Transcript for Outrage 16 – How Political Consultants Use Outrage as a Political Weapon: Understanding the Manipulation Game – Michael Serazio

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[00:00:00]: David: Welcome to Outrage Overload, a Science podcast about outrage and lowering the temperature. This is episode 16.

[00:01:00]: We often long for the days when reason, debate and substantive policy discussion shaped democratic discourse. But let’s be real. It is unlikely that such a time ever existed, or at least not to the extent that we remember it through rose colored glasses. Once upon a time, political discourse was often dominated by a small elite of educated men, by the way, mostly white men.

****: These men were more able to engage in reason debate because they shared a common understanding of the world and the issues at hand. Here’s what that sounded like from 1956 when Adelaide Stevenson and Estes Kaler politely squared off in a presidential debate. I think if we’re going

****: Clip: to protect the small farmer and keep that this very valuable influence in our social and economic and political life, that some special measures like this are going to have to be taken.

[00:02:00]: Governor Stevenson, I think, uh, you are due for a. Little time now. I, well, sir, I would, um, I would say that the senator’s quite right that in, uh, many sections of the country, uh, especially the, uh, rural, uh, agricultural sections of the country, uh, the, uh, farm issue and the very rapid decline in farm income, the 27% drop in three years, uh, is the, uh, domestic issue of principle

****: David: concern that goes on like that for a long time with both gentlemen frequently complimenting each other as they present their opposing views.

****: Pretty boring by today’s standard, isn’t it? The world has changed dramatically since those days. Here’s an example from 2016. This is a

****: Clip: tough business to run for president. Oh, I, no, you’re a tough guy, Jeb by, and it’s, and we need to have a leader that is principal tough. You’re never gonna be president of the United State by, by insulting your way to the president.

****: Well, let’s see. I’m at 42 and you’re at three, so doesn’t matter so far. I’m doing better. Doesn’t matter so far. I’m doing better. You know, you started off over here, Jeb, you’re moving over further and further. Pretty soon you’re gonna be off the end.

****: David: Tempera guys. Do a thing at, as we’ve discussed in previous episodes, The rise of mass media and the internet has made it possible for anyone to participate in political discourse regardless of their education or background.

[00:03:00]: This has led to a more diverse and fragmented public sphere in which it is more difficult to find common ground. In addition, the rise of political polarization has made it even more difficult to have reason. Discussions about policy in today’s political climate, people are more likely to be divided along ideological lines, and they’re less likely to be willing to listen to opposing viewpoints.

****: As a result, we find ourselves in an era defined by the relentless pursuit of attention, where political communication has undergone a profound transformation. We’re immersed in a world of outrage, overload, sensationalism, and emotional manipulation, where political messages are carefully crafted to evoke strong reactions rather than stimulate thoughtful engagement.

****: This pervasive phenomenon of outrage porn has become a staple of modern political branding. And that’s what we’re going to talk about on this episode of the Outrage Overload Podcast. I’m your host, David Beck Meyer, and our guest for this episode is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Boston College.

[00:04:00]: Mike Serazio: So, uh, I am Mike Serazio. I’m a, uh, associate professor of communication in the Department of Communication at Boston College. And. I’m a former journalist, turned professor. Most of my research and my teaching is all about the media in some sense. Uh, in particular the kind of intersection of media and culture.

****: And specifically I like to study the people who create our media, the people who create, you know, political communication, um, sports, media, um, journalism, advertising. Um, I’m really interested in the kind of behind the scenes, and I’m especially interested in how. New media formats and new technologies impact their strategies and their approach to sort of content output.

[00:05:00]: David: Serazio takes us into the world of political consultants exploring the strategies they employ to construct and amplify emotional responses in their target audiences. It uncovers the machinations behind the facade of authenticity, revealing the calculated efforts to manufacture an image that resonates with voters while concealing the true intentions of political actors.

****: Consultants recognize that traditional forms of rational persuasion often fail to resonate with audiences as they betray their inherent intentionality. Instead, they have honed the art of evocative cultural presentations that appear less instrumental and more genuine by assuring the appearance of scripted messages and deploying amateur proxies.

