Thursday, July 28, 2005

First Post, or how I learned to stop hating Adam Corrolla and start loving Loveline

So I decided it was time to start a blog of my own instead of trying in vain to find different message boards to adequately post my thoughts on various media development. See I’m a media scholar. And technically an unemployed one. So while no one is paying me to sprout my various theories on media, it’s time I take my opinions to the public and let the marketplace of ideas decide if they hold water.

So Loveline the radio show is really the media forum that has had me wishing I had some kind of media forum of my own to counteract most of its broadcasts. For those of you who don’t know, Loveline is national radio show hosted by Dr. Drew and Adam Corolla. It’s been around for I believe 15 years with Dr. Drew but Adam has only been on the show for the last ten. The premise of the show is that it’s a sex/dating advice line but anyone who has listened to the show knows that 90% of it is devoted to dealing to abused children. This part is okay. Surprisingly for a show that deals with so many fucked up children it's one of the few programs (on TV or radio) that regularly makes me laugh out loud. Oddly enough, Adam poking fun at sexually-abused girls is amusing. This is not as sick as it sounds. And I’m not talking about tepid chuckles. I’m talking about the kind of laughs where your roommates tell you to shut up and your officemate slams your office door because you’re laughing too loud. That kind of funny programming.

I’ve been listening to this show since at least 1996 when I first moved to Seattle. Part of the reason I got so attached is because I’ve always had a habit of listening to talk radio as I go to sleep. I find music too stimulating or distracting (even classical). I cannot sleep with the TV on in my room for the same reasons. But talk radio has always had just the right tenor where after about 15 minutes I just drift off. And luckily in Seattle, where I first heard Loveline, the station used to broadcast it from 10 p.m.-12 a.m. and then strangely would repeat the first hour again between midnight and 1 a.m. So that was three hours of Loveline every night to listen to. (Not that I was going to bed at 10 p.m. in my early 20s, but if I went to sleep at 12:30 a.m. I would usually catch the last half-hour before drifting off.)

So for seven years Loveline was a staple of my life. Then I moved to Northeast Ohio in 2003 and for a year I heard no Loveline at all. I never found a station that had it.

Well you know how sometimes you don’t miss something until it's gone? That’s how I felt about Loveline. It had always just been this little cultural habit, like a newspaper columnist or a cartoonist you look forward to (well who looks forward to a columnist...) and you don’t even think too much about it until suddenly the cartoonist retires. Then this little habit has become tinged with nostalgia and dear, dear thoughts.

By 2004 I was in graduate school in Washington, DC and I realized with a jolt one evening that I probably could get Loveline again on the radio. And indeed, for a while I did. WHFS was Washington DC’s oldest “alternative” radio station and they had the license to Loveline. But in February 2005, they switched formats and Loveline was dropped. Realizing I never wanted to be without my dear, dear program again, I suddenly clued into the fact that I could probably download new and old episodes. And moreover, once I finally bought an MP3 player (which I promised myself was only going to be for “jogging”) I suddenly realized that now I could listen to Loveline anywhere and anytime I wanted. I have no problem listening to old Loveline episodes. Rather than being like a topical talk show, Loveline is more like a comedy show. If the jokes were funny in 2002 they’re probably still funny in 2005. What I didn’t think about at the time was sometimes the jokes in 2003 aren’t so funny in 2005...

When I learned to start hating Adam Corolla

When I used to listen to Loveline on the radio, I rarely would listen to the whole program. Radio isn’t appointment television. Not since the 1940s do people say “hey its 8 p.m., time to listen to my favorite radio program!” But podcasting, listening to the radio on MP3 players, means you do tend to listen to the whole show. And instead of my nightly snatches of 15-30 minutes of the program while I was drifting off to sleep, now I was listening to the whole program intently from start to finish while I was on the Metro or while I was at work.

Have you ever had the experience of going back to watch an TV cartoon you loved as a kid but as an adult you literally can’t understand why you wasted your youth on this crap? Suddenly all the bad animation and subtle misogyny and jingoism become apparent. In 2005 this is what I started to feel about Loveline.

Adam Corrolla, who even I admit is the key to the program’s success, seemed to have become a low-rent Rush Limbaugh. Sure Adam makes fun of poor people all the time. But now literally there is nothing that Adam likes about women or any race other than white people. At some point I think I might have to transcribe some of his rants because listening to them you suddenly realize he believes in social Darwinism.

Here’s a list of Adam’s “beliefs” which he’s stated over and over again on the program:

· Women don’t “make” things that are important (ie construction)
· Married unworking women aren’t sharing their half of the marriage bargin by cooking and sewing anymore (ie Adam’s wife, who works but only makes $50,000 a year while he makes $1 million. She brings home the Bac-Ohs while he brings home the bacon.)
· Women don’t know about WWII or history, they only care about stupid things like fashion or celebrity dating
· People who pay more taxes should get more services. Adam pays 10x what I pay therefore the country should treat him 10 times better.
Hawaiians are stupid. Mexicans are stupid. Arabs are stupid and mean. Pretty much everyone but Asians, Jews and white people are stupid. Some white people are stupid but since white people invented and/or built everything we know, not all white people are stupid and/or lazy.
· Torture is okay because it stops terrorism
· People sue too much, and anyone who sues is a whiner and a pussy.
· The ACLU are pussy fags who care about things no one else cares about.

