Friday, June 10, 2005

We've always been monkeys

Reading Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt (idea guy) and Stephen J. Dubner (word guy), and it's a blast. You've probably heard of this book because in it he (Levitt) posits that the decrease in crime in the 90s was due to abortion, in that the generation that would have been the criminals of the day were presumably greatly decreased due to being snuffed in the womb. Well, of course, I doubt we can ever end that debate, because the correlation is nearly impossible to prove. Therefore, that's not the topic of this post, so if you've not surfed away at the drop of the "a" word, you can relax. Maybe.

What blew my mind into the void was how much the mass media had to do with the waxing and waning of the Ku Klux Klan. More to the point, the fact that the mass media I'm speaking of was that of 1915 (!!!) and the early 1940s.

Apparently, when the infamous movie about the Klan, D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (in terms of innovative movie spectacle, it was the Star Wars of its day), was released, it caused a huge reinvigoration of the Klan which lasted until the World Wars overshadowed events. In the 40s, a man by the name of Stetson Kennedy (couldn't make that one up, couldja?) infiltrated the Klan with the intention of finding a way to bring them down. One day, while watching children play spygames, he noticed how similar their passwords and behavior were to the secret structures, passwords, and activities of the Klan. He realized that if he could somehow expose the silliness of this side of it to the world at large, it would humiliate and thereby render them impotent. He contacted the producers of the radio program Adventures of Superman and gave them the whole box of Klan secrets, which the producers then worked into the shows where Superman took on the Klan. The next week after the show, kids across America where running around doing all the Klan handshakes, using their passwords, and so on while playing Superman that the dads who were in the Klan were embarrassed beyond expression. They tried changing the passwords and stuff, but the next week they were on the show anyway. People left the Klan in droves. Kennedy is acknowledged in the history book as the most important player in squelching the Klan (along with Superman, of course).

These days, especially since the widespread punditry of the web via blogs like this, there's a lot of complaining about the mass media and its negative influences. Almost always, it's discussed as being a relatively recent phenomenon, say since the late 50s or early 60s, kinda when rock and roll was born. Obviously this is not the case.

Society, at least American society, appears to have been in the thrall of the mass media for at least a century now. Holy doctoral thesis, Batman.

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