****: Consultants aim to create a perception of authenticity that builds trust with the electorate. The satirical political ad from the group represent us, captures the idea. Hi,

****: Clip: I’m Gil Fulbright, the people that run my campaign, they’ve made this commercial and I’m in it. This campaign is not about me. It’s about crafting a version of me that’ll appeal to you.

****: A version that visits random work sites with paid actors pointing at things. A version of me that doesn’t find old people loathsome or pointless. Has a conventionally attractive, yet curiously, still family.

[00:06:00]: David: And what are the consequences of this relentless pursuit of emotional manipulation? Serazio argues that the rise of outrage driven politics undermines the notion of informed decision making, replacing it with a culture of surface level emotional responses.

****: He suggests that the very fabric of democratic governance is at stake as policy discussions are overshadowed by careful curated symbolism and the mobilization of affective responses. Political consultants strategically tap into people’s emotions. Harnessing outrage as a potent tool to galvanize support and rally their base by framing political discourse as a battle of good versus evil.

[00:07:00]: Consultants create a polarized landscape where rational dialogue takes a backseat to visceral reactions. As we navigate the waters of contemporary politics, it is essential to remain vigilant to the manipulation at play. Sirio challenges us to question the authenticity of our political landscape. He urges us to reclaimed reason, deliberation, and to resist the allure of outrage driven politics that serves only to further divide us.

****: So let’s unmask the politics of branding and authenticity with Michael Serazio.

****: Yeah, so, you know, this, the, the paper that I reached out to you, uh, about this branding politics paper, you know, it was kind of on my radar, you know, for, for a while, and it was kind of sitting in my queue of papers to look over and I, I did skim it. But then some other people, you know, referenced that paper and, and, and said, I should probably look into it a little more.

****: And so, so I did. And, uh, you know, and I, I know it’s not really exactly on the topic that we’re ta covering on the podcast, but I mean, there’s a lot of adjacencies to, to what we’re doing and, and, uh, you know, when you’re marketing and using emotion, that pretty much starts to roll into this, uh, area of, I’m calling kind of this outr porn.

[00:08:00]: Kind of idea where you’re trying to get people in a excited state, uh, all the time. And, and this is coming from a different perspective, cuz most of the time I’ve been talking to, um, social psychologists, you know, other, other psychologists and political scientists and historians and social scientists.

****: And, and I think you’re the first, um, sort of marketing and communications kind of as, you know, more related. I, I think that’s a little bit closer to where, you know, this whole media production side. In advertising and, um, that, that’s an interesting perspective and I, I think listeners want to know more. I get asked that a lot, that listeners wanna know more, more, a little bit more about that side.

****: But it’s a space I’m not super familiar with and there’s some jargon in there that I tried to kind of, you know, take off, went to the Wiki and tried to figure out exactly what I was looking at. And to be honest with you, I don’t. I wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to try to explain these terms to anyone else.

****: So, um, it’d be great if you could tell us a little bit about, uh, these, the, these terms, sign value, use value, and ethical surplus.

[00:09:00]: Mike Serazio: Absolutely. So Seinfeld and use value are terms, and I won’t get too theoretically in the weeds here, but they are kind of bar borrowed in some ways from, um, sort of Marxist critique and Marxist philosophy.

****: But I think it’s actually, it, it does more to obscure their, the understanding of those ideas to, to go that direction as opposed to just trying to simplify it. So here’s an interesting way of framing it, which is what is the purpose of a vote, right? I mean, in theory, Sort of democratic ideals and democratic principles suggest that the reason why you vote for somebody.

****: In a rational sense is that you hope that this person is going to represent your interests and that they are going to create policies that will, um, better improve your life, your, your, you know, your life, or, um, the opportunities that you might have, the material conditions in which you find yourself. You know, that, that, that, that there’s a, there’s a, that, that, that’s the use value of a vote, right?

[00:10:00]: That like, that a vote, uh, on behalf for a particular candidate will deliver something to you of material good that or will create a set of policies that will help your life in some concrete way. Sign value suggests that the point of a vote is to reaffirm your identity in some way, that it’s actually not the kind of material policy outcome that voting for this person will get you, but rather the way in which.

