Just Above Sunset
August 15, 2004 - Eschew nuance, and odd words. Notes on what really matters...

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I cite the Guardian in the UK too much.  Consider this -


When the BBC quizzed Britons on the greatest battles in the nation's history, to accompany its Battlefield Britain series, it got some curious responses, particularly from the nation's youth.  Less than half of 16-24 year olds knew that Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada, with a fifth crediting Christopher Columbus, 13 percent C.S. Forester's fictional navy hero Horatio Hornblower, and 6 percent Gandalf, the wizard in J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" for the achievement.  Some say that the findings are not surprising given that too little history is taught in schools, the BBC has scaled back its educational programming in favor of entertainment, and that the universities accept too many students, dumbing down exams accordingly.  Others suggest that British intellectualism has always been overhyped.  As Cambridge historian John Adamson told the Christian Science Monitor "in the broader culture, we have a certain disdain for clever-cleverness."


Ah well, same on this side of the pond.  Thus Bush is preferred to Kerry, the overly clever one.  Keep it simple.  Eschew nuance, and odd words.

But screw Drake.  Imagine, some two hundred years later, Gandalf at Trafalgar.  I have to admit that would have been way cool – he slams his wizard staff down on the deck of the HMS Victory and proclaims, “You shall not PASS!”  Cool.  But we got Admiral Nelson instead.  Too bad.

So, the British kids and most American adults don’t like detail, or don’t mind getting it wrong.  And most Americans hope their leaders don’t get bogged down in all this detail and nuance.

What do most American adults care about?  Just what has Bush tapped into that assures him the election?

A University of Arizona psychological researcher, Mark Landau, has they answer.  Folks just don’t want to die.

UA study suggests people reminded of 9/11 support Bush
Judd Slivka, The Arizona Republic, Aug. 12, 2004 12:00 AM

This covers the University of Arizona study that suggests, when reminded about Sept. 11 and mortality, people wanted Bush as their leader and not John Kerry.

Of course.  And the detail?


… the more someone thought about Sept. 11 or their own mortality, the more prone they were to support President Bush. "The strength (of the responses) was ridiculous," said Landau, who plans to vote for John Kerry. "These effects were found regardless of a person's political orientation."

The results from Landau's study dovetail with a recent Arizona Republic poll, which found that a majority of Arizonans surveyed felt more comfortable with the president when it came to domestic policies. Three previous academic studies seemed to confirm the UA doctoral student's findings: In times of trouble, people gravitate to charismatic leaders. It also reinforced the Bush campaign's strategy of using Sept. 11 and war-on-terror imagery in the campaign.

"Because the prosecution of the war on terror has become a touchstone of Bush's re-election campaign, one might wonder whether references to 9/11 are effective in increasing support for President Bush and, if so, why," the study says.

… In three other surveys, Landau and eight researchers around the country found that when confronted with thoughts of Sept. 11 or mortality and given a choice of types of leaders, those studied most often chose Bush rather than an anonymous, less charismatic candidate.

"We had another type of leader, also," Landau said, "a task-oriented leader who said, 'Let's get it done, let's put the Stars and Stripes away and just do the job.' That leader did really badly. People need leaders. I don't think it's a liberal vs. conservative or Democrat vs. Republican thing. It's more than a practical decision people are making."

Results will be published in the September issue of Psychology and Social Psychology Bulletin.


This will be a “primal” campaign, or so it would seem.

We want our Gandalf.  It really is more than a practical decision people are making.  We want the myth, not detailed and accurate truth.

It’s not exactly that we want our leaders to lie to us, but we want something like that.  John Kennedy in 1962 said this when he gave the commencement address at Yale that year - "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie deliberate, contrived and dishonest but the myth persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."  But that’s what we want, or so it would seem.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, comments on people wanting the myth, not the reality -


Voters make practical decisions in times of trouble by voting for the charismatic bobble-head in much the same way that a non-swimmer who is drowning, on spotting his rescuer approaching across the water, makes the practical decision to climb on top of him; often as not in such cases, they both die.


Yes, such “practicality” has its limits.

And people will believe what they need to believe.  I guess we need myths.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....