Filling out the little cards after the screening, I came to accept something about myself: I love to give my opinion on things. Seriously, I have a rather high opinion of my opinion.
Surveys? I constantly take part when asked. Need to know what music I just downloaded from I-tunes? I’ll tell you. What brand of cleanser do I prefer? Just ask. In doing so, maybe I will get more of the stuff that I like out in the world. Every ten years, I also hope that my household will be selected for the U.S. census “long-form.”
What’s behind this desire to be polled? Nothing but ego, I am afraid. Being a historian, I know how valuable the census reports and forms have been to our knowledge of the past. Getting the long form means that future generations of historians will find out how you lived and how you identified yourself. You get to stand in for thousands of other people. So, just ask me – I will gladly tell you how many toilets are in my house.
Surveys and test audiences are something that I aspire to be a part of all the time. Clearly the people they usually ask don’t know what they are doing or how to answer those questions. How many movies have I sat through only to find the ending suddenly turned wonky? Some beta test audience got hold of the film and decided they didn’t like the original ending. You know, the one that the director, writer, and producer all thought should be there.
Just take as an example that masterpiece of cinema, the first Legally Blonde movie. The original version had Elle walk away with confidence and security in knowing that she survived law school with dignity. Test audiences whined, though, that there needed to be more about her relationship. So studios hastily put together a new scene where Elle tells off her loser ex-boyfriend. You can totally tell that her hair color does not at all match the previous scenes! My own ability to suspend disbelief went straight down the drain. It was a crime – a crime I tell you!
All through the 2004 election, I prayed that I would be called for a phone survey. After all, the Democrats didn’t bother to come up with an actual platform or message. Instead, they just ran everything based on pollster reports. Therefore, they should have asked me. My participation in that survey could have really turned things around for the Democrats. Why didn’t they call?
After September 11, Bushie had astounding popularity in the polls. Who the hell were they asking about this? Nobody I knew thought that he suddenly grew a brain in the face of tragedy. The wonderful Wizard of Oz didn’t appear on the White House lawn as far as I could tell. He was still the same ol’ scarecrow.
Yeah, yeah, we all rallied behind him– Whatever. He just kept making the tragedy worse. Well, when he bothered to show up at all after running away and hiding in his bunker on the actual day. Somebody should have asked me what I thought! Ninety percent approval? My ass.
Then again, the poll questions are often so badly done you don’t have much choice. Oddly enough, I participated in a Zogby poll over the whole Mark Foley mess. To be honest, I am not sure why this is such a big deal. I don’t mean on the personal level. Foley abused his power and probably trashed some young people’s ability to trust. He was nasty and should have lost his job long ago. I doubt IBM would have kept him around that long.
For the nation, though, is this really that big of news? A rich, white Republican got caught using a crowbar on some teenagers’ zipper. Are we surprised by that? Really? Because you know there is an entire army worth of women pages who likely had to hide out in the ladies room for sixty percent of their work day to avoid being pinched, poked, ogled, or generally propositioned – and that was probably just from Denis Hastert alone. We don’t hear about them.
Anyway, this particular poll asked if the scandal had lowered my estimation of the Republicans. See – That’s a catch-22 question. If I said “No,” then the pollsters would claim that the Republicans had the approval of the nation. If I said “Yes,” then I would have implied that I actually thought something positive about Republicans in Congress before the scandal.
In the end, the poll never asked the questions that I wanted to answer. For instance:
Do you think Mark Foley is:
A) A slight embarrassment to gay people everywhere, like Lance Bass
B) A general embarrassment to gay people everywhere, like James McGreevy
C) A major embarrassment to gay people everywhere, like Jeff Gannon
C) A carnival freak show, like Mary Cheney
Or questions like:
How would you rate the media coverage of this event?
A) Slightly homophobic
B) Seriously homophobic
C) Profoundly homophobic
D) They-are-coming-for-you-in-the-middle-of-the-night-wearing-sheets homophobic
Come on, pollsters, ask me what I really think.
I don’t seem to be alone in my poll quest. In many ways, it strikes me as a distinctly American quality of me.
Somebody must have taken a poll and determined that Americans love polls. Political parties now send out fake polls as a means to solicit donations. All the news shows have some poll question as part of their basic format now. These are the polls at their worst. They ask people to make snap decisions, usually without any knowledge of the question. “Hey [insert city],” some perky anchor says, “We just gave thirty seconds worth of information and almost no concrete evidence about a capital punishment case. Now we want to know what you think. Phone and press #1 if you think Joe Smith should fry in the electric chair or dial #2 if you think Joe Smith should get lethal injection. Results at 11."
It must give us a sense of democracy or something to be asked to be in a poll. Sure, most Americans don’t bother to vote in actual elections or protect the real republic. Put up a 1-976 number, though, and we can’t dial fast enough.