****: A politician becomes not unlike a kind of branded object, right? That you define, that you define your identity, and you define who you are as a person by virtue of supporting this politician over that politician. And so, you know, what we would say in, in the context, kind of more specifically of how this might apply is, you know, if, and I’ll, I mean I’m may be betraying my own, my own political leanings here, but let’s take, you know, sort of Donald Trump’s supporters, right?

[00:11:00]: You know, who’s the most consequential political force of, of, uh, of, you know, in a generation arguably. Why do Trump supporters vote for Donald Trump? Right? If we look at, if we look at what legislation did he achieve during his presidency, um, and actually in, I, I believe in 2020, the republican, the official Republican party platform had, had effectively no platform to speak of.

****: It was pure identity. You know, what was the single signature legislative achievement? Of Donald Trump’s presidency. It was a tax cut overwhelmingly tilted toward corporations in the very affluent. Now, is that why all of Donald Trump’s supporters voted for him? That outcome, that policy outcome? I doubt it.

[00:12:00]: And maybe that’s being generous. Rather what Trump symbolizes and, and I, I think there’s others arguably on the left as well as, as well as the right. What Trump offers voters is symbolic value is sign value, right? Is is a position within the culture war as opposed to a set of policy goals that will manifest an impact on material conditions.

****: And so, The idea is that as branding, as the logic of branding overtakes politics, people are more inclined to vote for who represents them symbolically as opposed to who might represent them in terms of policy formulation. Yeah.

****: David: And what, yeah, so it’s, it sounds a little bit like in a very extremely crude way.

****: It’s like sort of the use value would be like, I’m voting for them because they’re gonna literally lower my taxes, or I’m gonna have, my business is gonna get better and the sign value would be like, I’m gonna put bumper stickers on my car and wave, wave this flag.

****: Mike Serazio: Exactly. Precisely. And so for, I mean, for, for a segment of Trump voters in a very particular tax bracket, they, Mel, they may well have been vi voting for use value.

[00:13:00]: But I, I would be hard pressed to say that that was the majority of the voters. Right. It seemed as though, and, and you even heard this, I mean, you heard this from both voters and, and analysis of voting that one of the, one of the appeals of Trump for his supporters was not simply what he said, but that he had the balls to say it right.

****: Like, like, like, you know, a big. It felt as though a big reason for the support that he garnered was because he was willing to blow through the guardrails of political correctness. And that in itself was, was reason to, uh, you know, to support him. And that’s a, that’s a performative thing. That’s a symbolic thing, right?

****: That has nothing to do with, that has nothing to do with taxes, that has nothing to do with, you know, foreign policy that has nothing to do with regulations. That is, I mean, it’s very, it’s very performative and very culture war. And it’s very to the, you know, to the sort of crux of your podcast. It’s very emotionally oriented, right?

[00:14:00]: It’s very kind of like tapping into, um, you know, by and large our politics have been, battles have become battles over identity. And if you’re, if you’re battling for identity, you’re battling on the level of emotion and you’re battling on the level of perceived authenticity among candidates. Right. And, uh,

****: David: you, and there’s a little bit of a circular nature to that, right?

****: I mean, you kind of get people riled up. So then that causes them to be more interested in the, in the, uh, identity emotional side. And then it kind of, then they ask for it, then you give it to ’em, then they ask for it, then you give it to ’em, kind of thing.

****: Mike Serazio: Yes. And also, but also as a side note, one of the great narratives about the Republican Party for decades now has been that they have riled up the voters, but they haven’t necessarily delivered the goods, right?

****: So that you’re keeping, you’re keeping folks in a state of high degen. You’re keeping, you’re keeping supporters in a state of constant agitation without ever. Satisfying the thing that is riling them up. Right? Which on one hand means that, you know, a voter keeps coming, coming back to you for that, you know, for that, um, quench right.

****: Quenching the thirst, but it doesn’t ultimately satisfy. Right.

[00:15:00]: David: I mean, I think as you said before, you could argue there’s many cases where this kind of thing is going on with the Democratic side as well. I mean, you could argue they did the same thing where they’d try to get people forever excited about.

****: Say, uh, abortion rights and that never actually dealt with it cuz they thought it would never, the republicans would never want to give that up as a, as a fundraising tool. And wow, guess what they did? They did do that. And um, you know, I, I think another couple points to sort of add a little fairness to the Trump side is I think if there was, I think some of the use value voting might, might have been whether it was perceived and, and, and, you know, accurate or not, but things like immigration.

