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September 1, 2003 Opinion

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On telling others to just shut up...
Sipping coffee in the morning, reading the newspaper at the big round table as the sun rises, is a good time of day for me.  Then I sometimes make the mistake of scanning the "letters to the editor" section.  I saw on the 26th a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times by a fellow named Jim Hostetter, regarding the decision that Judge Moore's Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the state courthouse in Alabama had to be removed.  Hostetter wrote that this separation of church and state stuff had gone way too far, and most people were good Christians, and that the eighty-six percent in this country who believe in God should tell the other fourteen percent to "just shut up."   Curious. 

One Ron Samuels wrote in reply a few days later "What if the eighty-eight percent of us who are not African American told the twelve percent who are the same thing? (Oh, yeah, we used to, didn't we?)  One of the unique aspects of our government is the protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority."

Yeah, well, issues of church and state aside, and issues of racial oppression aside, I got to thinking about the rhetorical device the first writer employed.

Using an outraged, condescending "shut up" to deal with someone with whom you don't agree has become a quite common, acceptable method of arguing these days. 
Shouting those words and refusing to say more, or listen to more, is, I think, being used now as a way to indicate you are the adult and your opponent is a foolish child - as if discussion is pointless with someone like your opponent.  The idea is that you are indicating you recognize how trivial and stupid the opposing viewpoint is, and since your time is valuable, you are offering to help everyone out and close off pointless words.  Efficiency.  You are "task oriented" - and everyone knows the common sense answer to the questions being discussed, so why all the talk?  Your time is more valuable.

You hear this rhetorical device used more and more everywhere.  There is a hint of it in the way the current administration in Washington deals with the press and with its critics.  The official, or spokesperson, heaves a sigh and answers a question, giving every indication most sensible folks have more common sense and know the answer already - and saying anything more is silly.  Condescending?  Yes.  But it sets a tone of a world run by busy adults with important things to do being bothered by infantile questions from childish reporters making a big deal out of nothing.  The idea is to assume everyone knows we did the right thing in Iraq, and with the economy, and with the environment.  Life would be easier of these little kids would stop being snotty troublemakers.  There are important things to do.  It would be a whole lot better if folks just shut up and let the adults get back to work.
But most people don't watch news conferences and press briefings.  Still, this behavior is being modeled day after day for them, so like Jim Hostetter, they can imitate it and assume the "exasperated adult" role. 

Where you will see this modeled most clearly is on the most popular news show on television, Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor.

Here are excepts from his show complied by Jack Shafer of Slate magazine:
"Already the two parties are blaming each other [about the power blackout]. And I have two words for them- shut up."
Aug. 15, 2003

On Location at the Los Angeles Book Fair
[To Al Franken]: "Hey, shut up! You had your 35 minutes! Shut up!"
June 1, 2003

"My father didn't tell me anything. My father just said: 'Shut up. Eat your food. There are people starving in Korea,' but he didn'the didn't offer a lot of career counseling, but he never discouraged me."
Sept. 17, 1999

"All of these spin-meisters on both sides should just shut up until all the [Florida] votes are counted."
Nov. 9, 2000

"There is no victory for any American in the impeachment trial. The president should be ashamed of himself, and his partisans should shut up."
Feb. 4, 1999

"He has dodged this program, Alec Baldwin has, for years. Bottom line: If you're going to sling it, Alec, then stand up to some fire. If not, shut up and don't be ridiculous."
Jan. 2, 1999

"Anyway, Kelsey Grammar and Robert Duvall were at this dinner, and [they] both said, hey, Dixie Chicks and allthese people should just shut up."
April 28, 2003

"And it is our duty as loyal Americans to shut up once the fighting begins, unless - unless facts prove the operation wrong, as was the case in Vietnam."
Feb. 27, 2003

"Canada shouldn't have any say [about the Guantanamo prisoners] at all. I mean, just shut up about it."
April 16, 2003

To an Anti-War Protester Whose Father Died on 9/11 -
O'Reilly: "Shut up. Shut up."
Jeremy Glick: "Oh, please don't tell me to shut up."
O'Reilly: "As respect - as respect - in respect for your father, who was a Port Authority worker, a fine American, who got killed unnecessarily by barbarians"
Glick: "By radical extremists who were trained by this government"
O'Reilly: "Out of respect for him"
Glick: "...not the people of America."
O'Reilly: "I'm not going to..."
Glick: "...the people of the ruling class, the small minority."
O'Reilly: "Cut his mic. I'm not going to dress you down anymore, out of respect for your father. We will be back in a moment with more of The Factor."
Glick: "That means we're done?"
O'Reilly: "We're done."
Feb. 4, 2003

