PHIL LONGENECKERContributing Writer
I believe the key to successful journalism these days lies in the art of catchy titles. You see, readers are merely fish waiting to be hooked by the shocking, you-won’t-believe-what-happens next,doctors-hate-this-one-simple-trick headliners that troll up and down your newsfeed. Bobbing silently, these catchy titles seem harmless until some unfortunate soul bites and is linked off to some ad packed, slow-loading site with its content in slideshow format.
And by the time you get there you don’t even care anymore about what that child celebrity looks like all grown up, even if number seven was supposed to surprise you. Click bait works. Hook, line and sinker. This article is not actually about masturbation despite what people who didn’t make it this far are saying in the comment section. But you have made it this far! Consider yourself hooked.
The election may be stressing you out, but consider this; what if I told you that you could no longer sleep indoors. That you had to survive the winter in a small shelter made of twigs and leaves. And that at any moment you could be snatched from the sky by a winged creature of death. And on top of all that, you had exactly one month left to run around frantically collecting acorns or walnuts or whatever else is laying on the ground to eat before the snow comes.
That’s what election season means to squirrels. So if you think the November election season is exhausting, take a moment to remember Goshen College’s second forest-related mascot. We have it better than they do. In my opinion, handling the polarized political landscape is a lot easier than handling the polar icecap that is Goshen, Indiana during the winter months.
Still, that’s a lot easier said than done. With squirrels, at least their objective is simple: stuff your face, don’t get eaten, pass out somewhere in a tree for 7 months. Our objectives, on the other hand, are less clear: educate yourself on issues, choose a stance that most closely aligns with your values, and vote…right? Alas, it’s not that simple. Unlike squirrels, we’re still left with unresolved questions.
What if my vote is for a candidate who only partially represents my values? What if both candidates contradict deeply held values of mine? How do I navigate relationships with people who I disagree with? For example, that shirtless white kid in cargo shorts who stole our house’s black lives matter sign after telling us it was racist? Who will he vote for?
The simple choice of Donald or Hillary is not a choice of acorn or walnut. Well, they’re both nuts. But surely, reader, you agree that politics is more than just a question of two names. Deeper questions – questions like What policies will bring equity or equality to society? Is peace order or is peace justice? Should I even vote? What is my role in the larger sociopolitical system, and how should I participate despite the various isms fundamental to my identity? These questions emerge upon informed examination of the issues, blurring the boundaries of either-or.
Neither presidential candidate can offer us solutions to every problem we face in society. In fact, the candidates embody a false dichotomy; a fallacy assuming every problem has two diametrically opposed solutions. But it’s more than that. Every day we unwittingly participate a broader election, electing how we engage the problems our society faces. The solutions, we find, are often a lot more complex than punching a hole next to a politician’s name.
I’m a college educated sort-of adult. Informed examination of the issues and reasoned decision-making is what society expects of me. Yet my generation is faced with an interesting problem, that I dub the Problem of Titles. Titles are supposed to preface content, not be content in and of themselves. But that’s not the way it feels on Facebook, Reddit, or (insert favorite internet news source).
Titles these days are click bait and sound bites, information so compacted that the meaning behind them is distorted. In our quest to consume ever more information, we lose out on what’s really behind the titles: the articles themselves.
Journalists are gatekeepers of information. Information is transformed into knowledge, which is transformed into values. Without good journalists, we can’t add nuance to our worldviews, with which we can see that a presidential election is more than a choice of either-or. It’s a yes followed by but. Good journalism is a two-way street. In my hasty consumption of information, I devalue real journalism and instead incentivize title-driven click bait whose shock value helps further polarize the political landscape.
I believe more information can help us to sort through the complex questions of today’s sociopolitical climate – the good stuff though – not the rawer, inflammatory sound bites. The more real journalism we have, the greater complexity we are forced to embrace. The more we read articles and not just headlines, the more nuance and humility affect our worldviews, which can lead to the softening even the most hardened of our convictions.
I’m guilty of reading more blurbs than blogs and consuming more catchy titles than content. Still, reading up on issues is important, especially in this election season. Check out the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Read the headlines, but also engage the articles. Hopefully my generation can swim safely in the flood of the information age and not get too caught up in the headlines.
Certainly that seems a lot easier than being a squirrel and going without a nut for 7 months. Oops, there’s a masturbation joke. Sorry mom, it was all part of my hook, line and sinker.