Understanding QAnon’s Connection to American Politics, Religion, and Media Consumption

“A nontrivial 15% of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation,” while the vast majority of Americans (82%) disagree with this statement. Republicans (23%) are significantly more likely than independents (14%) and Democrats (8%) to agree that the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.

Similarly, one in five Americans (20%) agree with the statement “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders,” while a majority (77%) disagree. Nearly three in ten Republicans (28%), compared to 18% of independents and 14% of Democrats, agree with this secondary QAnon conspiracy theory. Trends among demographic groups are similar to those of the core QAnon conspiracy theory.

Fifteen percent of Americans agree that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” while the vast majority (85%) disagree. Republicans (28%) are twice as likely as independents (13%) and four times as likely as Democrats (7%) to agree that because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence.”

-PRRI Staff, “Understanding QAnon’s Connection to American Politics, Religion, and Media Consumption.” prri.org. May 27, 2021.

I think the most interesting thing about this polling information is in Table 1, Factors Contributing to QAnon Beliefs:

  • being a White/Hispanic who subscribes to evangelical/Catholic religion
  • being a person of color
  • young, less than 30 years of age
  • no college
  • being Republican/Conservative
  • a media diet of Fox News, far-right networks, and not much else
  • lower income
  • resides in a rural area

When you read the quote above, it’s pretty tempting to just leap to the conclusion that 20% of Americans are morons. But, when you look at the list of factors contributing to QAnon beliefs, it’s pretty clear that these beliefs are partly a reaction to limited opportunity. If you look around and notice that you don’t have any prospects, the political and religious belief systems you subscribe to are waning, and there’s media offering the perspective that it is not your fault, but the fault of evil actors that will soon be overthrown, then it’s an attractive belief system. It gives you hope that your circumstances will change and that you’ll be returned to a better, your rightful, place. It’s certainly easier than looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking: “Perhaps, I’ll have to do something to change my environment or myself.”

On one hand, systemic exploitation is a problem. If you are poor, a person of color and/or live in rural area, your environment acts as a serious constraint on your opportunities. And, if you are struggling to make ends meet in a rural community, is it really possible to just move to a urban area that is more expensive and where you don’t have social connections? So, aspects of this are immutable and are a function of historical trends, systems of exploitation and other factors. If these can be changed, it can only be changed on the timescale of decades or longer.

And, there’s a social dimension. People go to churches, subscribe to political ideologies, and so forth because they want to be accepted as part of a group. A shared belief system binds together groups. One of the most common beliefs people have is that the problems they have are caused by someone else, The Other. It’s evident in every kind of X-ism. You can see it in commonly expressed ideas like:

  • Women: can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
  • Poor people are poor because they don’t like to work.
  • Stereotypical views of ethnic groups, e.g., Shylock as an archetype for Jewish people.
  • Rural people are hillbillies.

And, the funny thing is there is truth to the belief. If someone thinks you are a hillbilly, they tacitly don’t think you are as good as they are or their circle of friends and might exclude you from opportunities. So, you are being oppressed. But, at the same time, there’s also some truth to the stereotypes. If you haven’t had the same educational opportunities, then it is likely you don’t have the same kind of skill sets either.

But, what is to be done? Adopting a belief like QAnon is to hope for a savior. Sadly, this savior is never going to come, but perhaps, the hope for one is enough to get through today, which, for some, might just be enough. It is certainly easier than changing our social milieu, our friends, our church and our sense of self. But, as is frequently the case, the harder path is probably the better path. When what you stand for is dead, there’s no choice but to resurrect yourself as someone different.

A New Orality is Coming to Replace Old Literacy

If the past emergence of newspapers was ‘linked to the liberation of the national bourgeoisie’, where is the social media era leading us?

(AM): The social media era has already led us to what Martin Gurri has called ‘the revolt of the public ’. I have described this process as the emancipation of authorship. Before the arrival of the internet, there were approximately 300 million people able to communicate their ideas beyond their immediate surroundings. Now, thanks to the internet, the number of authors has reached 3.4 billion in just 30 years.

We all live inside an era of the explosion of authorship. It impacts all the areas of life. In politics, the emancipation of authorship has given people access to the setting of agendas. The elites and the media, their megaphone, have lost their monopoly in this area, a process Martin Gurri describes as the global ‘crisis of authority’. Starting with the first wave of social media proliferation that captured young progressive urbanites—Occupy Wall Street, the Arab spring, the Indignados movement in Spain, and so on—a tsunami of anti-establishment protests has now struck the world.

However, by 2016, social media had spread widely enough to allow other social strata to participate in agenda-setting. No longer was it just the educated, urban and progressive youth who were empowered. A new wave of conservative protests took hold. In a sense, Trump’s ascent was the successful completion of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but based on a different demographic group.

