In the foreword to “Public Opinion” by Walter Lippman, Ronald Steel cites the author as saying people define “according to ‘stereotypes’ imposed by our culture”. Most of the media reports regarding the final of American Idol clearly reflect this as:
Or is that:
In making the choice between “flamboyant musical theater actor Adam Lambert and laid-back acoustic guitar player Kris Allen“, the 100 million votes supposedly cast reinforced a stereotype of American culture.
The ongoing issue of the MPs’ expense claims in the UK, is said to have exposed a bipartisan culture of greed in the parliament. But, rather than leading to revolution, the British people shrug collectively as we’ve had our stereotype of politicians confirmed.
One reason why Lippman’s classic text is a must read for any public relations professional is his reflection on the role of citizens and the media – which reminds us of the “public” nature of modern communications.
The finalists on American Idol and British politicians are in the public domain, and that world defines people by stereotypes. Whether public opinion is filtered through the media, bloggers, chatrooms or our own preconceptions (did Americans really just vote for someone like them?) – we don’t see the individual behind the conventions of whichever stereotype fits.
Despite all the claims for online communications and social media offering more personal and unmediated channels, the public narrative is the same old stereotypes of heroes and villains, winners and losers, that have always underpinned human communications.
Although in terms of American Idol, there really were no losers in the final. As Adam Lambert is quoted as saying: “For me it’s not really about what happened tonight, it’s about tomorrow. It’s about next.”
Or is that another stereotype, that the ‘losers’ often go onto win?