****: Policy. I think there were cases there where they were looking for specific immigration things and, and, and I think there’s some others as well. Sure.

****: Mike Serazio: Yeah. I, I, I can see that.

****: David: Um, so yeah. So then what’s the, so tell me about ethical surplus. I, I get that part yet. Totally, totally. And I, I guess it’s interesting that you mentioned the Marxism thing, cuz that’s kind of where, why I went when I heard the surplus thing.

****: Okay. I thought I got

[00:16:00]: Mike Serazio: thinking about that. Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. So ethical surplus is, is a term that actually comes from, uh, an advertising scholar by the name of Adam Arvidson. Um, he’s, uh, I believe he’s Dutch, if I’m not mistaken. I, I haven’t met him, but I’ve, I’ve used his work frequently over the years, and it’s, it really goes to the core.

****: It’s, it’s less about politics, although I, I can use it in the context of politics here, and it’s much more about. What a brand is and what a brand does. So, uh, you know, branding is a, I mean, brands have been exist, you know, brands have existed for a century, but it has really been in the last say, 20 to 30 years that branding as a strategy, as a practice has, has become ascendent and, and, and a basically, branding is effectively, um, assigning a personality, a human-like aspect to inanimate trademarked goods.

[00:17:00]: It’s the, it’s the way in which, um, we have been convinced, delusively, I would say, into believing that there is actual material difference between brand branded goods that are otherwise quite similar, right? The, the notion that, you know, Pepsi and Coke have spent, you know, millions and millions of dollars over the years to cultivate very different.

****: Personalities, uh, or to attempt to cultivate whether or not it takes a different story, but to attempt to cultivate very different personalities for sugar, water. And, and by and large, most advertising at this point in time is based upon trying to create that ethical surplus that, um, that, um, surplus of meaning, that surplus of personality, that surplus of immaterial qualities that gets attached to a material good.

****: Um, because that’s how they can sell it for more money, right? So like, You could have a pair of Nike sneakers that were made in the exact same fashion that had all the same, you know, design qualities and, and, and stitching and all that, and they just didn’t have the swoosh logo on them, but it was otherwise the exact same pair of sneakers.

[00:18:00]: Why can you sell that exact same pair of sneakers with a little swoosh on it for, you know, or a Jordan logo on it for a hundred, $150 more than what it costs. The reason you can do it is because of ethical surplus. It’s because of this, this kind of, um, imaginary world that we all consensually enter into, into believing that, that my shoes have a personality.

****: That my soda has a personality, that my car has a personality that’s ethical surplus. And that’s how branding works. Branding convinces us that there is some human-like quality to the otherwise material goods that we buy. And the point here is actually somewhat similar to what we were just talking about a second ago, which is that.

[00:19:00]: You know, a hundred years ago when advertising, uh, mass advertising first emerged along with kind of modern consumer society goods were sold in a much more rational way, right? You buy, you, you buy, um, this hammer because it’ll hammer better than that other hammer, right? What we’ve seen happen over the course of a century of advertising is a shift toward you buy this hammer because you’re the type of person that would have a hammer like this.

****: And this will signal to other people in society and in your social networks that you are that type of person. By owning this hammer, it’s not about what the hammer will do, it’s about how the hammer will make you seem. And so in the way that ethical surplus defines. The value that’s invested socially and commercially into, um, identities for goods.

****: Um, the same thing can be said for, as we were talking about a second ago, right? The reason that you vote for this candidate is not because of what they’re necessarily gonna do for you in your life, but rather how they’re going to make you seem in a social context. And so, so that’s kind of, and, and, you know, there’s, that’s a, um, there, there’s probably a, a more elaborate way of explaining ethical surplus, but I think that’s probably for our purposes, the kind of best translation

****: David: of it.

[00:20:00]: Right. That gets the gist of it. It’s sort of a, a little bit of a, sort of a premium kind of thing. Like, uh, I think of cosmetics and things like that, that, you know, for the price of, you know, thing costs 15 cents and they’re selling it for $15,000 or something, you know, it’s like Absolutely. Cause of that brand.