Old media have already shown how they impact society. Now we need to look at new social media. Old media were based at least in part on text, on literacy. Literacy conveys linearity and therefore requires the elaboration of meaning. Now not only has the length of text shrunk on social media, but the necessity of communicating only through text is vanishing as well.

With the progress in media hardware towards the newest social media, a new orality is coming to replace old literacy. The means of digital social communication in the newest media, such as Twitter or TikTok, resemble the vocal-dance communicative performance of primeval humans in our pre-speech era. Interjection, the least semantic form of verbal expression, is becoming the most efficient semantic carrier. Digital orality is based on exclamations and digital gestures. It aims to persuade rather than inform. It operates with emotions and objects—memes, pictures, videos, and so on—directly, rather than with meanings.

This is going to shape agendas in a completely new way, with no requirements for literacy, rationality or fact-checking. The new mode of agenda-setting will most likely bring a new wave of upheavals, this time even more radical. It will start, again, with the younger demographics who are completely out of touch with traditional political parties’ agendas, and who are extremely anti-institutional.

-Andrey Mir, “How to live with polarisation.” Human As Media. March 30, 2021.

I’m inclined to think that this is similar to the two technology revolutions, where most of the population moves in the direction of orality or apps. But, it also has the effect of taking the culture of literacy in a different direction, where tools for writing create increasing sophistication in composition that may make literacy more difficult for the general population. However, there is also more opportunity for diversity of expression and clarity.

Buckslip

“Buckslip is a weekly-ish email letter (with companion extra bits) in which a few friends wander through the fucked-up landscape of all that we’re living through together now, and weave a few sensemaking threads from what we find. It started with a media and culture focus, but over the years it’s grown into something not quite exactly that. There’s too much else going on.

“Not just internet culture, but Culture, given the internet,” as one astute reader put it, and we like that framing. We do this for love, and for our own understanding, but along the way we’ve found a likeminded community of people who seem to appreciate us working it out in front of them?

Buckslip

Everything Is Fine Podcast

“As Gen-X women cross the Rubicon of perimenopause, they’re hungry for stories that reflect their experiences. Most OB-GYNs seem mystified by the particulars of menopause. Gwyneth Paltrow would like to Goop-ify it. Even Michelle Obama seems flummoxed by the contradictions of aging.

Enter Everything Is Fine, a new podcast co-hosted by Kim France and Tally Abecassis that nails the experience in all its highs and lows.

France, 56, has a long-running fashion and lifestyle blog called Girls of a Certain Age, and the sort of hip bona fides that only a career launched at Sassy can offer. Abecassis, 46, is a documentary filmmaker who produced the podcast First Day Back (which was featured here in 2017) and was the subject of its first season; she emailed France after reading the latter’s writing on the Cut about her time at Condé Nast (where she was the founding editor of Lucky), vanity, and dressing your age. The two women’s formidable skills as interviewers and journalists create a dynamic discussion boosted by guests like Darcey Steinke, Soraya Chemaly, Ada Calhoun, and Jane Larkworthy.

They have found themselves at the forefront of a new wave of media focused on the topic. “Somebody said to me, ‘It’s a trend,’ and I was like, ‘How could that be a trend?’ We’re here to stay,” Abecassis said. I talked to them about their podcast, ageism, women’s media, and more.

-Jenni Miller, “Everything Is Fine Wants to Change How We Talk About Aging.” Vulture.com. April 17, 2020.

The Everything is Fine website has all the usual suspects to subscribe.

Pace Yourself

Open Question: What does it mean to “pace yourself” in modern culture? Does it mean staying with something long enough, over time, to truly develop a relationship with the material and love it?

“There’s a willingness, there’s a faith, there’s a very, very magical alchemy that happens when somebody looks at something with enormous love and enormous passion—and it doesn’t matter what that material is. It can be a comic book page, it can be a silly story, and you don’t change it, but the way you look at it transforms it. Which is a very different exercise than postmodernism. Postmodernism or kitsch is me winking at you, saying ‘I know it’s silly, but I’m being ironic. I’m above the material.’ And for me, the transformative power of art is you are not above the material…

…I think it is amazing that I can travel with my iPad with thousands of movies. I think it is amazing that I can streamline thousands more. I think it is amazing that I can know what happened in far-flung countries, in one second. But it is up to us, as humans—one of our ethical tasks is to say, how am I going to pace myself? What am I focusing on? Because otherwise we live life in a blur. We’re texting and driving. So it is—media is not evil. The speed of media is not evil. What is toxic is that we don’t pace ourselves. That we’re not having dinner without texting; that we’re not capable of paying full attention to the moment we’re living. And that is true also of the cinematic discourse.”

-Guillermo del Toro in an interview with Lauren Wilford, “Death is the Curator: An Interview with Guillermo del Toro.” Bright Wall / Dark Room. Issue 44. February 2017.

This whole interview is packed with wisdom and might change the way you think about culture, particularly film. Read it.