Reader Rant: The Nuts and Bolts of Political Apathy

by on May 18, 2010 · 9 comments

in Culture, Education, Election, Media, Ocean Beach


Editor:  Frank Gormlie recently posted his third in a series about “Left versus Right” and asked for feedback from OB Rag bloggers and friends. Nate responded with the following – and in doing so reminded us of some of our weak points in describing politics. Politics CAN be fun.  OB political activists have enjoyed a lot of fun over the decades in being political. So, we asked Nate to tweak his response a bit and post it. So, please bear in mind, that we can benefit from this type of discourse with our fellow citizen journalists and wish to improve our communication skills.

Let me preface this by saying that I once got a ‘D’ in a political science class. Yes, that’s right. I showed up to class, took notes, wrote entire papers, went to the final, and still got a D.

I’m gifted.

You see, I’m extremely talented when it comes to “filtering-out” things I find boring. Been doing it my whole life! When I was a kid, it was zoning-out during the commercials that interrupted my Saturday morning cartoons. Today it’s skimming past ads in the margins of a website. Call it ADD if you want. But I believe it’s just how I deal with the daily bombardment of information.

In the third installment of “Left vs Right“, Frank brought up the subject of political apathy. Now I’m going to blow the lid off this previously undocumented phenomenon:

Reasons I’m turned off by overtly-political discussions:

  • too many -isms
  • I like to be persuaded by facts, not by emotions, finger-pointing or oversimplifications
  • strong opinions make me dubious
  • my ears cancel-out the following words: libs, conservatives, dems, GOP, etc…
  • I’d rather chat it up with a telemarketer

sleeping at computer 7Heated political discussions usually cause me to:

  • zone out
  • daydream
  • think about old episodes of “Full House”
  • seek alternate forms of information/entertainment
  • question whether this is even a legitimate problem

I wholeheartedly agree with Frank’s sentiment: being turned off to politics so much that you tune it out is a dangerous game… The world needs political debate! But I prefer listening to an objective analysis, when issues are broken down into their parts. That way I get to decide for myself. Here’s a few tips on how to reach the politically apathetic.

Stick to the facts (just the facts, Ma’am). Then I’m more likely too:

  • attempt to find patterns
  • decide how the matter affects me
  • care
  • discuss the issue later, say, at the dinner table
  • weigh-in

Humor doesn’t hurt. I think it’s wonderful when people:

  • acknowledge the flaws in their own logic
  • identify the limits of what they know
  • tactfully debunk a popular idea that’s being taken for granted
  • ridicule themselves, not attack a TV personality or political figurehead
  • understate

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with the BIG questions facing political apathy today:

  • What are the joys of being turned on to politics?
  • What are the trade-offs?
  • What’s the best way to reach listeners? Emotional appeal? Scare tactics? Logic?
  • Will talking about politics make me cool? If so, how cool are we talking?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie May 18, 2010 at 8:58 am

Nate, you did remind me that politics is exciting, exhilarating and fun. So thanks. I’ll try to rectify that in future posts. You did forgot to mention one response: sleep.


Nate Hipple May 18, 2010 at 10:00 am

I must have dozed off mid-sentence… zzzzzz


lane tobias May 18, 2010 at 9:27 am

I find your talking points:

– enlightening
– helpful in describing political apathy
– downplaying the significance of WIDEspread political apathy
– easier to follow than a speech

i too feel this way sometimes. I have been properly diagnosed with ADHD, so I know how it is to filter out all the “extra” information. Unfortunately I do feel like I miss some of the important stuff too. Totally agree with your points, and thank you Nate for making me feel like I’m not alone.


Frank Gormlie May 18, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Lane – the guy asleep at the computer kind of looks like you. BTW, you are not politically apathetic, dude.


Nate Hipple May 18, 2010 at 10:22 am

I really wonder how much growing up with TV, Nintendo, the ‘net and fast-paced movies have affected me. Two nights ago I was watching “Wild Strawberrys” (a 1957 Ingmar Bergman film) and was surprised at how slow the film progressed. Or maybe I was shocked at how I wanted it to “hurry up!” After a while I relaxed and found the slow pace kind of refreshing.


psd May 18, 2010 at 1:11 pm

What are the joys of being turned on to politics?
Anger and frustration, mostly. You’ll have a lot more of both in your life once you let politics in. I saw an ad in the Reader the other day – “Are you in an excessively good mood? We can fix that!” I think it’s for an experimental new non-drug treatment involving forced exposure to Glenn Beck and Randi Rhodes on a loop tape.

What are the trade-offs?
Time. When you’re caught up in the political sphere, even if your focus is only on a couple issues, you generally become consumed to the point that you want to know everything that’s being said on every side of those issues, and you’re constantly re-evaluating your own position based upon new information coming to light.

What’s the best way to reach listeners? Emotional appeal? Scare tactics? Logic?
Sadly, you’ve listed the three pretty much in order of effectiveness. The only way to make your list better would be to only include the first two.

Will talking about politics make me cool? If so, how cool are we talking?
If you actually understand politics, no. But if you just learn the talking points of one side or another to the point you can repeat them verbatim without hesitation (you’ve really got to remove the ‘thought’ from this process), and select your audience appropriately, you could be too cool for school. But remember, talking about universal access to health care isn’t going to go over too well at Grandpa’s VFW canteen, nor is opining that this whole recession would go away if “big government would just get off the corporations’ backs,” going to win you any fans wearing skinny jeans at a hipster bar in North Park.


Nate Hipple May 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with this: “You want to know everything that’s being said on every side of those issues, and you’re constantly re-evaluating your own position based upon new information coming to light.” If that had been written in my fortune cookie, I would have kept the little slip of paper. Thanks for your response!

I’m intrigued by the conundrum of trying to win (apathetic) people over to something that induces anger and frustration. That’s a tough sell! I bet a good algebra teacher would have something to say about this.


Shane Finneran May 22, 2010 at 11:22 am

Love this post, Nate – a great reminder to political blabbers and bloggers that we always need to keep our audience in mind.

Related note, my two cents on your question about the best way to reach listeners, from a tactic often taught to salespeople: when trying to persuade, it helps to imagine that your listener’s forehead is stamped with “WIIFM?” — as in What’s In It For Me?


Nate Hipple May 24, 2010 at 11:45 am

WIIFM? Great advice for a sales pitch! Watching a really good salesperson can be as awe-inspiring as a beautiful home run with bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

As folks spend more time on the web, I wonder what kind of ‘pitches’ the average Jill or Joe is likely to receive. Since the experience of web surfing is similar to a choose-your-own-adventure, you see what you wanna see. A guy who is obsessed with the New York Mets can gorge himself on Mets stats, Mets discussion boards, Mets clips on youtube–without reading a word about the local schoolboard election or nuts & bolts of Left v.s. Right.

On the flipside, you’ve got this surge of popularity for ‘groups’ and ‘fan pages’… What does it actually mean when 50,000 people ‘like’ a political candidate, if only 2,000 people show up to vote? In other words, what is the immediate, physical consequence of ten-thousand clicks?

None of this applies to OB Ragsters, of course. A funky group of well-informed citizens is the best answer to apathy! I’m more concerned with the fate of the short attention span in today’s online environment, a landscape that can individualize itself to anyone’s tastes, sorta like walking into a mall that can magically re-arrange its shops based on somebody’s age, gender, interests. Where does that put our skilled salesperson? Or baseball fanatic?

Gracias for the feedback, Shane. Blabbin’ and bloggin’ are two things that make the internet great!


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