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The games people play
Jack Balshaw 8/28/01

Back in the sixties there was a book titled "The Games People Play". This book catalogued, discussed and dissected the various interactions between people and groups in our society. One of the "games" was called, "Let's you and him fight"

In this game a manipulative person (gamesman) causes two relatively innocent people to engage in negative or harmful behavior. The gamesman might be considered a gossip or troublemaker at a workplace or in a social group. He would relay to person A that person B had said something uncomplimentary about him whether it was true or not. When person A reacted, the troublemaker would tell person B what negative things had been said about him by person A. This was kept going until a full fledged feud was established.

The gamesman's pleasure was that he either made competitors at work look like problem employees as compared to him or the social group thought less of the two feuding people (A & B). If he was really successful, the workplace or social group would take sides creating an argumentive environment.

This game playing technique has risen to an art in the last few decades on radio and TV talk shows. The moderator, with the seemingly innocent purpose of helping people keep informed, brings people with competing interests or philosophies together either by phone or in a studio and asks questions designed to cause conflict. This isn't usually done in the print media because each party can read what the other said, analyze it and respond in a rational manner.

People on TV like Sally Jesse and Jerry Springer have created a whole entertainment genre with this technique. Rush Limbaugh, O'Reilly and the whole Fox network have created a comparable political genre. These have built on some of the "attack" pundit groups like Capital Gang and the Maclaughlin Group to create an atmosphere of constant conflict.

A sad thing is that many listeners and viewers have come to accept these media performances as their source of news and social standards. Given the option of listening to only extreme left or right wingers on politics or extreme moralists or hedonists on the entertainment versions, people are accepting extreme positions as the norm. Everyone forgets that, if the extremists are ignored, most people can agree to accept some middle ground position on most issues.

A sadder thing however is that the potential of the electronic media, has been prostituted to create conflict for its entertainment value and to enhance the profit of those controlling the airways. We may share some of the guilt by listening and watching, but not nearly to the extent as do the creators of these shows.

These shows producers will say they're only giving us what we want, but it's hard to "want" the things they never show. It's strange that they can, with a straight face, say that repetition of inflammatory news and views doesn't induce us to watch more and in the next breath tell advertisers that repetitive advertising will cause us to want to buy their commercial product.

In the nature of the "Let's you and him fight" we have to pay attention that we're not being manipulated and that we're getting valid information from both the entertainment and political talk shows. It may be that we're only getting entertainment from both.

Column note: The full text of all columns printed since April 1994 are available at www.balshaw.com. All column titles and a synopsis of each column is listed. Future modifications to the web page will list favorite columns and will include unpublished material that didn't fit the column's requirements.



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