quinta-feira, outubro 23, 2008

O (super)poder da mídia e Orson Welles: dois mitos que caem

From the issue dated October 24, 2008

The Hyped Panic Over 'War of the Worlds'

Frank Stanton sensed trouble. Sitting in his living room on the night of October 30, 1938, the young CBS executive tuned in to catch Orson Welles's adaptation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds. The program sounded crisp and engaging — but a bit too realistic. Stanton grabbed his coat and headed back to CBS' headquarters on Madison Avenue. Pushing his way through chaotic hallways jammed with reporters, police, and network employees, he reached his desk and telephoned his friend Paul Lazarsfeld.

Stanton and the sociologist Lazarsfeld set out to measure the panic as quickly and accurately as possible before it subsided. Their basic results would spur a remarkable conversation that reverberates 70 years later in social psychology, media theory, federal regulation, and other fields.

The "War of the Worlds" broadcast remains enshrined in collective memory as a vivid illustration of the madness of crowds and the deeply invasive nature of broadcasting. The program seemingly proved that radio could, in the memorable words of Marshall McLuhan, turn "psyche and society into a single echo chamber." The audience's reaction clearly illustrated the perils of modernity. At the time, it cemented a growing suspicion that skillful artists — or incendiary demagogues — could use communications technology to capture the consciousness of the nation. It remains the prime example used by media critics, journalists, and professors to prove the power of the media.

Yet the media are not as powerful as most think, and the real story behind "The War of the Worlds" is a bit more complex. The panic was neither as widespread nor as serious as many have believed at the time or since.

Nobody died of fright or was killed in the panic, nor could any suicides be traced to the broadcast. Hospital emergency-room visits did not spike, nor, surprisingly, did calls to the police outside of a select few jurisdictions. The streets were never flooded with a terrified citizenry. Ben Gross, the radio columnist of the New York Daily News, later remembered a "lack of turmoil in front of CBS" that contrasted notably with the crowded, chaotic scene inside the building. Telephone lines in New York City and a few other cities were jammed, as the primitive infrastructure of the era couldn't handle the load, but it appears that almost all the panic that evening was as ephemeral as the nationwide broadcast itself, and not nearly as widespread. That iconic image of the farmer with a gun, ready to shoot the aliens? It was staged for Life magazine.

So what accounts for the legend? First — and perhaps most important — the news media loved the story, and Welles loved the news media. The panic became a global story literally overnight. Even the Nazis could not resist commenting, noting the credulity of the American public. Americans certainly appeared gullible, but they were not alone. The news media, handed a sensational story of national scope, reported every detail (including fictional ones) about Welles, the program, and the reaction.

Welles's greatest performance that evening wasn't in the studio; it was in a hallway, at the improvised news conference, when he feigned a stunned, apologetic demeanor. In reality, as Paul Heyer notes in The Medium and the Magician, Welles carefully concealed his satisfaction with the hysteria while expressing concern over the rumors of deaths attributed to the program. The threats of investigation coming from the Federal Communications Commission bothered Welles, too, but they were primarily CBS's problem.

It was the government, and its relationship to CBS, that worried Stanton. While Welles spoke to reporters a few floors away, he and Lazarsfeld created a brief survey instrument to gauge the significance of the panic. Without consulting his bosses, who were occupied at the time, Stanton phoned a trusted survey organization to conduct nationwide interviews as soon as possible. Data were compiled over the following 24 hours and immediately forwarded to Stanton's CBS office.

Unfortunately, those data, if they still exist, are unavailable to scholars. CBS, unlike NBC, severely restricts access to its archives. But Stanton's survey has trickled down to us through a classic study in the emerging field of social psychology, Hadley Cantril's The Invasion From Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic (1940). Cantril, a Princeton social psychologist; Stanton; and Lazarsfeld had created the Office of Radio Research, a Rockefeller Foundation-supported project based at Princeton that can be considered the first significant attempt to empirically analyze the effects of mass media.

Cantril's study, which remains the most enduring source for what we know about that night, combined the CBS data, a second survey conducted six weeks later by the American Institute of Public Opinion, and a series of detailed interviews with 135 people, of which "over 100 were known to have been upset by the broadcast." Admitting that his interviews did not comprise an accurate sample of either the national population or the radio audience that evening, Cantril nevertheless filled his short volume with narratives of terror and fear. The interview subjects — all from New Jersey "for reasons of finance and supervision" — were found by the "personal inquiry and initiative of the interviewers" hired by Cantril. They were a self-reporting, self-selected cohort. Cantril did attempt to interview people identified in newspapers as frightened, but that effort proved almost entirely futile.