There is more or less nothing on this list that separates Adam Corrolla from Rush Limbaugh, or Michael Savage or frankly any other morning zoo DJ that Adam makes fun of. The only difference between Adam and Rush is that Adam is more or less a libertarian when it comes to sex, abortion and drugs. (and frankly these days we know Rush is a libertarian when it comes to drugs too).

I remember calling up a Seattle friend and asking when did Adam change into a knuckle-dragging dittohead? She asked me if it was Adam who changed or me. And frankly, that was a very good point. So who did change Adam or me?

Add 9 years and $80,000 of student loans

Certainly there is a huge different between 1996 and 2005. Or even 1999 and 2005. For one, when I started listening to the show, I didn’t have an undergraduate degree and I was 20 years old. Now I have a master’s degree and I’m nearly 30. Plus my master’s degree was in Media studies. Frankly, the one thing I learned in graduate school was how to notice media messages, both subtle and obvious. I won’t post a link to it just yet because I think I’m going to keep this blog anonymous, but my master’s thesis was about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The reason I wanted to study it, was because its fun. It makes learning easy. I wanted to know how entertainment influences us. I’m not talking about the hysterical people talking about violent video games. But in the more subtle ways entertainment programming slips into our brains and teaches us while we watch. I was interested in the mechanism of how exactly does this “learning” occur.

When I was in school I came across a very interesting paper about The Daily Show. Diana Mutz from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a very interesting experiment. She showed one clip from The Daily Show to two groups. She told one group they were going to watch a clip from a news program and the other that they were going to watch a clip from a comedy program. She didn’t use a Jon Stewart clip because his presence might have tipped off the news group that the program wasn’t news and she removed the audience laughter as a sound cue. Then she asked both groups a series of questions about events portrayed in the clips.

The reporter featured in this video segment was Rob Corddry, a Daily Show regular. In this story, he investigates claims about anti-American sentiments in the movie, Elf. As part of the story entitled Red Menace, Corddry interviews the leader of a special interest group known as PABAAH (Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood), which is currently charging Elf with promoting anti-American views. The leader of the public interest group has put the movie Elf on its list of un-American films, primarily because Ed Asner, who plays Santa Claus in the movie, is a “communist sympathizer”. Asner is interviewed by the reporter from a different location and vehemently denies that he has been, is or will be a communist sympathizer. An excerpt from the film Elf is included in the story, as well as a brief interview outside of a movie theater with some children who have just seen the movie.

After watching the clip Mutz asked both groups how much did they believe Ed Asner has Communist sympathies, how much did they believe Asner’s politics are liberal/Democrat, what their impress of Asner was (is he unpatriotic/un-American), do they believe he has undesirable personal qualities and finally how much do they believe the charges made by PABAAH.

Now remember, one group is basically told that what they are watching is a joke. So, hypothetically, their opinions shouldn’t be effected at all by the information they “learn” from a comedy source. They should automatically discount it. But what Mutz found was whether she told the group they were watching a news program or a comedy program, they came out about even in how they perceived PABAAH and Ed Asner. Both groups were different from the control group who didn’t watch the program at all. So both group “learned” from what they watched, regardless of what description of the source they were given.

Mutz theorized that when someone is watching something that they do not have to be critical about or judge about, such as entertainment television or radio, their brains goes into kind of a soft acceptance mode. You don’t think about whether you have to accept the supposition whether Ed Asner is a Communist, but when you are ASKED “Is Ed Asner a Communist” the brain quickly retrieves the one piece of information it can recall, whether it’s a comedy program, a TV commercial or a news program.

This theory made a lot of sense to me for several reasons. Philosophers, marketers and political scientists have always wanted to know how people come to believe in some facts but reject others. One famous model is the Cartesian model which says thinking is a two-step process. First you are presented with a fact: the sky is blue. You process this fact and then decide whether to accept or reject it: “I believe the sky is blue.” Basically everything is considered and then either accepted or rejected.

But a Spinozan model suggests that our brains actually operate in an “on” position and we have to go an extra step if we want to reject facts. If I’m told “The egg cream is delicious” my brain will not reject this statement unless I spend time deciding “wait egg cream is nasty!” I have to go the extra mile to reject rather than the extra mile to accept. Sort of like how all babies are born female unless another hormone is added which makes them male. Female is actually the default position for humans which is why so many gender confusion issues are usually genetic males who look like females (undescended testes for example) rather than the other way around.

