“Moneybull”: An Inquiry Into Media Manipulation

“Moneybull”: An Inquiry Into Media Manipulation, by Robert Griffin.

The film Moneyball was well-received by both audiences and critics and an Academy Award contender for best film at the 2012 Oscars. It was based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 nonfiction book by the same name and directed by Bennett Miller from a screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin (who I understand was the guiding force behind the film) and Steven Zaillian. Moneyball recounts the story of the 2002 season of the Oakland A’s major league baseball team. The film centers on A’s general manager Billy Beane’s efforts to put together a winning team that year despite a limited budget.

The thesis of this writing is that Moneyball is a good illustration of how the media distort reality and transmit negative perceptions of white people and their ways. …

Turns out the story presented in the film is factually wrong. The movie and book don’t simplify a more complex picture, but instead turned it on its head — because they are following a political narrative. Sorkin also wrote The West Wing.

The movie omits the relevant statistics. In fact Billy Beane’s changes made things worse, not better, and the old coaching staff were responsible for the success of the baseball team that year, despite being shunted aside and denigrated in the film.

An interesting read for sport’s fans or those who saw the movie.

Beneath the particulars of the story, the larger, tacit, message in Moneyball is that the whole of America, not just baseball, is messed up and needs to be transformed. And who is standing in the way of that? Whites, that’s who. More specifically, as demonstrated in Moneyball, gentile white men of northern European heritage. Simply, their time is up. They’ve got to step aside, or be pushed aside. Moneyball gets across the idea that one good way to make that happen is to “expertize” things — that is, let our enlightened betters … call the shots and get things to where they need to be.

A message, lesson, of Moneyball is that the experience, personal judgment, and instincts of average (white) Joes can’t be trusted. These scouts had come to conclusions about the physical characteristics and personality traits that give a young player the best chance of being successful at the major league level, and the field manager had decided what contributes to wins on the field. Well, they were wrong, says Moneyball. It’s Peter Brand, who by the looks of him never swung a bat in his life, who has it wired.

This “don’t trust your perceptions” message in Moneyball squares with the message coming at the public with regard to every area of American life: don’t believe your own experience and thinking; instead, go by what I’m telling you. Politics, history, morality, foreign policy, education, gender, race, art — reality is what I say it is, not what you think it is. It’s like the old Lenny Bruce joke: A guy’s wife walks in on him in the heat of a romantic interlude with his secretary. She’s aghast. He says to her, “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?” If you get across the lesson that connections with reality and the inferences drawn from it and one’s own reasoning can’t be trusted in baseball, you pave the way to getting people uncritically to buy what the Peter Brands are promoting in other, more important, areas of American life. …

Looking at the film from a racial angle, the hero in Moneyball, Billy Beane, aligns himself against his white kinsmen, the scouts and manager. The lesson: doing that kind of thing is good. For decades that has been a theme in the mainstream media. …

Why did people accept the ideas in Moneyball so uncritically? Some reasons:

Film is a literal medium. Motion pictures, and this applies to television as well, are literal representations of something. You can see and hear what’s going on right in front of you. There it is. You know there is a script and those are actors and it’s a partial depiction of a feigned reality and it’s been edited. But still, since you can see it happening and hear it, it looks real, it’s no abstraction, and thus you believe it. …

We like the familiar. If you are promoting some ideology, program, whatever it is, it helps to embed it in what is familiar and thus comfortable to an audience. Stay within your audience’s frame of reference; don’t stir them up or make them stretch, keep them feeling cozy; that’s the best context for getting across your messages. Moneyball was replete with familiar themes and images: the appealing lead on a worthy quest; the unenlightened, stuck-in-the-past, establishment bad guys; the underdog storyline (the lowly, small-market A’s); the outsider who is scorned at first and then accepted (Brand); the committed dad; the ultimate triumph of the good guys. …

We believe what makes us feel good about ourselves. Moneyball is a self-confirming experience for its audience. We get to feel in the know and on the side of the angels and linked up with a cool guy like Brad Pitt, and all we had to do to achieve that status was spring for a movie ticket or a DVD or streaming rental. And we are safe; nothing goes on that challenges or threatens us. We are nestled comfortably among the wise and righteous and don’t have to think about anything or do a damn thing.

We are basically lazy. If you are halfway slick you can tell people just about anything that is simple to understand and has a surface level of plausibility (as long as it doesn’t make them feel bad about themselves—these all go together) and be rest assured that they aren’t going to put effort into thinking about it or checking into its veracity or coming up with alternatives to it.

So what can we do?

We can take seriously my mother’s advice to me when I was a kid: “Robert, you are a nice boy, but you believe everything anybody tells you. Quit doing that.”

We can differentiate mediated from direct experience.

We can distinguish abstractions—images, words, concepts, assertions — from the concrete realities they supposedly represent.

I admit I fell for it a few years ago. Interesting to find out now that it was basically slick political propaganda by Democrat Aaron Sorkin, who created the TV series “West Wing.”