches before highly screened audiences.

I’d like to take this moment to appreciate the efforts of at least some hecklers.   First of all, take a look at this video of John McCain being heckled at the recent conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.  The hecklers were accusing McCain of being a war criminal.  Admittedly, these are harsh words, truly.  And, again, this is a rude display.  But there are good reasons to think that anyone supporting military action in Iraq did so illegally and that these illegal acts have caused hundreds of thousands of people to die and millions of people to be permanently displaced from their homes.  Hence, the accusation “war criminal.”

Consider what happens at events where there are no hecklers while McCain touts his war-monger ideas.  Consider, first, that humans are a species of animals that run in herds. We are emotionally attracted to people who appear to be liked by lots of other people.  Consider, also, that polite silence appears to constitute approval.  When ideas are stated repeatedly yet unopposed, we see them as even more credible than they are.

And here is a point that is critically important:  when even a single member of a group speaks up in dissent, it makes it much less likely that an audience member will feel pressured to fall in line with the other members of the group. This effect was thoroughly demonstrated in the 1950’s through a series of experiments by social scientist Solomon Asch.

Excluding potential audience members, a trick at which conservatives excel, works a fraud on everyone attending the speech and everyone viewing it later on a video.  What else would you assume when a huge audience graciously listened while McCain promoted war-mongering?  We presume that audiences constitute a cross-section of the public at large.  This fraud is further perpetuated when we are not also shown videos of the numerous techniques used by political operatives to pre-filter an audience to make sure that the audience was thoroughly friendly?

Finally, notice how the television commentator framed the people protesting McCain in the above video. Perhaps “protester” would be the most neutral word for someone who shouted words of protest at a war-monger who tried to exclude people of dissenting viewpoints from his audience.   Instead, the commentator used the word “heckler,” a word that suggests incorrectness, and it suggests that most of the people who sat quietly agreed with McCain’s speech.

For the grand finale, of course, the “heckler” is usually escorted off the stage by law enforcement officials, suggesting that the heckler is a law-breaker, even when the heckler is often bravely and patriotically making sure that we don’t fall prey to the illusion of the “thoroughly happy audience.”

Too bad we can’t heckle the corporate broadcast media.  How different things might be if someone could pop up next to a television news desk and yell a few words of dissent . . .

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Category: Civil Rights, Communication, Corruption, law and order, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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