Such reliance on qualitative measures, while using an unrepresentative sample, only begins to hint at Cantril's methodological problems. Cantril's estimates of how many people actually heard the broadcast, and how many were frightened, are wildly imprecise. Because CBS's Mercury Theatre on the Air lacked sponsorship, the C.E. Hooper Company, the commercial ratings service used at the time, did not rate Welles's program. The American Institute of Public Opinion national survey (taken six weeks after the program, following an avalanche of publicity) found 12 percent of respondents claiming they had heard the broadcast. That represents an audience of almost 12 million Americans — a number that is certainly far too high. Slightly less than four million Americans had tuned into Welles's Mercury Theatre on the Air the week before "The War of the Worlds."

From such disparate approximations Cantril offered the "conservative estimate" that six million Americans heard the broadcast. The public-opinion institute's survey found that 28 percent of the listeners believed the broadcast contained real news bulletins, and of that 28 percent about 70 percent were "frightened or disturbed." These numbers undercut several of Cantril's assertions about the scope of the panic; they reveal that about three out of four listeners knew the program was fiction. So Cantril did what many social scientists faced with disagreeable data do: He spun the numbers. The low numbers, he wrote, represent the "very minimum of the total number actually frightened" because "many persons were probably too ashamed of their gullibility to confess it in a cursory interview." He candidly admitted that "there is the possibility that some people heard so much about the broadcast that they reported actually hearing it."

In other words, Cantril concluded that many respondents probably lied.

Cantril's assertions about the data are largely forgotten. His book is cited far more for its tales of panic than for its faulty statistical analysis or sampling anomalies. His study survives because it supplies what many scholars and journalists need: academic proof for what they think they already know. It legitimized the myth of the night of terror as perhaps nothing else could.

Neither Stanton nor Lazarsfeld was satisfied with Cantril's work. On the personal level, Cantril and Lazarsfeld did not get along. One was a Harvard-trained WASP with the social connections needed to land a prestigious post at Princeton; the other was a thickly accented, chain-smoking, Jewish refugee from Vienna trained at the intersection of economics, mathematics, and applied psychology. Nor did it help that Lazarsfeld once made a pass at Cantril's wife, a piece of information Stanton relayed to me in an interview.

A few years after the publication of Cantril's book, Stanton and Lazarsfeld excoriated their colleague in confidential interviews with Rockefeller Foundation officials. Stanton told an interviewer that Cantril's original manuscript was "completely unsatisfactory," and he admitted he had "no respect for Cantril's scholarly standards." Lazarsfeld was even more brutal, telling the interviewer that some of Cantril's conclusions were "laughable." Because Cantril was "pathologically ambitious," according to Lazarsfeld, he was "a highly dangerous influence in the field." Stanton told the foundation officials that he and Lazarsfeld essentially rewrote the manuscript and allowed it to be published under Cantril's name.

That explains why some of the book's less-emphasized conclusions foreshadowed important findings about the power of the media. The hypodermic model of media effects, which prevailed at the time, posited that the media injected ideas, more or less directly, into the consciousness of the audience. The book's data seriously undermined that model, demonstrating empirically that each member of the mass audience filters the media's messages through a matrix of personal variables (education, critical ability, class, etc.). Those data complicated media theory tremendously and intensified the research focus on the complexities of audience reception.

Lazarsfeld surprised many by concluding in The People's Choice, his classic study of the 1940 election, that the media's effects are, in general, much more selective and limited than we assume. Other forms of communication, from those in the education system to religious communication to interpersonal communication, were apparently more powerful. The mass media were but one part of a larger web of influence, and as one factor, their actual influence was mediated by several other variables. Thus, the media's ability to control us was far less pronounced than assumed.

That is the ultimate irony behind "The War of the Worlds." The discovery that the media are not all-powerful, that they cannot dominate our political consciousness or even our consumer behavior as much as we suppose, was an important one. It may seem like a counterintuitive discovery (especially considering its provenance), but ask yourself this: If we really know how to control people through the media, then why isn't every advertising campaign a success? Why do advertisements sometimes backfire? If persuasive technique can be scientifically devised, then why do political campaigns pursue different strategies? Why does the candidate with the most media access sometimes lose?

The answer is that humans are not automatons. We might scare easily, we might, at different times and in different places, be susceptible to persuasion, but our behavior remains structured by a complex and dynamic series of interacting factors.

