Candidates are selling fear and anger. Don't buy them.
Using reason instead of fear to make important decisions is not an alien concept.
PORTLAND, ORE. — I hope radio and TV transmissions don't have any effect on global warming because temperatures across the broadcasting spectrum will be heading through the roof during the final countdown to the midterm elections.
No time left for thoughtful, substantive discussions at this point. The main focus now for campaign consultants and other political professionals is to bring on the heat in all media venues. Most of the messages will be using the conventional formula: short on words, long on repetition. Keep it simple. Say it again. Over and over. Never let up.
I also hope a majority of voters are savvy enough to know that a lot of what goes out over the airwaves during the next few days is simply the concluding phase of a marketing plan. Marketing experts understand that fear and anger can be effective motivational tools. These qualities are highly prized commodities on television and radio because of their entertainment value.
I'm not being cynical. The reality of modern America is that some people truly enjoy working for political campaigns and the electronic media because both fields offer plenty of opportunities for drama, and they often reward behavior that we'd never let our children get away with.
I once heard a columnist tell a group of aspiring writers that he didn't mind when readers wrote letters to the paper complaining about his work. He explained that an editor told him angry letters were good because it meant people were reading the column and reacting to it. Not getting mail was a bad sign because it was an indication of reader apathy.
That notion has never appealed to me, which probably explains why I'll never be called to appear on any of the talking-head network shows. But I've done enough local TV segments to know what producers want from a guest. You have to be glib, decisive, and self-confident. Excitement is good, and saying something that gets the audience riled up is definitely exciting.
This isn't a new idea. Filmmakers have been tapping into it for decades. A memorable example occurs in the 1951 science- fiction classic "The Day The Earth Stood Still." Halfway through the movie, the alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) escapes from government custody, begins mingling among the local population, and is alarmed by the growing climate of antialien hysteria.
Soon he joins a crowd gathered around his flying saucer. A reporter, eagerly so- liciting worried comments from the onlookers, extends a microphone toward Klaatu and says, "I suppose you're just as scared as the rest of us." Trying to change the mood, Klaatu replies, "I am fearful, when I see people substituting fear for reason...." The newsman, dismayed that Klaatu is digressing into a boring monologue, cuts him off with a quick "Thank you!" and moves on to someone else.
Keep all this in mind when you enter the voting booth on Nov. 7. Don't base your choices on something you saw during a 30-second attack spot. Using reason instead of fear to make important decisions is not an alien concept.
I'm Jeffrey Shaffer, and I approve this message.
• Jeffrey Shaffer writes about media, American culture, and personal history.