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One way to approach this question is to suggest that images and accounts of the war in Iraq, many of which emphasized chaos and disorder, did not lead to concerted calls to end the war. In fact, John Kerry, who advocated such a policy, lost the Presidential election in 2004. According to this theory, having been inundated with accounts of the war, many of which emphasized its complexity and the difficulty in altering its course, many Americans simply determined that there was nothing they could do to change the situation. At that point, it was no longer a major issue for them. How applicable this theory is to the Iraq conflict, is, of course, a matter of opinion. But the theory of narcotizing dysfunction remains influential in trying to understand the effects of mass culture in the era of the "24-hour news cycle."
Paul Lazarfeld’s narcotizing dysfunction theory says that the more media coverage there is of a certain event, the less people feel inclined to act with respect to that event.
Looking specifically at Iraq, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that there was a significant narcotic effect caused by the media coverage of the war. We have to look at American attitudes about the Iraqi conflict in the aftermath of 9-11. When Bush called for military action in the days after the attacks, he was generally cheered on by whoever he was talking to. He was also supported politically by both major parties. It’s easy to understand why, given the scope of the tragedy.
Nevertheless, we also have to look at how events unfolded following the initial groundswell of support for military action. It didn’t take too long for people to begin calling for an end to the conflict, despite the frequent media coverage of the war. Had the populace been sufficiently “narcotized” this would not have become a major political issue in the 2008 election. It is fair to say that Obama was elected largely because of his commitment to getting America out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
We saw the same thing happen with Vietnam in the 60’s and 70’s. The graphic media coverage was new at that time and we witnessed the strongest anti-war movement in this country’s history. The effect then was anything but narcotizing--the media actually stimulated the country’s reaction against the conflict.
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