The radio is the radio of its time

A variation on Godwin's law has it that a discussion thread is finished and a debater has lost when he turns to inappropriate Nazi comparisons.  Enter Michael Gerson.  Today he writes an entire meditation on the following argument:

1.  The Nazis exploited advanced communication technologies (bullhorns, leaflets, radio, etc.) for their own evil purposes;

2.  The internet is an advanced communication technology;

3.  Ergo, the internet is a tool of Nazism.

Or something like that (they also used books, newspapers, and other media as well folks).  Here's a sample:

But it was radio that proved the most powerful tool. The Nazis worked with radio manufacturers to provide Germans with free or low-cost "people's receivers." This new technology was disorienting, taking the public sphere, for the first time, into private places — homes, schools and factories. "If you tuned in," says Steve Luckert, curator of the exhibit, "you heard strangers' voices all the time. The style had a heavy emphasis on emotion, tapping into a mass psychology. You were bombarded by information that you were unable to verify or critically evaluate. It was the Internet of its time." 

I think it's funny that he mentions the radio while blaming the internet for factually-challenged, hyperbolic, demagogic rhetoric, when, we have in fact the radio–and of course television, to blame for that.

Anyway.  Here is the justification for the comparison:

This comparison to the Internet is apt. The Nazis would have found much to admire in the adaptation of their message on neo-Nazi, white supremacist and Holocaust-denial Web sites. 

The comparison is apt because there are actual neo-Nazis using the internet!  This justification misses the point of the original comparison.  The point is that the internet is Nazi-like (but not necessarily Nazi in content).  The Nazi content cited by Gerson as evidence of Nazi-likeness of the medium doesn't establish, however, that the internet itself is Nazi-like.  The Nazis printed books as well.  At most this establishes the bland theory that the internet is a communication medium, which can be used and accessed by many people.  That fact, I think, is not very surprising.

4 thoughts on “The radio is the radio of its time”

  1. I think FDR also used radio effectively. Fireside chats, anyone?
    In Gerson’s defense, I think he was attempting to make some bland point about the Medium itself influencing discourse. Or, at least, that’s a point he ought to have made. JC, you yourself have referred to the interwebs as a sort of contemporary “Ring of Gyges”.

  2. That’s right Jem.  But I don’t think the Ring of Gyges is an inherently Nazi ring, because the Nazis–some of them at least–like Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

    That’s right Gary.  I think we’ve got basically a fallacy of the excluded middle lurking underneath Gerson’s thinking here.

Comments are closed.