Once again, summer had come to an end and the next school year was upon us—as signified by our annual county fair. The array of flashing lights, the mixed smells of barbequed chicken and cotton candy, and the bold sounds of the high school band competition all contributed to the fair experience. After sampling a few items that probably shouldn’t be classified as “food” due to their lack of nutritional value, we decided to take a walk around the midway.
I’m usually very careful about the types of carnival games I play; I won’t spend the money if I don’t think I have a really good chance of winning. There was one game, however, that looked very doable so my buddy, Jerry, and I plopped down a couple of bucks for the opportunity to throw a softball into a basket. The guy manning the booth made it look easy as could be, so I figured that I too could make it happen and emerge a hero for my wife by winning a stuffed animal. Only a short time later, I was a goat with no prize and my wallet ten dollars lighter. I never found out exactly how the carny vendor did it, but I knew I had been played.
Several months ago, while reading through the book of Acts, I noticed a trend. When opponents of the gospel attempted to hinder its spread, they often did so by stirring up the emotions of the masses. One or two lone individuals would incite an entire crowd to drive the Apostle Paul and his ministry team out of town. A lot has changed in the 2000 years since, but the basic technique remains the same. If anything, the strategies involved with manipulating people have improved dramatically.
We all know that due to our modern technological capabilities, “truckloads” of data are being minded from our daily actions. Businesses, and unfortunately our government, know where we go, where we shop, what we buy, and even what we like, to a large degree. And how is all of this data used? To move us toward particular actions—usually ones that involve us buying a product or placing a vote.
The same general techniques are used with media. Each movie takes the viewer through an intended range of emotions to establish a desired sense of connection. Each political ad is a carefully scripted effort to move public opinion in one direction or another. Each news broadcast carries a similar agenda, only the messages are generally more subtle.
I have not closely followed the murder trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, but one thing in particular has frustrated me about the situation: to a large degree, some media outlets are manipulating human emotions in an effort to drive public opinion.
I don’t know what really happened and so my hope and prayer is that the jury gets it right, and that justice is served. This case isn’t about a Hispanic killing an African American—it’s about whether a man crossed an essential line in his efforts to protect his neighborhood. Thus, I refuse to be manipulated by the nonstop line of media photos picturing of a younger, innocent looking Trayvon Martin.
The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case provides us with a significant example of how public opinion is manipulated, but it is only the very small tip of a very large iceberg. The questions I am compelled to ask are the following: “What moves you?” “Are your emotions the primary driving force in your decision making processes?” “To what extent are you being played?” Emotions play an important and meaningful role in our lives but they should never serve as trusted guides.