Words matter. They change our interior world.
Pete Holmes is a comedian, writer, cartoonist, "Christ-leaning spiritual seeker", and podcast host. His wildly popular podcast, You Made It Weird, is a comedic exploration of the meaning of life with guests ranging from Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert to Seth Rogen and Garry Shandling.
Pete Holmes: Language does matter. With transgender people, people joke a lot. They're like, oh, they want they want to be called "them". Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He and she is made up, too, you stupid bitch. You know what I mean? But the thing is, words have power-- words have power. If you don't believe it, date someone who calls you dummy. You know what I mean? Oh, they're just sounds from a mammal. No, they're not. They're spells. We're casting spells on each other. I do this on stage as a stand-up sometimes. I point to someone in the front row, I go, that's a great shirt. You made a great choice of that shirt. And you can see, even though they know I'm just joking around or making a point, it works.
Why do we say have a great weekend? That's just a spell. You're just going-- I have no control over your weekend. But words matter. They change our interior world. Have a great weekend. And they're like, oh. It's not literal. I'm not like, I'm thinking about your weekend. You get laid. Text me the word "finance", that's how I'll know you had a good weekend. So I think words do matter. I think because I'm into-- I like unity of consciousness, which is not that trippy of an idea. Science agrees. The theory of the big bang is obviously the singularity. At one point, all of this was one thing, this impossibly dense speck of mass, basically, that contained everything-- contained this lighting thing and the camera and me and my hair and my balls. It was all in there. The mystic me-- I just think that that singularity is worthy of a metaphor, it's worthy of a story or a symbol system, so that I can not just know it, but feel it and experience it.
Both the mystic and the scientist agree. Both are just theories, that everything at one point was one. So when it comes to being called a pronoun, sometimes I like to call other people "me". I go like, oh, these mes voted for Trump, this me is begging for change, this me is driving me to the airport. I find that useful instead of going like-- because it's so pleasant to go, you. I think it's overwhelming to love. I don't think hate is actually hate. I think it's too overwhelming to love. So we call groups-- it's hard to pick an example because they all sound so hateful. But if somebody hates left-handed people, I think it's because it can be too overwhelming to love that group that you call left-handed people. Because if you love them, now you have to worry about them and you have to care about them. So we get overwhelmed in our heads. So we go, oh, a group died, but they were gang members. OK. Gang members up here-- I don't love them, they can die. So this is what we do. So it's helpful sometimes in our language to go like, no, those mes are in a gang. You know what I mean? That's a way that language can-- it's very trippy and I don't expect everybody to sign on and start doing that. But I do it privately, especially if anybody's serving you or helping you or you think you're like, oh, this is the flight attendant. No, this me just brought me a Sprite. Thank you. That me is doing great. Looks nice. It's just a nice way to increase compassion instead of going, this flight attendant. Look, that's a label we made so we feel OK about yelling at them that there should be more overhead space. No, that me is doing my best.
- As a stand-up comedian, Pete Holmes knows how words can manipulate audiences — for good and bad.
- Words aren't just words. They stich together our social fabric, helping establish and maintain relationships.
- Holmes has a clever linguistic exercise meant to bring you closer to the people around you.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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