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The Ethics of Pop Culture's Influence on Elections

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Whose Country Music is it?

Here in my home state of Nebraska, one can occasionally hear a song on any of the local country music radio stations concerning 9/11, the war in Iraq or a related theme. About once a month while I am surfing the digital dial, such a song comes on the radio, in which a listener undoubtedly often feels pangs of patriotism and feeling of American pride. It's good to hear and not overplayed. Songs like "Letters from Home," "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," and "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning," among others, were written to stir feelings of nationalist pride and resolution. However, since yesterday, the day before the midterm election, my ears have been bombarded with one patriotic, war-spirited song after another on these country music stations, prompting me to ask myself, "Why are they suddenly playing these songs now? What is the agenda?" I can't help but get the impression that the station managers and executives are carrying out a subtle, insidious campaign to subconsciously influence their audience to vote in favor of candidates advocating a "stay the course" policy in Iraq.

Yet what makes me even more uncomfortable than the feeling that I am being manipulated is the disdain I feel toward these stations for actually manipulating listeners who have no idea they are being passively influenced, willingly or otherwise. Unlike open advertising whose sole purpose for influencing listeners is to generate revenue from the sale of some service or product, these stations subtly manipulate their audience by reinforcing the conservative agenda through their music. Country music listeners, they imagine, are conservative voters and want to "stay the course" in Iraq, so they play war-songs to remind them to vote for pro-war candidates. It is a self-fulfilling undertaking, for by encouraging their listeners to vote in a particular way, they also encourage more listeners of a conservative bent to listen to their stations. When more conservative listeners tune in, the stations in turn play more conservative music to inspire more listeners.

Now the fact that a radio station caters to its listeners demographics is not at issue. What I do take issue with is the fact that their listeners are obviously being manipulated to vote for conservative, pro-war candidates as exemplified in the sheer volume of patriotic war songs they are playing even at this very moment. Why corporate radio owned by the likes of Clear Channel Communications and Alliance Broadcasting should desire to influence an election is almost beyond ethical comprehension since typically corporations are non-partisan organizations, but undoubtedly it has ultimately to do with money, driving a conservative listenership to listen to those stations which reflect not only their taste in music but their political tastes as well.

Woe to the consumer, though, should the rest of corporate America decide to take such a passive-aggressive role in influencing their customer's voting behavior, for it speaks to a political partisanship that is needlessly manipulated for monetary gain.

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