Move Along: The Car Crash is Fake
Real Americans Don’t Give a Shit About the Culture Wars

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 2 January 2022

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I have let myself get too worked up for too long about the culture wars on Twitter and its extensions on cable TV. They are not based in reality, but rhetoric. So this year, I’m ignoring them.

I think we can trace today’s ideological Wrestlemania in part to Donald Trump’s invented facts about Obama’s birth (he’s not an immigrant) or a Mexican invasion (when Trump announced his candidacy, undocumented immigration from Mexico was actually at a fifteen-year low). Likewise, Hilary Clinton’s ill-advised characterization of Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables” unnecessarily inflamed nearly half the country. The rest of what we are living through feels like the reverberation of these original sins.

Of course, none of today’s caustic exchanges would have gained traction were it not for a media industry intent on milking every last penny of engagement from sensationalizing such rhetoric and aggravating as many viewers as possible. And no, I don’t blame social media for this. Social media, particularly when it’s used in politics, is merely a feeder for cable television. Neither a QAnon conspiracy nor a racist slur truly hits the MainStage until it migrates from Twitter to CNN or FOXNews, where it it is either championed or condemned more loudly than any Internet platform can. Social media is just the A/B testing of television content’s ability to polarize.

As a result, we’re contending with a media environment where everyone is supposed to be on one side of an incipient social civil war or another. One channel will have us believe that 40% of Americans are ready for a bloody coup if another democrat wins in 2024. The other insists that people who live in cities are either violent Blacks or elitist urbanites preparing for totalitarian control.

The millionaires and media celebrities who are flown to Manhattan to appear on FOXNews Gutfeld!the most profitable corporate media show in its time slot — act as if they were the downtrodden, unacknowledged heart and soul of middle America, and uniquely qualified to critique liberals for wearing expensive clothes at the Met Gala. Only they can feel red state pain, and express its humiliation under the boot of The Squad’s totalitarian empire.

If they did ask their limo drivers to bring them to the part of Queens that AOC represents and where I teach at the public college, they would see that urban people are just as working class as the people in the so-called “flyover country.” And no, the people walking the streets of Flushing are not afraid of red state people coming to attack them. They’re just trying to earn enough money to make rent. Yes, they pay the federal taxes that fund projects in red states, but they are not complaining about it the way many who would falsely set red and blue state working class people against each other want us to believe.

Meanwhile, an evening with MSNBC’s hosts — though certainly more fact-based — leaves me feeling as if a bloody insurrection is in the works. Even the so-called anti-democratic movement of recalls and recounts — such as the highly mocked CyberNinja audit in Arizona — simply confirmed existing vote tallies. Was it necessary? No. Was it a coup? Not really. And yes, Twitter is filled with anti-vax conspiracies, but not every effort to return to normal, face-to-face living should be condemned as red state denialists brewing dangerous new strains of Covid.

For as I travel America — red and blue — I don’t see any of this insanity on the ground. I see people trying to make ends meet, confused about the best way to get though the pandemic, concerned about the changing climate (as well as who may exploit it), and worried for the nation in which their children will one day be adults. Life is hard enough without television anchors and talk show hosts imploring us to question the good faith efforts of everyone, everywhere, to simply get by. They are not expressing our anger, they are stoking it.

Yes, there are real issues to learn about: abortion rights, gerrymandering, legislative control over elections, the endless pandemic, wealth disparity, racism, and climate change. These are actionable issues, yet necessary legislation to address them is actually stymied by the fake wars over how they reflect the values in one’s broader cultural portfolio. We mustn’t let the shock jocks of cable news convince us that the conversations on social media represent the state of debate, or that what we post on these platforms even matters.

Don’t feed the trolls. Feed the hungry.