State of Affairs

Jim Fairthorne’s take on the political scene in America

Archive for November, 2008

Hope and Change – The Slogans of our time

Posted by yoozur on November 3, 2008

The date was 1914, the year of the first great war of the 20th Century. Generals, soldiers, politicians and citizens of Europe’s great powers were blissfully unaware of the realities of modern combat, and the presiding mood was one of optimism, of ambition, and in many cases outright desire for combat. The rise of nationalism, patriotism and jingoism all came to a front during this period, and songs and slogans boasting their nation’s power and military prowess were everywhere. While it would be easy for conteporary thinkers to look back at the people of this period as misguided and overambitious, it would be drastically understating the power of groupthink, catchphrases and popular culture, while at the same time, overstating our current resiliance to those sorts of things.

While obviously the subject matter is completely different, and the tone is much less overt, there are some interesting parallels to be drawn between the state of political thought at the turn of the 20th century, and political thought in 2008 (and in particular, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign). First and formost is the appeal to vague ideals, ideals that are supposed to represent the movement as a whole. Secondly is the use of slogans, songs and catchphrases to reign in those who may not fully grasp the real issues at hand. “Yes we can!” “Hope” and “Change” are the three most recognizable slogans of the Obama campaign. The red and blue picture of Obama with Hope written underneath, as well as Obama’s stars and stripes circle are the two most recognizable images.

What does “Yes we can!” mean exactly? How do you quantify hope? Many of these slogans and chants mean different things to different people. To an African American, could “Yes we can!” represent the breakthrough of an African American politician ascending to the presidency? To a staunch Democrat, could Hope signal the end of the stranglehold Republicans have had over the country for almost a decade? The idea behind these campaign slogans is to be an “everything to everyone” message that is easily digestable. But what actual message do these slogans impart? Do they really mean anything, or are they just rallying cries?

We have seen that empty messages are not only capable of inspiring and moving large amounts of people, but are actually more effective than clear, direct messages. It’s much easier to appeal to one’s emotions than to a person’s sensibilities. Emotions are universal. It’s easy to agree with a mob of people chanting “Yes we can!” than people who are discussing potentially divisive issues and policies. It’s easier to sell a T-Shirt with Hope on it, than to sell a plan that dramatically changes the tax structure of the US.

North American culture has been rapidly accelerating, preferring sound bites, quicker edited movies and music videos and fast food. Does the re-emergence, and wild success of the Slogan signal that the pace of politics is picking up as well? Think quickly!


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