Later media theory, and empirical research, would complicate and refine those earliest findings. But the basic problem of audience reception remains stubbornly resistant, and as long as the mass media exist, we'll have empirical studies with dueling conclusions concerning effects. Many people, including scholars, will continue to believe something they intuitively suspect: that the media manipulate the great mass of the nation, transforming rational individuals into emotional mobs. But notice how those who believe this never include themselves in the mob. We are, as the Columbia University sociologist W. Phillips Davison once pointed out, very susceptible to the notion that others are more persuadable than ourselves.

Would you have fallen for Welles's broadcast? If not, why do you assume so many other people did?

Michael J. Socolow is an assistant professor in the department of communication and journalism at the University of Maine at Orono. He is completing a manuscript on regulation and competition in the first two decades of American network radio.

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 55, Issue 9, Page B16

domingo, outubro 19, 2008


Better trust all and be deceived,
And weep that trust and that deceiving,
Than doubt one heart that, if believed,
Had blessed one's life with true believing.

O, in this mocking world too fast
The doubting fiend o'ertakes our youth;
Better be cheated to the last
Than lose the blessed hope of truth.

Frances Anne Kemble-Butler

Pergunta do terceiro milênio

Que é a verdade?

quinta-feira, outubro 09, 2008

Círculo vicioso

Bailando no ar, gemia inquieto vagalume:

"Quem me dera que eu fosse aquela loira estrela

Que arde no eterno azul, como uma eterna vela!"

Mas a estrela, fitando a lua, com ciúme:

"Pudesse eu copiar-te o transparente lume,

Que, da grega coluna à gótica janela,

Contemplou, suspirosa, a fronte amada e bela."

Mas a lua, fitando o sol com azedume:

"Mísera! Tivesse eu aquela enorme, aquela

Claridade imortal, que toda a luz resume!"

Mas o sol, inclinando a rútila capela:

"Pesa-me esta brilhante auréola de nume…

Enfara-me esta luz e desmedida umbela…

Por que não nasci eu um simples vagalume?"…

Machado de Assis

Sexo e inteligência

Nerds rejoice: Braininess boosts likelihood of sex

Lonely men ought to flaunt their copies of New Scientist. Women looking for both one-night stands and long-term relationships go for geniuses over dumb jocks, according to a new study of hundreds of university students.

"Women want the best of both worlds. Not only a physically attractive man, but somebody in the long term who can provide for them," says Mark Prokosch, an evolutionary psychologist at Elon University in North Carolina, who led the study.

To many women, a smart man will appeal because he is likely to be clever enough to keep his family afloat. But he may also pass on "good" genes to his children, say Prokosch and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis.

Rather than ask women to rate qualities they seek in men, as other studies had done, Prokosch's team asked 15 college men to perform a series of tasks on camera.

The volunteers read news reports, explained why they would be a good date, and what would be the ramifications of the discovery of life on Mars. They also threw and caught a Frisbee to parade their physical appeal. Each potential suitor also took a quantitative test of verbal intelligence.

Smart is sexy

More than 200 women watched a series of these videos before rating each man's intelligence, attractiveness, creativity and appeal for a short-term or long-term relationship.

While the difference between short- and long-term mates may amount to a boozy decision students face each weekend, it has some evolutionary significance, Prokosch says. In potential husbands, women look for signs that a man might be a good provider and father. In one-night stands, women are on the prowl for little more than good genes, not to mention a good time.

Women proved to be decent judges of intelligence, with their scores generally matching each man's intelligence test results.

As for picking a bed-mate, the men's actual smartness proved a reliable indicator of their appeal for both brief hook-ups and serious relationships – which came as something of a surprise. Other studies have suggested that, for women anticipating short-term relationships, a man's braininess isn't foremost in their minds.

The disparate results may be due to women's lack of awareness that intelligence also affects the attractiveness of candidates for quick flings – how intelligent women perceived a man to be influenced his desirability as a long-term mate much more than his appeal for a one-night stand.

Bright and beautiful

Martie Haselton, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, also notes that although women were good judges of intelligence, they weren't perfect. In many cases, women rated good hook-ups as dunces, when their intelligence scores indicated otherwise.

"There could be aspects of intelligence that we pick up on when we interact with a person and that affect our assessment of them, even if we wouldn't label it as intelligence," she says.

But some things never change. Looks were still a much more powerful predictor of sex appeal than brains. "Women are still going for the hunk," Prokosch says. "If you had an option to pick from five different people, you would pick the most attractive one."

