Breaking the Silence

The most frightening part of this presentation was the spiral of silence theory in connection to the opening activity (with the Rolo/Cadbury egg bowling). Even though everyone recognized the activity was unfair, no one spoke against it because each person was either a) proud of him- or herself for figuring out how the activity tied in with the chapter, or b) too afraid to speak out against those in charge. In actual public opinion, I’m afraid this happens far too often.

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, the creator of this theory, was involved in Nazi Germany as a public opinion specialist. One biographical account of Noelle-Neumann states that this theory was inspired by and used to “indirectly explain the Jews’ status during World War II under Nazi’s control.” This reminded me of the video “Lil’ Hitler,” and how the teacher, who tells the student Hitler that everyone gets one of the same-sized desk, is representing something of a moral conscience. Everyone agreed with the teacher, I’m sure, that fairness dictated everyone get one of the same-sized desk, but because some might havethought they were a minority (or not strong enough in comparison to a more powerful force—a minority of strength?), Hitler took all of the desks in the classroom except two: the U.S.’s (who was larger than Hitler), and the teacher’s. The spiral of silence is a dangerous thing.

This theory also reminded me of the book Black Like Me, where white Southerner John Howard Griffin made himself into a black man and crossed world boundaries, it seemed. In a movie representation of this book (If you watch the video, I suggest starting at 2:15), the spiral of silence was passively broken as one black man didn’t respond to boy and told the bus driver exactly why he didn’t respond. This, accompanied by a woman’s upraised voice, led to the Griffin character exiting the bus in spite of the bus driver’s “authority.” The spiral of silence was happily avoided—not broken because it seemed to be a more passive response to the “authority”—but I know that this wasn’t the case in most situations.

Although these two examples are thoroughly outdated in regards to current events, they are examples of history which I fear repeat today. The spiral of silence, I believe, is a real way of thinking. It’s a dangerous way of thinking. In journalism, it’s important to have the courage to be a part of breaking that cycle just like Griffin was a part of breaking the spiral he was a part of. Journalists are key elements in the breaking of this spiral, and as such, they must be particularly attentive to situations which begin to follow that path. I dare say that it is a journalist’s ethical duty to stop the spiral when he or she sees it because it’s that morally important.

Carli Hanson

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