****: Mike Serazio: Yeah. Because most products now at this point in time, like most things are good enough, right? I mean, like, you know, the, the, the premium that’s, I mean, certainly in the realm of a lot of clothing and apparel, you know, to some degree, even like with cars, like a lot of the products that we tend to buy are, are good enough at their basic unbranded level.

****: And yet there’s a huge economy out there for plenty of branded, branded goods, and there’s a whole part of the economy that depends on us believing that these products symbolize something about our identities that say something about who we are and our values and our lifestyle and our habits, and so on and so forth.

****: So politics in my argument has in some ways followed that trajectory that we saw happen with, you know, consumer goods o over the last, you know, you know, 20, 30 years or so. Yeah.

[00:21:00]: David: Yeah. Well, I probably was always doing it, but I, it’s probably something that they really ramped up is, is, is, is one thing about it.

****: You know, they really started to make that a big part of it. You know, it’s, and I think, like you say, our whole culture is a little bit like that, probably gone that direction a bit more. Maybe it’s the Kardashians, so we can blame them maybe. Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s like, you know, we don’t really, we’re not as interested in sort of the facts and, and, and where things go.

****: But, um, yeah, so, you know, one of the, the, the things that I, I found, uh, you know, the close are, uh, you know, literally right there in, in, you know, the kind of things I talk about with the podcast was, uh, you were talking about it, it, it, you quote, um, you know, a, um, a, a political operative, uh, a campaign. I think it was a campaign strategist or something along those lines.

****: And, you know, and they talk about how, you know, They’re, they, they’re, they, they pretty much say it outright, you know, they wanna get people to say, I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve gotta do something about it and I’ve gotta do something about it. Now, you know, this is this kind of moral outrage, indignation kind of stuff.

[00:22:00]: And, um, you know, this indignation marketing and I, and I was curious about, you know, in those conversations, Did they appreciate, like, like this is one person running one campaign and they’re trying to get their candidate to win, but do they consider or appreciate the sort of wider, you know, macro effects of, of this kind of things, pol, you know, which ultimately is sort of polarizing people and I’d argue kind of tearing the country apart?

****: Mike Serazio: Yes, I think they do. I think intellectually and, and maybe in kind of an existential way, they, they probably appreciate that the system that they’re contributing to with their work, You know, has deleterious effects on society and polarization and, um, like you say, tearing the country apart. But that’s at a level of consideration that has no bearing upon the day-to-day work that has to get done, which is to try to try to get people to vote for your candidate.

[00:23:00]: And so, without question, I raised, I, you know, I asked all of my interviewees for the, for that research that, that, um, that you read from about a decade ago now. And then I updated and I’ve got a book coming out next year with a couple of chapters that are devoted to politics and authenticity and emotion.

****: And one of the questions I asked of these folks, uh, in these. Interviews in the last couple years is, you know, in your, um, strategy, which is more important that you reach people emotionally or that you peak reach people through rationality and every single one of them effectively said it’s more important to, to leverage people emotionally.

****: Uh, it’s, it’s more important to, um, it’s, it’s, you know, some of them would say things like, uh, you know, if I could choose an opponent for my candidate client, it would be somebody who’s talking numbers, who’s talking policy, who’s talking white papers. Because people tune that out. It’s harder to process cognitively.

[00:24:00]: It’s less entertaining. It doesn’t catch your eye as much. And also just to blame it on the media here a little bit too, that type of content is not conducive to what’s rewarded within our media environment. It’s always been the case that as the journalistic aphorism goes, if it bleeds, it leads. You know, television news has long been oriented toward sensational eye-catching, um, scandalous, emotionally inducing content, social media, which has effectively subsumed, uh, the mass media.

****: Uh, not replaced it, but I would argue subsumed it. In the past, uh, you know, let’s call it two decades, is just as much driven by those logics, right? Because what is the, what do the algorithms want? They want content that emotionally engages you because that is how they keep you on the platform. That’s all.

****: That’s all that Facebook and Twitter and any TikTok, any of them want from us. They just want our time. They just want our attention. And the thing that keeps that most is emotionally charged content. That’s what goes viral. White papers do not go viral. Rational arguments do not go viral. And so, right. The media itself is, um, incentivized.

