Monday, February 29, 2016

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.


            I drive to work in the morning and my car radio is always tuned to the Concert Programme, so I enjoy about 25 minutes of classical music en route. A jolly way to prepare for the day, especially as in the earlier morning the Concert Programme seems to prefer the lively early Baroque pick-me-up of Vivaldi or the cheerful Classical bounce of Mozart to the Romantic musings of Beethoven and his followers. When I drive home, I’m usually listening to a jazz CD. Jazz and classical music – surely that is the heart of worthwhile music, isn’t it?

When I eat my breakfast near the kitchen radio, I am of course listening to Morning Report on National Radio – the only possible mixture of news and intelligent commentary. Yes, before the evening meal I do usually watch TV ONE news – for all its manifest faults - but after dinner, when and if I am doing the dishes in the kitchen, I am again tuned to National Radio. Earlier, I might have listened to such commentary as Checkpoint. Then I go upstairs and set about doing something like reading or preparing work or writing this blog. And if I have any music playing in the background (which is only sometimes) it will be either classical or jazz, on CD or on some computer-accessed station such as Radio Swiss Classic.

You see what I am doing here, don’t you? I am constructing my own soundscape – upmarket news and commentary and highbrow music.

And given this self-chosen cocoon, it is easy for me to drift into the delusion that my selected soundscape is the norm.

Surely this is what ALL intelligent people listen to?

And of course, it isn’t.

The audience for the Concert Programme (or Concert FM, or Radio National Concert, or whatever it is now called) is minuscule. On any given evening it is being listened to by – at most – a couple of thousand people nationwide. I know that this fact leads neoliberal sharks to suggest scrapping it and I personally would loudly lament its loss. But it is a fact nevertheless.

It is also a fact that National Radio is the most widely listened-to and respected radio station in the country. This further fact leaves neoliberals grinding their teeth and wishing there was some way of spiking this independent entity that does not speak the language of commerce. I would have to note, however, that even though no other individual radio station has the audience of National Radio, collectively the many commercial stations, with their mix of pop or rock music and superficial talkback and drivel pretending to be news, gain more listeners than National Radio.

So my soundscape – the sounds that influence me nearly every day – is in no way the national norm or average. It in no way reflects a majority opinion and I would have to be very arrogant indeed to assume that it is the only soundscape for intelligent people – even if that delusion still lurks in my mind.

I think I am not the only one to suffer from such a delusion, however. Users of social media are often under the delusion that the opinions they share with their “friends” represent some sort of social consensus – or at least majority opinion. Look at all those hits given to postings. Look at the wealth of comments (often showing a poverty of expression) that follow so many postings. Once the commentariat of Facebook gets going, it convinces itself that its agreed opinions are the only possible opinions. How strident they become. But Facebook is a chosen environment. It is not society at large, and what you and your “friends” agree on represents only what you and your non-representative “friends” agree on.

I was delighted to have this demonstrated a couple of months back. All over Facebook, there were postings saying what huge popular support there was for the distressingly dull “Red Peak” flag design. Apparently there was a “surge” of support for it. Apparently it was what the mass of New Zealanders wanted, as opposed to the other designs that had been chosen by the official design committee. Postings kept coming up purporting to show how its colours represented the true national identity. And what a great victory for the popular will it was that, with the advocacy of the Green Party, “Red Peak” was added to the other four designs in the first round of voting over the flag.

Came the ballot and of the five options…. Red Peak came third, some way behind the two more popular choices.

Of course (much as it doesn’t appeal to me) this does not necessarily mean that Red Peak was a worse design. Of course it does not mean that one cannot criticise the two preferred options [or like the two less popular options]. But it does mean that a lot of people were misled into thinking they represented a consensus when they were only looking at the inside of their chosen cocoon.

Maybe this is merely an amplification of the old truism that we think our circle of acquaintances is the whole world. But having so many like-minded people on a chosen media platform really does reinforce the delusion, when we should all take the time, frequently, to wriggle out of our cocoons.

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