Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Power of TV, Pop Culture

Human beings are frustrating little creatures. You cannot force them to care about something. If it does not motivate them, then no matter what you do, it will not motivate them.

When I was teaching ad writing at K-State, one example always stuck with me. In a campaign aimed at teaching teens to buckle up, the ads kept trying to drive home the fear appeal of death. But, you see, the fear of death does not motivate most 16-year-olds. They don't think they can die. Then one clever copy writer got the idea. They showed two teen-agers on a date in the back seat with a set of parents driving. You see, teen-agers may not be afraid of dying, but they are mortally afraid of losing their license and having their embarrassing parents drive them around. Those ads changed behavior.

When I picked up my Columbus Dispatch this morning, there was a story that basically said that Americans, on average, can name more members of the Simpson family than they can protections afforded by the First Amendment.

Of course, underlying the entire study was the normative assumption that you REALLY SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION, BILL OF RIGHTS, AND GOVERNMENT. You really, really SHOULD. But you don't. And all the hand wringing of well meaning government pushers will not change that.

You see, I am a former political science major with a minor (although NMSU left it off my transcript) in constitutional law. So, you see, I really should care that you care. But I don't.

In turn, I know that you probably do care about popular culture. You watch American Idol both because it is entertaining and because you might need to talk about it over the water cooler tomorrow. And it's way more important not to be socially inept than to know that you have the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." I'm not a normative guy. I'm not going to spend a bunch of time worrying about how things should be. There's enough work just figuring out how things are.


P.S. Here's one of the reasons I am not a normative guy. The First Amendment begins, "Congress shall make no law ..." Now, one would think that the word "no" would be among the easiest to interpret in the entire constitution. So, I think, all First amendment cases should go something like this:

Justice: Does it abridge the freedom of speech?
Attorney: Yes.
Justice: Is it a law?
Attorney: Yes.
Justice: Did Congress make it?
Attorney: Yes.
Justice: Unconstitutional.

Seems pretty simple, right? D'oh!

In fact, only two justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, William O. Douglas and Hugo Black, have taken this literal stance. So, if they cannot get "no law" correct, then I wash my hands of the whole ordeal.


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