Great Expectations: How Media Has Eroded Realism #DNC2012

Christian Book for ChildrenAs is always the case, after the closing convention speech by the parties’ nominees, the media reported on focus groups of undecided voters and asked them if the speeches had changed their minds or in any way addressed the issues on which they were undecided.

After the Obama speech, one man was asked, and he said, ‘No, it didn’t make any difference.’ He could not comprehend why, after four years in office, Obama had not managed to engineer a full economic recovery.

As much as I think this man was speaking from a place of real, experienced misery caused by the crash of 2008, it did shock me that he, somehow, had been led to believe that either a) the crash was not as catastrophic as it actually was or b) somewhere, somehow there is a sane economic policy of any stripe that, implemented,  could have achieved a recovery in four years.

But I think that independent voter’s words are representational of a significant group who feel betrayed.

There is no debate, on either side of the political divide, that the 2008 economic crash was the worst since the Crash of 1929. There are some, although not many, disagreements as to its cause. But two which are generally acknowledged are: a bubble in the real estate market, artificially over-heated by dubious mortgage practices; and fundamentally flawed algorithms used to hedge and spread risk on investments on Wall Street.

What seems to have been completely forgotten is that it took the US 10 years to recover from the Great Depression. And there is little disagreement that, although Roosevelt’s public spending policies may have made some impact on the recovery, it was the the push towards armaments and war-time manufacturing that truly saw the end to the massive unemployment and the completion of the recovery. Germany also recovered from its post WWI depression by re-arming for war.

In fact, historically, gearing up for war has been the only tried and tested method for rapidly recovering from a catastrophic depression. It’s the out of the frying pan and into the fire technique. And it works. It galvanizes a nation to one purpose, produces massive (although not long-term) employment, and gives the people an external enemy to hate more than they hate their current circumstances.

But I’m hoping we would all agree, you’d have to be sociopathic to consciously choose this as a viable way out of a recession.

And that being the case, no matter who had been elected, no matter whose economic policies had been implemented, four years is simply not long enough to recover from this sort of economic crisis. Obama and the economists who advise him took a path you might not agree with. However, the crash did not hit the depths of the 1929 one, and it very easily could have.  You can say it was just luck, or cycle, or good economic policy, but the US ducked the sever bullet of depression that haunted America through a decade between 1929 and 1939.

So why is it that there are so many people like that Undecided Voter who was interviewed, who believe that because the economy is not booming, the government’s policies are failed ones?

I think the answer lies in a place beyond politics. Partly, I think it stems from a lack of understanding of history, but also, and more powerfully, I think it lies in the fact that, for the last 15 – 20 years, the storytellers of our culture have not been, on the whole, very brave.

The media and Hollywood have given us so many stories of instant revenge, instant righting of wrongs, instant solutions that save the day, we have come to expect reality will supply us with the same feel-good endings.  The gap between the stories we tell and the way the world really works have diverged so radically that there is literally a disconnect between what we expect and what is possible. Moreover, the same spinners of narratives (both fictional and non-fictional) have engendered in us an unlimited appetite for quick solutions.

And because those storytellers – both in the news media and in Hollywood – have profit as their guiding motivations, they poll us. And it turns out we like happy endings and quick solutions. So they give us more, and more and more. And we become acclimatized to expect them in everything.

When we, as people, don’t hear hard stories with sad endings, when we don’t hear narratives of endurance and imperfect solutions, of compromises and delayed gratifications, we begin to believe we should never have to face them, because they are intolerable.

But those stories are the stories of the real world. And hearing them allows us to put our expectations in proportion. They allow us to value the rare, and wonderful times in our lives when a good, quick happy ending is possible.

We come to expect them all the time, and feel ripped off and lied to when that’s not the way the world works out for us. And it’s a shame, because instead of making us hopeful and strong, it makes us feel entitled and embittered that we have been locked out of the dream.