Area man cares, nobody listens

Perhaps because I’ve been thinking so much about the intersections of individuality, dialogue, and democracy this week, I was struck this morning by the Onion headline: Dad Delivers State Of The Union Rebuttal Directly Into Television Screen. As the article says:

Reiterating numerous themes from last year’s rebuttal while offering several searing critiques of tonight’s speech, area dad Bill Shaw delivered his official response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tonight directly into the television screen…squaring his body toward the front of the family room and looking directly into the television set as he delivered his impassioned thoughts on the issues of immigration, health care, the middle class, China, that holier-than-thou look Obama always has on his face, and the Toyota Prius. 

Satire though this may be, I was struck by the simultaneous passion and disconnection the Onion effortlessly captures in this piece.

Conventional wisdom indicates that most Americans these days are apolitical. That they’re too wrapped up in their personal lives, too disillusioned, or – less charitably – too stupid to pay attention or care about politics.

But that’s not really true. Well, too disillusioned, maybe, but I’d argue most people care nonetheless.

I can so clearly imagine this man – perhaps it is me – watching the State of the Union, talking to his TV screen, and then…doing nothing.

If talk is cheap, then talk without an audience is definitely worth little.

I can’t help but wonder if this fictional “area man” shared shared his SOTU rebuttal with anyone else. Did he talk about it with his coworkers the next day? Discuss the issues with strangers at the bus stop? Raise his voice at a public meeting?

Probably not.

He may care passionately, but he only shares that passion in the privacy of his own home. Impassioned thoughts to an empty box.

If this sense of isolated enthusiasm is a phenomena broader than a fake man in a fake paper, it points to a bigger issue – a different issue – than simple disengagement.

As a society, we lack genuine public spaces to voice these personal rebuttals, to raise our questions and concerns, to challenge those in power, to ask hard questions and find collective solutions.

We have some forums, of course – brick and mortar, and digital – but those forums aren’t open to everybody.

Perhaps more importantly, not everyone is taught that they belong in those forums. Not everyone is taught that they should have a voice in public affairs. Not everyone is taught that their rebuttal should be heard beyond the hollow confines of their living room.

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