Friday, October 10, 2008

Mob Psychology

Mob psychology is a concept that Little Babe was familiar with at a tender age, due to the mordantly funny -- and highly literary --children's bestselling set, A Series of Unfortunate Events.

For a solid year and a half, Little Babe was captivated by the series and would send me to Barnes and Noble on the very day a new volume was published. Snuggled on the couch, we would read the books aloud to each other, often laughing in delight at the author's wit and sleight of hand.

Even if you haven't read them yourself (which I highly recommend for people of all ages), chances are that you know the books concern the various misadventures of three orphaned siblings, known as the Baudelaires -- Violet, Klaus and Sunny -- whose parents vanished in a suspicious fire that also destroyed their family manse.

The chief villain is a buffoonish Dr. Evil type known as Count Olaf. Joined by a variety of small-minded nitwits, Count Olaf pursues the children, trying to wrest away their family fortune.

Written by Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, the books are rife with keen metaphysical insights about good and evil, the power of love and the possibility of hope in the most improbable of situations.

In one of the books -- Book the Seventh, The Vile Village -- the concept of mob psychology is introduced. The innocent Jacques Snicket becomes the object of a manhunt after Count Olaf -- in disguise -- convinces the villagers that Jacques Snicket is actually him. Handler does a bang-up job of depicting the mindless, terrifying power of a hate-filled, frenzied mob bent on single-minded vengeance.

I thought of Lemony Snicket and the Baudelaire kids today when a forwarded email reached me with the following words in the subject line: "For those of you planning to vote for Barack Hussein Obama, you must watch this!!!"

Appearing in the body of the email was a link to the Sean Hannity "expose" on Fox News of Senator Obama and his network of terrorists.

And from various people who forwarded it until it reached the person who sent it to me, the words, "pass it on!"

Like some rumor being generated in Sixth Grade, whispered from kid to kid when the teacher turns her back to write something on the black board: "Suzie has cooties! Pass it on!!"

The majority of people on the recipient list -- if not all of them -- were observant were the various senders. Even with the sounds of the neila service of Yom Kippur still ringing in their ears, they were busy whispering to each other, "Barack has cooties. Pass it on!!!"

Ya know...months after this lame tactic was derided by rabbis in various communities, this fake "outing" of Obama as a Muslim, which must equal a terrorist, right? is downright depressing.

Indeed, I was more than a little surprised to find this ignorant email still in circulation, though I guess that the chiddush in the mind of the person originating it was to link the old Muslim-terrorist rumor (HUSSEIN) with Hannity's new yet laughable report about Obama's alleged Bill Ayers-homegrown terrorist connection. wasn't the first thing I wanted to do this morning but I was kinda annoyed to find this dreck in my Inbox on this new, sparkling day following the cleansing, purging experience of Yom Kippur.

Also, I'm just really sick of the dirty tactics of the anti-Obama camp. And more than a bit alarmed following reports of frenzied mob reactions to McCain and Palin rallies, with their supporters shouting racist epithets, terrorist or "kill him!" News reports now emerging show members of the crowd claiming that Obama is an Arab, that he is not to be trusted. There is a sickening stirring of the pot of fear and hatred, with Palin insinuating that Obama is somehow unAmerican, with Cindy McCain coming on stage to claim that that bad man took money away from her son, serving in Iraq. And even now that GOP strategists have warned McCain that this kind of ugly mob reaction does not serve his campaign well, the crowd is heard booing loudly when he takes the microphone to insist -- despite his previous hate-speech to the contrary -- that Obama is a good man, a family man. As one commentator has remarked, the genie is already out of the bottle.

So, I fired a salvo back as a "reply to all."

And have been happily surprised to find supportive e-mails in return from several people on the send-list who likewise found the e-mail offensive.

I must say, those responses brightened my day.

And in case you're curious about what I wrote, I will reproduce at the end of this post.

But back to Mob Psychology for a moment.

When I look at some of the anti-Obama rhetoric in the Jewish community, what I see is the worst kind of mob hysteria.

People whom I know to be reasonable and intelligent and socially liberal and furious at the Republican administration for messing up our great country are suddenly filled with passionate hatred and mistrust for Obama.

Believing that Obama is in bed with terrorists and radicals while not fearing the fact that Sarah Palin is a pro-choice creationist whose pastor believes in the End of Days just doesn't make any sense.

Stating that Obama must be a terrorist and radical due to the flimsy connections with Ayers or Reverend Wright, or even Farrakhan is just loony.

And by the way, in contrast to friends who are convinced that anti-Obamaism is based on race, I do not think that racism is motivating the groupthink against Obama in the majority of cases.

I think it is FEAR.

There is a frenzied mob reaction to Barack Obama that is being fueled entirely by fear.

And the hothouse atmosphere of the Jewish high holidays where entire communities end up in each others laps and faces for nearly a solid month, coupled with the terrifying downward spiraling of our economy, has created numerous opportunities to gather and whisper those scary rumors to each other:

"Obama is a terrorist. Pass it on!!"

And like the game of Telephone, by the time the message reaches the final recipient, the rumor is even bigger and scarier than it was at the beginning.

Unless someone puts a stop to the game.

Going into the 2008 Presidential Elections, the only thing to fear is a fear-based choice for President of this crippled, wounded nation.

Below, as promised, my email response to the Barack Hussein Obama email:

Wow. This is a disappointing email to receive.

Not because of what it reveals about Barack Obama.

What it reveals about the people who are sending it around.

Barack Obama is no more involved with radical anti-Americans than John McCain. This entire “report” is a laugh. It has been widely discredited and is seen as a desperate attempt by Republicans to smear the good name of Barack Obama because McCain is doing so poorly in the polls.

Insisting on calling Obama “Barack Hussein Obama” at this stage in the race is just pathetic. That tactic failed when it was first rolled out and it is sad to see it in use again. Some of you might recall that a letter was generated by rabbis several months ago asking Jews to refrain from spreading lashon hara about Obama in this manner.

I guess now that Yom Kippur has just ended, it’s not too early to start accumulating aveirot for next year.

To perpetuate Islamophobia at this stage in the presidential race – and the belief that Obama is actually…omigod!!!!...a Muslim -- is simply dismaying.

And demeaning to the people who generate this material.

My advice to those of you passing this stuff around:

Watch something other than Fox News.

If that was my only source of news, I might also become a hatemonger.

I know that some of you have stopped reading papers like The New York Times or stopped watching CNN because you think they have an anti-Israel bias. In doing so, you threw out the baby with the bathwater because both sources present the widest possible range of opinions on the presidential race.

Naturally, there are other valuable, balanced news sources, but many of you shun them as well, seeing them as too “liberal.”

As a result, you prevent yourself from exposure to the truth.

News flash: Fox News is as biased and ridiculous a news organization as they come. The “news” you are getting is propaganda. Hardly “fair and balanced.”

I actually watch Fox on a daily basis to keep track of their shenanigans. When it is not reprehensible and inflammatory, it is actually kind of amusing.

Oh, and Hannity and O’Reilly are responsible journalists the way that Ahmanadinejad is a responsible ruler of a country.

I invite you to visit my blog, Bungalow Babe in the Big City ( later today to read more about my reaction to such emails.

I think that Sarah Silverman got it only half right in her brilliant video, The Great Schlep.

It is not only our bubbe and zayde down in Florida who are ruled by fear at the prospect of President Barack Obama..

It is also, sadly, our contemporaries living in an early retirement of the mind in New York.

Shabbat Shalom.

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