FOX and the Scapegoat Mechanism

Today’s post on FOX News is inspired by Rene Girard’s “Mimetic” theory and an Aesop’s fable. First the fable.

THE FOX AND THE CROW

A Fox (read FOX) saw a Crow (the American people) fly off with a piece of cheese (real information) in its beak and settle on a branch in a tree.

“That’s for me, as I am a Fox,” said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.

“Good day, Mistress Crow,” he cried. “How well you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds (parties, races, countries), just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of all Birds.”

The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth, the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox.

“That will do,” said he. “That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese, I will give you a piece of advice for the future: ‘Do not trust flatterers.'”

THE SCAPEGOAT MECHANISM AND SOCIAL CONTROL

Rene Girard’s theory of “mimetic” desire, mimetic rivalry, and the scapegoat mechanism explains the secret of the appeal and success of FOX News. The Fox takes the cheese it extols by flattering its viewers as the true patriots, the lovers of goodness and truth.

FOX News is the 21st Century voice of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). Joe McCarthy and what came to be known as “McCarthyism” scared the American public in a search for neighbors who might be closeted communists or communist sympathizers until news anchor Edward R. Murrow ended McCarthy’s witch-hunt with a single newscast.

As in that sordid history of the Salem Witch Trials in which the Puritans were summoned by their magistrates and clergy to rid themselves of evil (see Kai Erickson’s The Wayward Puritans: a Study in the Sociology of Deviance), McCarthy’s hunt was a convention of social control to maintain the old fraying religious, political, cultural consensus. FOX resurrects those shameful chapters of the American experience.

There is no quicker way to rally people than to create a scapegoat (a shared enemy, the embodiment of evil). All it takes is a FOX to flatter the “Queen of all Birds” into dropping the Cheese.

4 thoughts on “FOX and the Scapegoat Mechanism

    • Mona, It’s interesting that the pieces on the dogs elicited a inordinately large number of responses, mostly on Facebook where it was re-posted. This one and others that are “political” do not draw the same attention. I think we’re all just tired of the name calling and the “national debate” which is no debate at all. People are weary. Perhaps if “FOX” had not been in the title more people would have read it? Don’t know. But I’ve concluded that I can not bite my tongue. It’s a matter of conscience when a TV institution acts demonically (i.e., twists the truth for its own self-interest and ideology) and demagogically. More subtle ways of getting at the problem assume that we have lots of time. The conversation yesterday with the man who “loves Jesus” and loves FOX News left me gasping for air. A subtle approach would not have worked. We live in silos of like-minded people and that’s dividing us. If we stay in the silos, talking only with those who agree, nothing will change.

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  1. Gordon, I googled Rene Girard with the name of the French philosopher I met @ the UM last week, Bernard Stiegler. They are on the same pg. concerning the “scapegoat mechanism”. Small world isn’t it. Another tangent to follow to fig. the world out. Thanks, Gary

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    • Gary, a small world for sure. Girard is so powerful. I first ran into the scapegoat theory while doing prison ministry and reading Kai Erickson’s book on the Salem Witch Trials as a mechanism for mimetic rivalry and scapegoating for the sake of social cohesion. Creation of “the other” and the scapegoat in Christian theology came into view with Sebastian Moore’s The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger. Girard’s Mimetic theory goes right to the heart of why the cross-resurrection is so powerful as a symbol. Glad to see, but not surprised, that Mernard Stiegler and Girard are on the same page.

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