[00:25:00]: So I should say the media incentivizes, um, content that will create outrage. The media, you know, the, the platforms, um, in the way that they write, the biases of their algorithms are encouraging certain people to speak. And, and, uh, and for content to be created in a particular fashion that’s much more emotional than it is, uh, than it tends to be rational.

****: And I think it’s not to say that, it’s not to say that that, that, that the printed word, the written word, cannot engage people emotionally, but relative to, I do think that images work on us more emotionally than the written or printed word does. And. Television is obviously, you know, by definition more oriented toward toward the image.

[00:26:00]: And social media as well has, has drifted over the course of two decades of its existence toward, uh, being, you know, image dominant relative to what the internet was in the nineties and even early aughts, right? Um, where, you know, sort of it was textual dominant. Um, and I think that that induces emotion and induces the outrage machine.

****: David: So, Well, and with these new, newer, most recent platforms, it’s now you gotta condense it down to, you know, a 15 second reel or a, you know, loop, and Exactly. You’re not really gonna include 14 tables and references to all that data in a 15 second loop.

****: Mike Serazio: Brevity. Brevity is biased toward emotionality. Brevity is not biased toward nuance.

****: Brevity is not, not, it’s by definition not nuanced toward depth and biased toward depth. You know, so platforms that want quick, short. Formats are going to solicit and illicit content that tends to be more emotionally engaging in nature.

****: David: Right. So, um, you know, I think I kind of know the answer to this question, and it often comes back to the same thing I always get is like, you know, we met the enemy and the enemy as us, but what, what do you think would change their behavior?

****: Mike Serazio: The behavior of the pol political consultants that scheme this? Yeah, I mean

[00:27:00]: David: are there campaign, are there, are there, are there, are there sort of, you know, larger in, in, you know, say institutional things? I mean, I mean, are there campaign finance changes we could make or something? I mean, do you, do you see anything that could happen that could change this model?

****: So we’d be, we’d have less of

****: Mike Serazio: this. It’s a great question. Um, and I, I. The short answer is, the short answer is, is, is so whenever I’m asked to sort of offer up any kind of prediction or, uh, estimation, anything like that, I of, I often default to instinctive humility about being able to, um, predict such true situation.

[00:28:00]: But I think if we take, just to be topical, what’s happening at Twitter right now, that could point toward one solution, which is to say that if indeed, There is a, a, a legitimate, um, verifiable, uh, exodus of users from Twitter because of the way in which, the way in which Musk’s leadership has turned up the outrage volume on that platform, an advertisers flee, which that that is actually documented.

****: And verifiable. Then you may have a kind of case study that would induce behavior of those who contribute to the outrage machine. Right. You could say, like, you could say like, well, audiences are, are put off by this type of stuff. Because really, I mean like Twitter’s effectively become, you know, I mean, Twitter was always a hot mess.

****: But now it seems as though people are even less willing to put up with it, people being put off by the outrage culture of Twitter. That could be the thing that you may see a response from those people who design platforms, who create campaigns as a kind of lessons learned is like, oh, like. People don’t like this, so maybe we’ll stop, you know, creating platforms that are incentivized in this way.

[00:29:00]: Maybe we’ll stop designing campaigns that are, um, strategized in this way. But I, I say that and I, I also don’t quite believe that that’s necessarily gonna

****: David: happen. So, r right, right. There’s the, the power of the other side is like a, it’s like water flows downhill. It snaps back to that so, so rapidly. You know, you, you always, I, I’m always re reluctant to, to jump into, everything’s a conspiracy theory and somebody’s out there, you know, organizing all this.

****: I think, I think, you know, your, your conversations and, you know, um, and, and, and the, the data that you’re reporting sort of shows. It doesn’t really have to be a conspiracy for these things to happen. These, each individual campaign is trying to get their person elected and they’re gonna do it. You know, the way they think is best.

****: So it doesn’t have to be a conspiracy for, for this stuff, you know, to happen to have these macro effects. And I don’t know if, if, if, you know, you wanted to comment on that at all.

****: Mike Serazio: Yeah, definitely. Because I, I think, you know, talking about conspiracy, I, I think, um, You know, the, um, conspiracies have been a part of American life for all of its history.