I thought one good piece of evidence that our brains actually operate this way is the fact that we have to learn how to be credulous. As children we believe EVERYTHING. We literally have to learn to doubt and judge. If you tell a 4-year-old that thunder is angels bowling they will believe that until they are seven and learn the concept of lying or tomfoolery or science. We’re basically born with our brains in the “on” position. Which in a may makes evolutionary sense because there is a lot to learn in the first 10 years of life that don't need to be questioned. Just stuff like "fire kills" or how to use the toliet. A bunch of skeptical little babies probably wouldn't learn so fast.

So how does this relate to The Daily Show and Loveline...?

So getting this back to entertainment programming. It appears that when we watch news programming or Michael Moore we gird our brains for a factual onslaught. We know we’ll be getting a bunch of information which we need to judge. Maybe this wasn’t even true back when news wasn’t considered so partisan by everyone. Maybe when everyone was watching Walter Cronkite they just let their brains go soft. But anyways, it appears when we watch things we don’t think need to be critically evaluated, we just go “soft.” Information washes over us without thinking about what it all means. Then later when confronted by a situation where these “facts” are needed our brain recalls the information without ever going through a critical process. If you think this is all too complicated, think about advertising. Most of the time advertising just washes over us. Most of the ads we see aren’t for things we’re interested in buying at the time. Think about jewelry advertisng. Probably only once in our lives (if we’re lucky) do we ever decide to buy a diamond ring. So most diamond rind ads just wash over us. But we are taking them in. I bet right now, if someone wants to buy a diamond ring those Jared ads or those ones with the shadow figures flirt through their brain. Suddenly every diamond ring ad they ever saw instantly comes to recall when needed.

This is how it works with political advertising for most people. Ninty-nine percent of political ads are ignored because most people say they aren’t pay attention to them. But when the time comes to “think” about John Kerry or George Bush suddenly all they can think about is Kerry not voting for Iraq War money or wolves.

Tomorrow I’ll tie all of this together with Loveline and why it made me start this blog.


Anonymous said...

Hey, saw your comment in my LiveJournal, and I bounced over here to read what you had to say.

Apropos to the way you feel about Loveline, you might be interested in "research" that's been written about it, especially "Institutionalizing gender and sexuality in a call-in radio advice program: a characterization of Loveline" since she agrees with you.

I also think both of you are doing the same thing -- taking what Adam (and Drew) say out of context. And, even at that stretching the meaning of it.

Adam isn't a social Darwinist, he uses comedy to highlight Loveline's message (e.g. that there are certain behaviors within cultures that have seemed to help them). Most of them are as basic and loving your kids and not having them if you're not mentally, physically, and financially stable enough to do so.

If you think that message is bad, I can't help you. Though I consider myself to be extremely liberal, I'm not a postmodernist or a cultural relativist. I believe that there are patterns you can see in human behavior. I believe that it's worth encouraging people to do things that science and experience seem to make people happier, healthier, and better citizens living in a better society.

I don't at all consider this to be an extreme position, and I know that the Dalai Lama and Noam Chomsky agree with me.

Now, you can say that Adam's humor distracts from getting this point across, and your case it definitely has (as they say in the Big Book, "there are such unfortunates"). But I believe the growth of Loveline since he joined it speaks for itself. Moreover, you're also not his target audience.

As much as I know a lot of educated people who listen to the show, graduate students aren't they're demographic. It's really more for the benefit of people in their late teens and early 20's who don't know the score about relationships, drugs, pregnancy, etc. From that angle, I believe it does very well and gives very good advice.

Reasonable people can disagree, and politically there are plenty of issues I disagree with Adam on. But even a liberal like me can admit that ACLU could have exercised better judgment about some the cases it took -- to say the least.

And even being a liberal, I can empathize with many of the points Adam makes about the Culture of the Left -- what Michael Moore sometimes calls "The Church of the Left." Being heavily involved in activism in college REALLY SCREWED ME UP. It was a good experience, and looking back on it I learned a lot from it. I could explain how all of that worked, but I think if you listen to Michael Albert's lecture "New Left Lessons" you'll get the just of what happened (the audio file is linked of the page linked below):

I don't know. I'm sorry if I seem a little angry. But if it wasn't for Loveline, my life would be much worse now. It also hurts me to see you kind of accuse Adam of things he doesn't believe. I wouldn't respect him if I thought he was a "knuckle dragging ditto-head."

I think if you listen to some of the episodes with an open-mind, and a sense of humor you'll see the same thing. But if not, I hope I've at least helped you to think a little better of what you said.

Anonymous said...

Well at least you managed to misspell his name each time...for a long time would think you would have heard his rant on how people always get his name wrong...

Anyway, the man has opinions...there's nothing wrong with that. It's kinda sad it took you so long to question anything he said...the very first episode I heard, I disagreed with him about his views on war, terror, etc...but the show was nonetheless very entertaining.