"What Jimmy Carter should do is privately give Mr. Bush his opinion and shut up publicly."
Feb. 18, 2003

"But if the Bush administration wants to attack al-Qaida in Yemen, the Swedes should shut up, because basically it's our people who are dead, they killed our people, and we have to run them down."
Nov. 20, 2002

"Believe me when I tell you The Factor goes out of its way to get Democrats on this broadcast. But Daschle has been and remains too frightened to appear. So with all due respect, senator, shut up."
May 17, 2002

to Sen. Evan Bayh
"If you see [Sen. Tom Daschle] for me, senator, tell him to shut up. For me. You can be nice."
March 17, 2003

[To an atheist Eagle Scout, Darrell Lambert]: "I want to quote this - 'On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and to my country and obey Scout law,' on and on and on and on. I mean, God's in the first 10 words. So why did you have to tell them you were an atheist if you didn't have any trouble reading the oath? Why didn't you just shut up?"
Oct. 30, 2002

"My thesis, you may know, is that nobody should ever talk about their sexuality in any - in any regard - ever. You should not define yourself that way. It just makes life a lot rougher. So, therefore, I would probably say, if you're a gay celebrity, shut up."
March 21, 2001

"I am in favor of having equal treatment for everyone. But I'm also in favor of having everybody in the military shut up about their sexuality. All right. Not discuss it, it's not germane. It's irrelevant."
Dec. 20, 2000

"You can do whatever you want. Just shut up about it. Little kids don't need to know whether you're homosexual, heterosexual, a cross-dresser, whatever. Don't discuss it. That's reasonable."
Sept. 28, 2000

"I don't want the Scout master to tell my boys if he's gay, if he's straight, if he's a bigamist, if he's anything. I don't think that has any place in Scouting, so therefore I don't think the Scouts are wrong in saying shut up. We just don't want to hear about this."
Aug. 29, 2000

"Why didn't you just - why - why didn't you just not say anything? This... I never can get this for you guys, and I - and I don't mean to be arrogant or anything like - I just don't get it. Just shut up about it.  Who cares what you do?  That's what the Air Force is asking you to do. Shut up."
June 8, 2000

"I'm asking you to shut up about sex."
Sept. 23, 2002

O'Reilly: "I don't go running around telling everybody about my sex life, and I don't think you do either, do you?"
Hugh Downs: "No, you don't have to"
O'Reilly: "So just shut up about it."
July 2, 2001
So from sex to left wing politics to... here is where you have a set of behaviors to model.  Bill O'Reilly does tell people to shut up a whole lot.  The most popular news personality in the country shows how its done.
Well, I like the line about Canadians.  In my two years in London, Ontario, I found almost every single one of my Canadian friends polite to the point of reticence, willing to listen thoughtfully, and quite circumspect.  Bill here seems to have other Canadians in mind.
The list here is rather starting, but I suspect Bill O'Reilly may be quite different off the air. 
This rhetorical device seems to me to be a marketing technique, a signature phrase to please his audience who long to say shut up to anyone who disagrees with them.  They may be too timid or insecure to shout that out in their own lives - one could get punched in the nose - so he gives them all a vicarious thrill? 
Something like that. 
This rhetorical flourish is the product he sells, no more.  Bill O'Reilly may be quite different in private - my brother made good money running a topnotch German restaurant for twenty-seven years, and he hated German food.  It was a job, and it paid well.
Nevertheless, Bill here provides a powerful behavioral model for those who feel put upon and oppressed, or repressed.
The limitations of the use of this particular rhetorical device are obvious.  As far and away the most watched new source on television in the United States, and the de facto government voice, the spokesmen for this current administration, Fox News, centering its rhetoric on the O'Reilly methodology, does seem to want to stifle dissent and dialog. 
George Bush cannot really say, Oh, Shut Up! to reporters' questions in news conferences - bad form.  Of course he seldom has news conferences.  And of course hard questions are no longer asked by the fearful, ratings-driven American press.  And GWB does, really, have to play lip service to the concept of free speech.
Bill O'Reilly is the surrogate - he does the dirty work for Bush.  And someday soon the de facto may become the de jure and it won't matter any longer.
That issue has been raised.

"Have we gone too far with this First Amendment business?" - Bill O'Reilly, August 29


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September 1, 2003

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