Aiding and abetting the dark side

What is "promotion"?

Is it possible to promote something by attacking it?

While this is not a new question for me, I was reminded of it yesterday when I learned of WorldNetDaily's attack on a book ostensibly written for the purpose of sex education which (claims WND) is a sexually explicit diatribe aimed at converting little girls into lesbian behavior. In a story headlined "Wal-Mart promotes book calling God 'fat black dyke'," the sinister Wal-Mart (previously targeted for a host of homo-loving behavior) is accused of "promoting" the evil book. This "promotion" consisted of the appearance of the book at Wal-Mart's website:

A book that family organizations in Canada had warned about just weeks ago found its way into the Wal-Mart stock list, and while it calls God a "fat black dyke" and provides how-to information for same-sex experimentation, the store said it's the "stuff youth need to know."

It's called "The Little Black Book for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality", produced by St. Stephens' Community House in Toronto, an organization that has fled its Christian foundation.

WND notes that "since the publishing of WND's story at 1 a.m." yesterday, "Wal-Mart has removed the book from its website." I don't know whether the listing process is computer-generated, but obviously, the beleaguered Wal-Mart did not want to be accused of promoting fat black lesbian gods, and pulled the book from its web site.

That, however, did not stop the evil book from being listed at Amazon.com, where in front of my eyes I saw its sales ranking position rise dramatically, from #33,294 to #23,369 in two hours after which I saw yesterday's WND piece, to this morning's #11,706. Earlier yesterday, Amazon''s listing claimed "Only 1 left in stock--order soon (more on the way)," but now they have plenty: "In Stock. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com."

The irony fascinates me, and I'm reminded of Anita Bryant putting gay rights on the cover of Newsweek in the 1970s and Jerry Falwell selling lurid videos filmed at Gay Pride events. All moral issues aside, I think people are titillated by such things, and they are a good way to get attention and bring traffic.

The problem for the attackers is that they bring attention and traffic to the people attacked. If I wrote a book and it wasn't selling, I'd be tickled pink to see WND attack it. With any luck, that might lead to bigger, more organized attacks -- the AFA, the FRC could chime in, and then maybe some angry television personalities.

This phenomenon of profiting from attacks is well known in the blogosphere -- something any unknown blogger lucky enough to be attacked by a big blogger knows. (That's why most big bloggers would ignore attacks by little bloggers, but few little bloggers would ignore attacks from big bloggers. Threats of litigation by the big against the little are even better.)

Whether such attacks actually combat the evil complained of is certainly open to question. Sure, there's no denying that people are shocked, for the time being. But what's shocking today might not be shocking tomorrow.

Then there are George Lakoff's "framing" observations. While I disagree with Lakoff's political philosophy, some of what he says about the framing mechanism applies here:

It is, of course, a directive that cannot be carried out -- and that is the point. In order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. There are four morals.

Moral 1. Every word evokes a frame.

A frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking. The word elephant evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs, and so on.

Moral 2: Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.

The word trunk, as in the sentence "Sam picked up the peanut with his trunk," evokes the Elephant frame and suggests that "Sam" is the name of an elephant.

Moral 3: Negating a frame evokes the frame.

Moral 4: Evoking a frame reinforces that frame.

Every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it is strengthened.
(Bold in original.)

The reason I hate to admit that Lakoff is right is that as a libertarian and as an individualist it deeply disturbs me to concede that there are so many unthinking people in this world. To Lakoff, of course, the fact that they are driven by processes that are not logical at all means only that his side must come up with equally powerful (and equally illogical) "frames."

This might come down to the human need for emotional satisfaction. (Something I've discussed as the entertainment factor in the Ann Coulter context.)

Finding out what people want to believe and then appealing to whatever that is seems to be the most important thing. Whether it's WND, Lakoff, Coulter, or the responsible shapers of public opinion we'd never call demagogues, in my darker moments I'm tempted to worry about whether some humans simply want to be led.

If I had any inclination to "lead," my dark side would be enough to make a communitarian out of me.

(Now there's a dark thought.)

posted by Eric on 11.18.06 at 10:06 AM










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