Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance

Sunday night was the 83rd Academy Awards presentation. The ceremony is a celebration of the motion picture industry, and this year it featured a theme of “overcoming adversity.”

The Best Picture category included Colin Firth conquering a speech disability in “The King’s Speech,” Mark Wahlberg waging a comeback in “The Fighter,” and Hailee Steinfeld pursuing justice in “True Grit.”

There was even a sense of overcoming adversity in the presenters. Kirk Douglas introduced the nominees for Best Supporting Actress, showing that he was able to deal with the consequences of a debilitating stroke.

Randy Newman showed he had spunk in accepting the award for Best Original Song, noting that while this was his second Oscar, it had taken twenty nominations to get there. Tom Hooper accepted the award for Best Director, and gave all the credit to his mother!

The show was entertaining, and the political comments were kept to a minimum. Even so, there was that irresistible urge to demonstrate anti-Republican credentials on the part of a few individuals. Wally Pfister, the cinematographer of “Inception,” praised the Wisconsin collective bargaining struggle, and Gary Rizzo (winning an Oscar for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing; also on the crew of “Inception”) voiced his support for union members of his production crew.

It’s hard not to share their enthusiasm. They are winners, and they are exuberant about their passions.

But the enthusiasm for unions seems slightly out of touch. Can it be that this is a deeply held belief on behalf of Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Pfister, or is it something done for political expediency?

Here is why I question their conviction: “Unions” is a term being used in the same fashion as “Immigrants” in our political discourse. Republicans have concerns about our national policy toward illegal immigration, but the political advantage in the discussion goes to those who characterize Republicans as being anti-immigrant. A Republican concern about a specific policy issue is turned into xenophobia. The narrative is not that Republicans want something done about illegal immigration; it’s that Republicans fear diversity.

That type of political maneuver is being used in Wisconsin, where a Republican administration is seeking to curtail the power of public-sector unions. Concern for fairness and balance of power in a specific instance is turned into a Republican hatred of all union endeavors.

In this atmosphere of political posturing, I suppose it makes sense to use the Academy Awards to speak out. But then, this brings us to the issue of cognitive dissonance.

If you accept a particular point of view, and then find it to be false, your reaction is strong and negative. If you believe in the sanctity of union activities, and then find those activities encompass assaults on adversaries, the use of violent rhetoric, and the desecration of memorials, those actions might cause a reevaluation of your position.

I suppose it depends on your politics, but if you give someone your trust and then they lie to you, you don’t feel good about it.

Some would call that cognitive dissonance.

UPDATE 3/2/2011:
More Oscar politics described by Zombie at Pajamas Media.

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