So in a perfect world, women want a Nobel prize winner with movie-star looks. Creativity also proved to be a sought-after trait, and Prokosch's team is currently working on an objective measure of creativity, similar to the intelligence test they used.

However, in a world of limited resources, not every woman gets what she wants, and some are bound to fall for ugly, unintelligent and uncreative men. "There's always other people out there that find everything attractive," Prokosch says.

Journal reference: Evolution and Human Behavior

quarta-feira, outubro 08, 2008

E agora, José?

De http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/ilustrad/fq0810200808.htm

Alencar, o escravista

Cartas do autor a d. Pedro 2º, nas quais defendia o cativeiro no país, são pela 1ª vez publicadas em livro, 140 anos depois


Quadro "Loja de Rapé", aquarela inacabada em que o pintor Jean-Baptiste Debret retrata escravos urbanos no Brasil do século 19


"A escravidão caduca, mas ainda não morreu; ainda se prendem a ela graves interesses de um povo. É quanto basta para merecer o respeito."
Quem vinha a público, em 1867, desejoso de ser ouvido na defesa do cativeiro no país era o romancista José de Alencar (1829-1877). A memória histórica no Brasil, no entanto, silenciaria seus argumentos no século seguinte.
A frase aparece numa das sete cartas públicas em que, naquele ano, o autor de "Iracema" criticou o imperador d. Pedro 2º por propor que o país começasse a pôr fim gradual à escravidão. Só agora, 140 anos depois, elas ganham uma edição em livro, "Cartas a Favor da Escravidão" (ed. Hedra), que chega nesta semana às livrarias.
Embora diversos pesquisadores tivessem conhecimento de sua existência -que era citada em alguns trabalhos- e das posições políticas de Alencar, o conteúdo das cartas não chegou a ser reimpresso. O conjunto não aparece, por exemplo, nas obras completas do autor romântico, organizadas em 1959 pela editora José Aguilar (hoje Nova Aguilar).
No final dos anos 90, a historiadora Silvia Cristina Martins de Souza encontrou as cartas na Biblioteca Nacional, no Rio.
Republicou parte delas numa revista especializada da Unicamp. "Elas não haviam sido reproduzidas no século 20", diz a pesquisadora, que atribui o "esquecimento" do material ao "desconhecimento e desinteresse" sobre a obra de Alencar.
O organizador do livro que vem agora a público, Tâmis Parron, tem opinião diferente.
Ele escreve na introdução aos textos de Alencar que se trata de uma "provável tentativa de expurgar sua memória artística de uma posição moralmente insustentável para os padrões culturais hegemônicos desde o final do século 19".
"É um expurgo? Pode ser. É provável, mas não tenho acesso a documentos que provem essa hipótese", disse o historiador, em entrevista à Folha.
Procurada, a Nova Aguilar não respondeu aos questionamentos sobre a lacuna e sobre a possibilidade de inclusão das cartas em edições futuras (a última, esgotada, saiu em 1965).
As "Novas Cartas Políticas de Erasmo", como foram denominadas, numa referência ao pensador holandês, apareceram num momento de crise internacional da escravidão. Com o fim da Guerra Civil Americana (1861-1865) e da servidão nos EUA, aumentaram as pressões internacionais para que o Brasil, como último país independente da América a mantê-la, pusesse fim à instituição.
No princípio de 1867, o imperador pede que seu gabinete encaminhe ao Legislativo uma proposta de discussão que resulte num prazo para o fim da escravidão.

Instituição necessária
É em reação a essa movimentação de d. Pedro que Alencar argumenta, em suas cartas, contra a extinção por lei de uma instituição que, para ele, deveria acabar como resultado de um processo "natural" de maturação -processo que na Europa, ele diz, levou séculos.
O escritor e político -falava como integrante do Partido Conservador- reconhece que a escravidão já se apresentava "sob um aspecto repugnante", mas completava que "ainda mesmo extintas e derrogadas, as instituições dos povos são coisa santa, digna de toda veneração". "Nenhum utopista, seja ele um gênio, tem o direito de profaná-las. A razão social condena uma tal impiedade." As "razões sociais" do cativeiro no Brasil eram muitas, segundo o autor. Em primeiro lugar, de ordem econômica, já que era pelo trabalho escravo que se mantinha a produtividade das unidades agro-exportadoras do século 19. Depois, política, já que era daí que o Estado tirava recursos para existir.
Mas também "social", já que, segundo Alencar, a instituição no Brasil trazia a promessa de inserção, como cidadão (ainda que parcial), do escravo alforriado e de seus filhos.
Finalmente, num raciocínio pouco usual na época, Alencar, de certa forma prefigurando Gilberto Freyre, autor de "Casa Grande & Senzala", afirmava que a escravidão permitia a existência de uma cultura original no Brasil, fruto da "miscigenação" de costumes entre "brasileiros" e negros africanos.

