It is a sign of the times, and perhaps a symptom of a national malady that America is becoming more partisan and more polarized by the year. We seem to be seeking out our own kind in the news channels we watch, the music we listen to, the churches we attend, even the neighborhoods we live in, just as Bill Bishop describes in his book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.
Now it seems that the reds and the blues have found a new way of sorting themselves out — by the restaurants where we dine. To be perfectly honest, I have never seen a Democratic restaurant, but I am finding more and more Republican eateries. I know when I have entered one, because there is a television in the dining room broadcasting Fox News.
I doubt there is anybody in America who believes the old Fox "fair and balanced" catchphrase. Even those who appreciate Fox's parallel universe know that it is critically different from other newscasts. They will tell you that it reports the news that the others ignore. They will say that Fox refuses to be "politically correct." They will say that Fox is not afraid to stand up to the media and cultural "elites." But whatever Fox News fans say about their favorite "news" channel, they will not say that it is "fair and balanced." They don't want "fair and balanced." They want their news served up hard and mean, as only Bill and Sean and Glenn can do it. They want to see the news banners across the bottom of the screen, promoting the time and place of Teabagger rallies. They want to see O'Reilly turn red-faced and scream "Shut up!" at some impudent liberal guest.
I have been in restaurants and bars with signed pictures of Strom Thurmond or Carroll Campbell behind the cash register. But that is more like a personal memento. Putting a television in a dominant place in a dining room and keeping it on Fox News 24/7 is very different. That is a statement — a belligerent one, if you ask me.
By mobilizing public ignorance and paranoia, Rupert Murdoch has created a media juggernaut that has reshaped American politics and culture. There is something about Fox News that seems to appeal to the meanest and most irrational elements in American society, a fact you can confirm for yourself by reading the posts in response to this column.
I don't know any restaurateur who would put on the Christian Broadcasting Network in their dining room. All but the most obstreperous Christians would acknowledge that force-feeding Christian hymns and theology to their customers while they eat would be tasteless and needlessly confrontational, even though the vast majority of locals are Christian.
When it comes to Fox News, though, there is a different set of rules. Apparently, the sneering comments of Sean Hannity and the delusional ravings of Glenn Beck are supposed to comfort and aid digestion, even if we can only read them in closed caption.
This trend of Fox News-as-ambiance strikes me as bad business in light of the fact that the majority of Charleston County voters actually voted for Democratic candidates in the last election. So why do restaurateurs want to impose their political views on their customers? In a cable constellation with so many stations, why Fox News? Why not ESPN or HGTV or the Food Network? Or if they want news, how about CNN, which plays it more or less down the middle? I will admit, I have never seen the lefty MSNBC playing in any local restaurant. Is that because there are no leftist restaurant owners or because the leftist restaurateurs have better manners than their right-wing counterparts?
Perhaps those right-wing restaurateurs do not know they are imposing on many of their customers. Perhaps they are like the guy who looks around the room before telling a racist joke. He assumes that everybody who looks like him is also a racist and will enjoy his humor. White people have been making such assumptions for a long time. Or maybe it is their intention to signal to blacks and to liberals that this is not their kind of place.
I get the message. When I find myself in such an establishment, I make sure the management knows that I do not appreciate their choice of programming, and I will not be back. Perhaps if more people did the same, we would see more judicious application of the TV remote. But I always tip servers well. After all, I'm sure it is not their fault.
See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.