Sunday, March 16, 2008

America’s best kept secret

Most visitors to the USA might miss out its best kept secret since they don’t spend all day in their cars listening to AM radio. My trip, however, consisted mostly of driving around and that allowed for plenty of time for listening to that good old AM radio. Radio these days is FM, which will give you good quality, stereo sound programs. But for the best kept secret, all that fancy stuff is not needed.

For those who haven’t guessed it by now (that’s why it’s such a secret!) I’m talking about talk radio. The concept of talk radio is simple: put a man, somehow it’s always a man, in front of a mike and let him rant without end. The host has to fill up three hours every day until the next host comes on the air. As you might imagine, this stretched out formula takes quite a lot of skill to keep the listener entertained. Especially since the topics don’t really vary all that much.

One trick they use is to talk really slooowww with long .....pauses .....between .....words. Another trick is to talk slow and repeat all sentences at least three times. Sometimes by using different wordings, but more often by saying "Yes folks, .....heard ......right .....", followed by the exact same statement.

Some talk show hosts also have TV programs on CNN or Fox TV and it's amazing to see the difference: on TV, they talk as fast as they can to cram in a record amount of information in between the commercials.

Most, if not all, of the presenters are pretty hard core right wing, which translates into being against big government, which in turn means being against taxes. There is a caveat though: while being against big government, they sure are in favor of a strong government. Put simply: they are against raising taxes for useless stuff like social welfare programs, but they don’t mind spending record amounts on the army.

Another interesting contrast exists in the sense that talk show hosts, despite being against big government, applaud the government spying on its citizens. At least once per hour, some host makes a reference to those spineless democrats who are against extending the Patriot Act, e.g., It’s quite interesting to notice that right wingers don’t trust their government when it comes to taxes, but their distrust melts away in the face of law enforcement. This would obviously beg the question why anyone would trust the government with their safety if they don't trust it with their money, but that's a question better not asked.

Although at first, these right-wing talk show hosts hardly make any sense, after listening to them for a couple of days pretty much non-stop while driving around, you cannot but begin to appreciate the power of brainwashing. Partly this is due to the fact that in between their extreme messages, they also put a lot of good stuff, like self reliance, working hard, being decent. In other words, they like to refer to the old American values that enabled the settlers to build up a life in an often hostile environment.

Another reason for this brainwashing is that the talk shows play on a sense of group feeling. It’s pretty common to greet the host with the saying ‘You are a Good American!’, upon which he returns this compliment. I was hoping that some Abdallah would call in to see if he was also greeted a Good American, but unfortunately, most callers are white, blue eyed Americans.

What is interesting is that a caller’s comments are usually the starting point for yet another tirade, without ever referring back to the caller. I suspect they disconnect the caller as soon as he finished his question or comment. It seems the last thing they want is a discussion with their listeners.

The callers seem to be just fodder for the host to feel even further justified in his anger at the world. Also, by far most callers are fully in agreement with whatever the host is saying. There is hardly and discord between the host and the caller.

So why did I listen to this all day long? For one thing, there’s hardly an alternative: left-wing talk show radio doesn’t exist in the states I visited during my four day trip (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) and listening to regular radio is something I can do back home just as well. So in order to live the “American Experience”, there’s only one thing to listen to while driving: the never-ending tirades of Rush Limbaugh and his friends.