[00:30:00]: Back in the, uh, 1960s, there was a very famous book, uh, written by, uh, historian Richard, Richard Hofstetter called the, uh, uh, paranoid, uh, streak in American, the Paranoid Style of American Politics. I believe it was, there’s a long tradition of conspiracy culture within American history. The, the, the problem usually in, in my estimation, Is it the biggest conspiracy of all in the hallways of power is that nobody really knows what they’re doing.

****: Like that’s the conspiracy. Like it’s not like most conspiracies depend upon an assumption of tremendous competence and like excellent savvy execution and also, People being tight-lipped and my, uh, you know, my, my reading of history and my, my reading of my data, um, is that none of those things are the case.

****: You know, there’s a phrase out in Hollywood, like nobody knows anything and it usually is used to like, try to explain why some movies are popular and some movies aren’t. But like the same thing can apply to politics and the same thing can apply to all kind of all walks of media and cultural life that nobody really knows anything.

[00:31:00]: So, I don’t think that there’s any elaborate conspiracy as fascinating and, you know, disturbing as some of like the QAN on subculture might be. But there doesn’t have to be a conspiracy around outrage culture when it’s built into our systems, right? And like those systems are not created by someone.

****: Clever at the top. Those systems are perpetuated by virtue of, I think, technological affordances. Not to, not to go like full Marsha McLuhan here, but like, you know, our, we, we build our technological tools, you know, we shape our technological tools and then they shape us. And I think that that’s a heavy part of it.

****: I think there’s a political economy critique here, which is to say that those with more wealth have the ability to shape systems in certain ways, but you know, not in ways that are like. Predictable and coordinated and executable in like a, in like a tidy fashion. Right? There’s just been too many examples throughout, even recent American history about like, if there was a conspiracy, it would’ve gone down differently, right?

[00:32:00]: Like, I mean, if, if it was, you know, if the US invaded Iraq for, you know, for, you know, the claim, no blood for oil claim, like it would’ve, they would’ve been more competent. Like it was, it was, it was tremendously incompetent, right? If, uh, you know, the, the titans of Wall Street had really known what they were doing with financial derivatives and, you know, uh, credit default swaps in like the late two thousands, it wouldn’t have crashed the economy.

****: And like all these cases were just ones of just like catastrophic failure. And so to believe in conspiracies requires you to overlook the catastrophic failure that tends to be the norm in our politics and our culture and our media. And so the real conspiracy again, you know, is just that nobody knows, has any idea what they’re doing, and can sort of be part about part of this outrage machine and this outrage culture in a way that sort of fumbles about given the conditions you’re trying to react to these conditions as opposed to control them.

[00:33:00]: David: Right. Yeah. You know, I’m not saying there isn’t one, but it’s like people always think this is the only way this could happen. It’s like, no, this, this can happen. Just sort of because water flows downhill, you know, it’s just sort of the way the natural tendencies in each individual acting on their own.

****: And there’s a lot of copying too. I mean, somebody does a thing and then everybody else sort of copies it.

****: Mike Serazio: Absolutely. Copycat, copycat logic is so pivotal to understanding politics, media, and culture. Something does well and you format, you know, 10, 15 different versions of it. Then it doesn’t do well anymore.

****: And you say like, why didn’t it do, like, you know, like, and the logic is never like, well, it was kind of random in the first place. Like, you know, but yeah, I think that’s, that’s absolutely the right take. Yeah. That’s,

****: David: that’s, that’s a good way to look at it. Yeah. So, um, yeah. Well, thank you for making again, for, uh, for making time to come on the show.

****: I really appreciate it. No

****: Mike Serazio: worries, David. Thank you so much. All right. Thanks,

****: David: Michael. All right. Take care. Peace. Uh, bye-bye. Bye.

[00:34:00]: That is it for this episode of the Outrage Overload Podcast, the links to everything we talked about on this episode. Go to outrage Follow the show on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook at outrage overload July. Shaping up to be a busy month for the podcast. I’m working on a packed schedule of episodes including both bonus and regular episodes.

****: These episodes will coincide with some terrific new book releases and I’m scrambling to get everything ready. I’m hoping to release several episodes back to back to back in July. Wish me luck. And keep an eye out for some exciting guests and interesting perspectives.

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