Sunday, March 28, 2010

manufactured controversy

A question, inspired by this ruckus in Jamie Kenny's comments. Is the notion of a manufactured controversy analytically useful?

I can see that the ideas of fake consensus, or fear-uncertainty-and-doubt, are useful. But manufactured controversy presumes that someone is manufacturing the controversy. Presumably they are doing this to make a point of some sort, unless they are simply trolling. They want their side of the manufactured controversy to win. Isn't that, in fact, controversy? The climate-change deniers are full of crap and funded by the coal industry, but they exist.

Arguably, manufactured controversy is a bit of an unspeak concept; if there is no real controversy, therefore there is no real opposition, and my views embody the broad consensus. In some ways, it's a delegitimiser; in others, a tranquiliser. I don't need to worry about the opposition - it's all froth.

1 comment:

Uncle Petie said...

I think Cian's over-extending it a bit in that thread, but there's a pretty recognisable meaning that's worth keeping. "Manufactured controversy" doesn't have to mean that the political dispute itself is being manufactured, it just means that some reasonably uncontroversial fact about the world is being called into question for the purpose of a specific political agenda.

So the bullshit's kind of the point: whether or not Americans want universal health-care might be a real controversy, but whether or not that health care will involve death panels is most definitely not.

Intelligent design would probably be the purest example here: there might be a legitimate dispute about whether or not religious parents want their children taught about evolution, but that's rather different to saying that there's a scientific controversy about evolution. That was just something that the Discovery Institute manufactured.

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