Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Manchurian Candidate

My grandfather is housebound and spends a lot of time on his computer. He frequently forwards me and my HipHop relatives outrageously inflammatory right-wing emails. He is not stupid, nor is he a particularly hateful person. But he grew up in East Texas and Louisiana a long time ago, so you can imagine how his upbringing wasn't particularly conducive to tolerance or openmindedness in regard to certain issues.

And because he is housebound, he has a need to connect with people. Thus the emails. They are outrageous and inflammatory, I guess, at least partly because he wants to inflame and outrage people, because, like Howard Stern or Bill O'Reilly or Johnny Knoxville, that's one way of getting attention. I don't blame my grandfather. I like the guy, I understand why he does this, and I don't mind the crap showing up in my inbox a couple of times per day. Sometimes I'll delete it without looking at it, sometimes I'll read it and snort derisively. Either way, I'm not bothered by these circumstances.

However. I recently had a discussion with someone very close to me. This person is smart, well-educated, and under the age of 30. She has a middling interest in politics and issues of public concern, and we frequently discuss these matters. She is a good-hearted person, of a somewhat liberal bent, and not remotely bigoted. Imagine my surprise when I discovered -- not more than two weeks ago -- that she believed that Barack Obama is a muslim. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

I was rather shocked by this revelation. I thought any smart person with a passing interest in politics would know that this simply is not true. It is, rather, one of many insidious anti-Obama rumors anonymously propagated by vicious hatemongers, and then repeated by non-anonymous hatemongers for cynical political gain.

But this idea was so firmly lodged in my friend's understanding, however, that it actually took a trip over to Snopes.com to prove that it wasn't true. At the time, I chalked this entire incident up as an anomaly. Surely it was some strange combination of circumstances that led to her adopting this idea.

But since that time, she has reported back to me that, in discussing this issue with her friends and co-workers, approximately 100% of the people she has talked to (about 10 people so far -- all professionals with college degrees) also believe this idea! Plus a few other pernicious ideas (Obama won't say the pledge of allegiance; Obama was born in Africa or the Middle East; etc).

Look: my support for Obama at this point amounts to my looking around at the other presidential candidates and determining that he's the least-bad alternative. I have many points of disagreement with his platform and his campaign, and I believe that there are many valid reasons to oppose his candidacy. But xenophobia isn't one of them. And the fact that xenophobes in this country have, according to the data available to me, been highly successful in foisting these lies upon educated, reasonably well-informed, non-xenophobic citizens is very disturbing to me.

I don't suppose there is much that can be done about this other than to debunk these lies where and when they appear. At least I can be assured that none of my regular readership (such as it is) will be surprised to hear that Obama was born in Hawaii, has never been a muslim, attends a Christian church, and has never had an issue with enthusiastically reciting the Pledge of Allegiance when appropriate. I mean, surely no one reading this right now believes that stuff. Surely. Right?


Gleemonex said...

You'd think, right?

Mr. Gleemonex, bless his heart, responds to the aforementioned emails with snopes links all the time, and he usually hits "reply all." I stopped doing that awhile ago -- I just got worn out. But you're absolutely right -- it is AMAZING how little critical thinking goes on, even amongst educated people (who, presumably, were forced to do at least a little critical thinking at one point in their lives, but perhaps I assume too much?).

Moms said...

Heh, I still do the snopes thing and ALWAYS hit reply all in an effort to shame the sender. I know that they are my family members, but damn yo I just can't stands the hate and lies.

This method has not discouraged the amount of forwarded right wing propaganda email of course.

HHL said...

nope! it's done for attention, and negative attention works just fine. but i'm glad someone has the wherewithal to slap this crap down. i think i'm probably just too lazy.