Oct 6 2009
09:04 pm
By: Andy Axel

Redmondkr's tagline reminds me of one of the great paraphrases of all time; i.e. "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

There's some discussion about where this statement was truncated, but after re-reading the fuller context, I found it to be eerily predictive.

Here's the full quote, in a larger context (from Notes on Journalism, 1926):

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby. The mistake that is made always runs the other way. Because the plain people are able to speak and understand and even, in many cases, to read and write, it is assumed that they have ideas in their heads, and an appetite for more. This assumption is folly. They dislike ideas, for ideas make them uncomfortable. The tabloids, seeking to force such things upon them, will inevitably alarm them and lose their trade. The journalism of the future that is, the mob journalism will move in the direction that I have indicated.

Cynical, sure. Elitist, even - in a PT Barnum-esque manner, at the very least. (And if you think that this is rough, try reading the unsparing critique of The South*, "Sahara of the Bozart." Chilling. It's almost as though he'd gotten a glimpse of the rise of the Armey/Gingrich GOP that governs much of our discourse today.)

I wonder what he'd make of this new era of "citizen journalism," one in which the "masses of plain people" have the one-click means to broadcast their ideas, such as they are, to the entire world**.

* Sample:

"One observes [in the American South] the curious effects of an old tradition of truculence upon a population now merely pushful and impudent, of an old tradition of chivalry upon a population now quite without imagination. The old repose is gone. The old romanticism is gone. The philistinism of the new type of town-boomer Southerner is not only indifferent to the ideals of the Old South; it is positively antagonistic to them. That philistinism regards human life, not as an agreeable adventure, but as a mere trial of rectitude and efficiency. It is overwhelmingly utilitarian and moral. It is inconceivably hollow and obnoxious."

** Cheerily, I do not exempt myself and my often embittered polemics from this statement.

Hildegard's picture

He was also a fucking sexist

He was also a sexist but he was still awesome for quips and quotes.

bobbylife's picture

Quips and quotes my ass.

"He was also a sexist but he was still awesome for quips and quotes."

He was also a fucking brilliant sociocultural analyst.

Prescient? Yeah. All over the place, and certainly not just as regards the specific geographic area he was writing about in this essay.

All who dissent from its orthodox doctrines are scoundrels. All who presume to discuss its ways realistically are damned.

Hildegard's picture

I haven't researched it but

I haven't researched it but I think he was specifically referencing Tennessee as the Sahara of the Bozart. I stopped quoting him years ago when people kept asking me to explain "Bozart." It defined the problem in too depressing a way for me.

Andy Axel's picture

Virginia & Georgia are most

Virginia & Georgia are most heavily implicated in that analysis.

And Arkansas, in another article, was coined as "the apex of moronia."


Dirty deeds done dirt cheap! Special holidays, Sundays and rates!

bizgrrl's picture

"The old aristocracy went

"The old aristocracy went down the red gullet of war; the poor white trash are now in the saddle."

This phenomenon has taken over the country. At least when this was written there was a possible reason given for the loss of creativity, ideas, intelligence. Where is the country headed now?

WhitesCreek's picture

The best followed that quote...

Politics in Virginia (Tennessee) are cheap, ignorant, parochial, idiotic;
there is scarcely a man in office above the rank of a professional
job-seeker; the political doctrine that prevails is made up of handme-
downs from the bumpkinry of the Middle West-Bryanism,
Prohibition, all that sort of filthy claptrap; the administration of
the law is turned over to professors of Puritanism and espionage;
a Washington or a Jefferson, dumped there by some act of God,
would be denounced as a scoundrel and jailed overnight.

KC's picture

So, are things getting

So, are things getting worse, or have they actually gotten better, slowly?

Remember, just a decade or so ago the Sunbelt South was supposedly poised to take over and reign over politics for the foreseeable future.

Has that happened?

It is true that in spite of the opportunities for education and self-betterment, many in the South still choose to almost celebrate ignorance.

But are the town halls and tea parties indicative of growing pains of a new movement or the death throes of a dying mind set?

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present.
President Abraham Lincoln 1862

R. Neal's picture

(No subject)

Somewhat related:

This story is so embarrassing for East Tennessee that it appears WVLT is the only local media to cover it. Even the anchors seemed embarrassed. Watch them at the end.

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