The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Audiences, Crowds, and Mobs

Rich Galen

Thursday August 2, 2018

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  • From Psychological Parameters for Crowd Simulation: From Audiences to Mobs:
    "In the social psychology literature, crowds are classified as audiences and mobs. Audiences are passive crowds, whereas mobs are active crowds with emotional, irrational and seemingly homogeneous behavior."

  • The Tampa, Florida rally at which Donald Trump spoke earlier this week was the perfect example of a mob: "Active crowds with emotional, irrational, and seemingly homogeneous behavior."

  • There was never an audience. When Trump speaks, there never is. Trump doesn't abide passivity and he has learned over his many years of demagoguery that railing against something (or, more likely, someone) is a more efficient use of his rhetorical energy than urging support for something (or someone - almost always himself).

  • Trump has weaponized two words: Fake news. His supporters now simply don't believe what they see on TV or hear on radio, much less what they read on the Internet. What they believe is what Trump tells them.

  • If Trump points to the back of the hall where the press is located and pronounces them the "enemy of the people" and purveyors of "fake news" the crowd quickly turns into a mob.

  • During a live cut in from Florida, CNN's Jim Acosta did what TV reporters have done since networks learned to schlep cameras and equipment out of their studios and to the location where news was being made: Talking into the camera to tell the TV audience what he or she is seeing and hearing.

  • What Acosta was seeing and hearing was classic Trump, such as:
    -- Polls are fake except for the unnamed poll that showed Trump is the most popular Republican ever. And,

    -- "Republicans want strong borders and no crime; Democrats want open borders, which equals massive crime." And,

    -- "This is the time to straighten out the worst trade deals ever made by any country on Earth, they are the worst."

  • You know the litany: They're the worst (whoever they are), we're the best, and Trump is the best of them all.

  • Every President - every politician - has stock phrases that whip up their audience/crowd. At least some of those stock phrases, if not most of them, are aspirational: We want the world to see America as "the shining city on the hill" not "We're going to rain down horror on anyone who gets in our way."

  • Or, "It's morning again in America"; not, "It was dark, cold, and rainy all day, every day before I got here."

  • What we were seeing was a crowd becoming a mob chanting "CNN sucks" trying to drown Acosta out.

  • The danger of a crowd becoming a mob is the loss of individual responsibility.

  • Dr. Emory S. Bogardus, wrote in The Fundamentals of Social Psychology:
    "A mob is a crowd in a very high state of suggestibility. It is characterized by frenzied behavior. It is a crowd that has become frantic. It is a tornado, using its pent-up forces irresponsibly and ruthlessly."

  • You can dislike Jim Acosta's aggressiveness. You can criticize his lack of respect for the Office of (if not the person of) President of the United States. You can even believe CNN is "out to get" Trump.

  • Those are legit complaints and positions.

  • Acosta posted a 45 second clip of what he and his colleagues were facing in Tampa. It's on the Secret Decoder Ring today. Play it a couple of times and pay special attention to the woman just below the press riser.

  • Her face is screwed up in fury. She gives Acosta the finger. Not satisfied with just one hand and one finger, she gives him the rarely used double-handed, single-finger salute.

  • That is not the way an audience acts. That is not even the way a crowd acts. That is the way a mob acts.

  • And, if Trump keeps this up, someone is going to get hurt.

  • Someone is going to get whipped up into enough of a frenzy to do something like throw a chair at the press section. Someone in the press section might well throw it back. The mob may charge the press, punches will be thrown, and equipment damaged or destroyed.

  • Security will have to intervene. Think about what that will look like to rest of the world.

  • An audience will have turned into a crowd; the crowd into a mob; and the mob into criminals.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring today: A link to Dr. Bogardus' essay and to the Jim Acosta clip.

    The Mullfoto is a needed break from it all: An example of the combined humor of six- and eight-year-old grand daughters.

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