What I Learned from Watching The Voice: I Think I Live in a Bubble

2016_TheVoice_S10_mdot_1Besides a few episodes of Disney Channel shows geared to middle schoolers in the 90s, I didn’t really watch TV growing up. I preferred to read books, having been raised on the general theory that television is bad for the brain.

My first foray into television was after college, when I discovered the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Insightful, biting, and well-researched, I used it as a news source and a sort of moral guide. Other than the Daily Show, I have seen the first several seasons of West Wing, and a few episodes each of Master of None and 30 Rock. I also love Sherlock.

I have never watched a reality show. I never watch mainstream news channels (I don’t own cable). I do not watch sports or dramas.

My biggest interactions with the media are indie films, Pandora radio, and news publications. I read the New York Times and The Boston Globe and a daily political digest called MASSter List, and articles posted by my friends on Facebook from sources like The Atlantic, Jezebel, The Guardian, VerySmartBrothas, and Salon. I think I am probably representative of a large segment of the young, liberal, elite-educated population. We think of ourselves as smart and well-informed and interesting and curious, and we get a lot of our information from each other and from the same news sources. We are in an echo-chamber of sorts, a Bubble.

Don’t get me wrong: the Bubble can be a beautiful place. Inclusive, diverse, and justice-oriented, not to mention intellectually stimulating, it keeps me on my toes and pushes me to think critically constantly. But I am a bit concerned that it’s a Bubble in the first place.

A few weeks ago I caught an awful fever that had me sprawled on the couch for three days straight. In my delirium, I began watching The Voice, recommended to me by a colleague who knows I love to sing. I was so enthralled by what I saw (and heard) that I am now following the whole season.

Watching The Voice has been eye opening for me, not the least of which included recognizing how ridiculously talented some people are at singing. But I’ve also learned some unexpected lessons:

1. I live in a Bubble of intellectual, critical, negative, and sarcastic commentary on the world. In this Bubble, people are respected for criticizing authority and systems, pointing out weakness and mistakes of people in authority, and discovering ways in which someone else’s way of thinking about the world is not inclusive enough. Life seems to be about accomplishing important things, making the correct criticisms about the world, being smart (using certain advanced vocabulary is key here), and having experiences that are unique and would be respected by others.

2. Outside of the Bubble, these things are not values. They are seen as negative and arrogant and obstructionist. Rather, values include: being nice to your mother, being grateful for what you’ve been given and loyal to your country, being warm and friendly, participating in community properly, living a good and humble life, being loyal to your spouse and loving to your children, and working hard at your job. Life seems to about relationships, home life, and fun experiences that you enjoy in the moment.

3. Outside of the Bubble, most people believe in God, and saying thank you to God will earn you applause, not derision.

4. Outside of the Bubble, people respect members of the American military personally. They don’t just talk about American foreign policy on an abstract level. The sacrifice of soldiers is personal, and is based on a deep love for America. If that love for America is questioned, then you are questioning the sacrifices and risks of real soldiers and making those soldiers out to be worthless.

5. Outside of the Bubble, story, character, and personality matter: how people come across personally, how their backgrounds are narrated, how they make you feel… these things affect a person’s popularity and status.

I don’t know that I can change who I am or who I’ve been educated to be, but I wonder if there are ways we can bust the Bubble. Can we abandon our sarcasm for story? Can we concern ourselves less with criticism and more with character? Can we expand our sources to include the voices of those outside the Bubble?

Or is this sort of accountability and questioning necessary for the advancement of justice? Are our sources legitimately better?

Is it a Bubble it all? Maybe I’m imagining things.

But as we watch the election against Trump near, I am wondering above all: how can we use our awareness of the values of people outside of the Bubble to achieve a better world for all people? Instead of deriding ‘them,’ can we bring a message to the non-Bubble-dwellers that respects and invites them in to our work?

Thoughts for the day.

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