- - Thursday, April 2, 2015

I have just realized a fundamental truth: “Cinderella” is the problem with American politics.

Let me explain why. I watched the new movie – if it can indeed be called new — over the weekend. It was cliched, predictable, and more than a little outdated.

But I really liked it. It’s a beautiful movie, after all. And that’s a problem.

No, the problem is not that the stepsisters are vapid and the problem is not that “Have courage and be kind” is a motto as ridiculous and meaningless as “Congress can be solved with bipartisan interchange.”

The problem is that there’s a clear divide between good and evil and we like watching it. The problem is dichotomy.

Since the time we are very young, we are conditioned to view the world as black and white, right and wrong. A villain is so central to stories, in fact, that the design team for “Cinderella” used black in the step-family’s costumes and made them look silly, so as to create no confusion as to who the bad guys are. To those of you who think “Frozen” is a better movie, it too fails miserably in this respect. When faced with the potential of having two equally committed, handsome men for Anna to choose from (spoiler alert for the one person who hasn’t yet watched the movie), Disney (with its bow to Hans Christian Anderson) preferred to make one man evil.

It’s not only Disney. The vast majority of conflict in popular books from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games to The Tale of Two Cities stem from the bad vs. good divide.

In real life, of course, romances end because people weren’t right for each other, everyone has complicated reasons for being good some times and bad other times, and understanding the motivations for individuals’ actions is the key to working with them.

But we prefer the blame game. And this is the problem with Congress.
Last week, Ted Cruz announced he was running for president and Harry Reid announced retirement plans. Partisan warfare rocketed. But neither senator is actually that polarizing. Drop your partisan ideology for a second – a brief second – and you will agree with me.

Here are some facts about Ted Cruz for Republicans:

Ted Cruz thinks our defense policy is “fundamentally unserious,” but cannot be bothered to help fix it by showing up to Senate Armed Services Committee hearings.

Ted Cruz is as qualified, citizenship-wise, to run for president as Barack Obama if he really had been born in Kenya. (Mr. Cruz’s only claim is that his mom was an American citizen when he was born).

Ted Cruz is absolutely, factually, wrong about global warming.

And here are some facts about Harry Reid for Democrats:

• Harry Reid very well may have not won re-election, even if he ran.

• Harry Reid believed until 2012 that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

• Harry Reid has absolutely, factually, been in Congress too long.

Now most of us only like hearing the half of these things we agree with. So we watch news that fits our beliefs and we’re afraid to let ourselves agree with the other side. We view our party as “good” or “right” and the other as “wrong” or “evil.”

This isn’t necessarily our fault. Subconsciously, we are conditioned to create groups. Researchers have shown that an in-group and an out-group can be created by something as simple as the randomized wearing of different colored stickers. Once groups are created, standing up for one’s own group becomes more important than thinking rationally or solving problems cooperatively.

So, it’s not only Congress. We’d all rather have “our” way than work together.

This leads us to the second problem.

Dichotomous views create groupthink.

Spend some time analyzing what you like to read and watch. Conservative media is wasting a lot of time on unsupported Harry Reid conspiracy theories this week and liberal media is wasting time on fighting back. While Fox News cannot stop mentioning the Obamas’ extravagant trips, the liberal media is not even talking about it. Liberal media bias toward Mr. Obama also may have affected the outcome of the 2008 election and played a role in Mr. Obama winning the primaries. Conservatives and liberals alike are quite pro-Israel and anti-Palestine.

This attitude of viewing the world as black and white – or blue and red – prevents the fairy-tale “bipartisan interchange.” It can’t be achieved.

Democrats and Republicans rarely can cross party lines, even if they want to. By black-boxing people, we force them to conform to the stereotypes we have of them, making them reinforce those stereotypes.

It’s a vicious cycle. So why does this happen?

The press likes dichotomy more than we do.

The media, myself included, thrives on controversy. It gives us stuff to write about and stuff to analyze. More importantly, it gives us money.

Because we want to watch and read things that conform to our own world views and because we like sensation, we create MSNBC, FOX, and a whole bunch of other news sources that pit right-wing against left-wing and create sensation.

Another thing that happened last week, for example, was the departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction. Zayn Malik, One Direction, the devastated fans, Simon Cowell, and even I felt bad about it. So who benefited? That’s right. The press did. They wanted to spread rumors about his potential new girl, they refused to give him privacy, they tore him apart on Twitter, and he eventually quit from stress.

We’re doing exactly the same thing to Congress. Eighty-four percent of Americans don’t approve of the job Congress is doing. Frankly, many of us don’t even think it’s doing a job. While disagreeing with their decisions is healthy, trying to attack them in every which way is not. No one deserves that kind of pressure, not even seemingly useless senators.

With Fox News trying to tear down President Obama, much of mainstream media trying to tear down Ted Cruz, and Rush Limbaugh trying to tear down the planet, we’re not acting like adults. We’re acting like slightly bigger teenagers, who act like slightly bigger children, who get their simple ideas of a dichotomous world from movies like “Cinderella.”

If we want to change this, we have to realize that the real world is not split into “good” and “evil,” “Democrats” and “Republicans.” We have to incorporate more parties and viewpoints into American politics, so that we’re not forced to be a part of one or the other. We should stop conditioning our children to split the world into “right” and “wrong.” And the media has to stop making every issue a war, forcing politicians and celebrities to fit into glass slippers that are too small, and creating sensation or conflict for the sake of it.

“Cinderella” may be a beautiful movie, but viewing everything as dichotomous has to stay in the land of fantasy, where it belongs.

Isvari Mohan is a singer, Global Law Scholar and author of the war drama “The Eyes of Mikra.” Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@IsvariM).


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