Autor: José de Alencar
Organizador: Tâmis Parron
Editora: Hedra
Quanto: preço a definir (160 págs.)

segunda-feira, outubro 06, 2008

O fetiche da teoria

Às vezes alguém ousa dizer o que somente se pensava até então. Considerando o quanto já sofri com essa questão em particular, e me preocupa uma certa tendência das Ciências Sociais e Humanas rumo à ininteligibilidade, penso que esse texto é um sopro de bom senso que merece divulgação. Embora, claro, a teoria tenha seu valor, não pode jamais se converter em um fetiche.

Vale a pena ler o artigo na íntegra. Abaixo reproduzo apenas o início.
Tirado de http://www.espacoacademico.com.br/089/89pra.htm.

Falácias acadêmicas, 3: o mito do marco teórico

Paulo Roberto de Almeida

1. Tente entender...

Veja, caro leitor, se você consegue entender este filósofo francês, muito lido e muito citado em certos círculos acadêmicos:

“Assim, por um lado, a repetição é isso, sem o que não haveria verdade: a verdade do ente sob a forma inteligível da idealidade descobre no eîdos o que pode se repetir, sendo o mesmo, o claro, o estável, o identificável em sua igualdade a si. E apenas o eîdos pode dar lugar à repetição como anamnésia ou maêutica, dialética ou diática. Aqui a repetição se dá como repetição de vida. A tautologia é a vida, só saindo de si para voltar a entrar em si. Mantendo-se junto a si na mnéme, no lógos e na phoné. Mas, por outro lado, a repetição é o próprio movimento da não-verdade: a presença do ente perde-se nele, dispersa-se, multiplica-se por mimemas, ícones, fantasmas, simulacros etc.” (J. Derrida, A Farmácia de Platão. SP: Iluminuras, 2005, p. 122).

Entendeu, leitor? Provavelmente não, mas não se preocupe, eu também não entendi nada, mas não me preocupo mais com isto: há muito tempo desisti de tentar entender esses filósofos franceses, que converteram em hábito – praticamente uma profissão – os atos de escrever difícil e de falar complicado, apenas para épater la galerie e impressionar o distinto público, no que eles foram, aparentemente, bem sucedidos (alguns ficaram ricos e famosos com toda essa empulhação). Aliás, acredito que esse autor não estava querendo explicar absolutamente nada a ninguém: estava apenas gozando da cara de eventuais alunos e de leitores desprevenidos. No que me concerne, não me deixo impressionar por falcatruas intelectuais.

Agora, considere este outro filósofo francês, ainda mais lido e mais citado nos mesmos meios (provavelmente não pelas boas ou corretas razões), e que se converteu em verdadeiro paradigma das ditas ciências sociais, quando ele, na verdade, é apenas um comentarista filosófico da história (o que não o impediu de monopolizar várias áreas das ciências humanas, impregnando todo o discurso acadêmico durante mais de uma geração):

“Deveríamos fazer uma tentativa de estudar o poder não a partir dos termos primitivos da relação de poder, mas a partir da relação de poder em si, na medida que ela mesma determina os elementos sobre os quais se estabelece: em lugar de pensar em indivíduos ideais aos quais se pede que cedam algo de si mesmos ou de seus poderes para serem submetidos, deveríamos indagar como as relações de dominação podem por si mesmas construir os indivíduos. Da mesma forma, em vez de investigar a única forma, o ponto central ao qual todas as formas de poder derivam como conseqüência ou como desenvolvimento, deveríamos abordar sua multiplicidade, suas diferenças, suas especificidades, sua reversibilidade: estudá-las, portanto, como relações de força que se entrecruzam, se excluem mutuamente, convergem ou, ao contrário, se opõem e tendem a se anular. Em resumo, em lugar de considerar a lei uma manifestação do poder, nos seria talvez mais útil tentar descobrir as diferentes técnicas de coerção que coloca a lei em funcionamento.” (Michel Foucault, trecho do Résumé des Cours; Paris: Collège de France, 1989)

Bem mais compreensível, não é mesmo, caro leitor? Você acha que poderia “trabalhar” com ele, por exemplo, para sustentar a argumentação teórica de algum ensaio acadêmico, talvez “encomendado” ou sugerido pelo seu professor orientador?