For the first time ever I was seriously taken aback by a comment made by a shock jock. If you weren’t sure of the definition, shock jocks are radio presenters that deliberately state their opinions in a way that will offend or deliberately elicit strong emotions. I have heard all sorts of ridiculous commentary from these types before and while it seemed offensive, it was always predictably so. The announcers’ rants were laughably unbalanced.
Unfortunately I am also aware that shock jocks such as Alan Jones are influential on a large proportion of the public. However, their opinions seem devoid of content that is based on a balance of facts or that takes into account a long-term perspective. So I made my own assumption that they weren’t able to effect any real change in the world. I believe this regardless of their ability to sway an election. Obviously their outrages raise a person’s emotions but it doesn’t seem to translate into active, community-based behaviour in the listeners outside the polling booth. Their ability to perpetuate oppressive attitudes (such as a lack of respect for women) is an issue for another blog.
Due to all of these factors I had begrudgingly accepted people like Alan Jones as useful in a simple way. I could listen to what he was saying and understand his opinions as the key to what kind of commentary incites emotion in his listeners. I still don’t believe that what he has to say has any proven evidence-base, but the way he says it certainly gets people furious.
You can’t just write Jones’ rants off as being offensive for offensive sake, that he just incites news headlines. He also finds out what is an emotionally sensitive topic for his listeners. He then gets angry on his listener’s behalf, all the while adding in issues that are within his own agenda. When his listener’s become aroused, their fight/flight system kicks in and all of a sudden their pre-frontal cortex is not working as well. The pre-frontal cortex is the main part of the brain that processes complex information and makes well planned decisions.
It’s easy to let yourself get worked up. It means you can feel OK about making decisions faster and not take into consideration other sides of the story. It lets you feel like you have control over what is making you feel threatened faster. What I am saying is that sometimes not acting on our fears is very important. The most visible or simple aspect of a scary situation is not necessarily the real reason you are scared. Next time Alan Jones or someone of his ilk makes you feel furious about something, maybe take some time to ask yourself what you’re overly aroused state means. Why do you feel threatened or angry? What are you protecting yourself against? Most importantly, what is the real threat?
I certainly asked myself these questions when I became furious about Alan Jones’ comments regarding the death of the prime minister’s father. Fairly simple explanation for me, my own father has recently suffered a major heart attack and has had some surgery. Family is exceptionally important to me and if anyone used the death of a family member to score in some kind of argument I don’t believe I could have been as balanced as Julia Gillard has been. I congratulate her for side stepping any comment. I congratulate her because she has taken away Jones’ power to elicit a public emotional reaction. She may have felt it behind closed doors, but she decided to act in a way that demonstrates that Jones is no real threat.