Every Hackneyed Cliché Needs an Exception

(AP/Fabian Bimmer)

Read any “Punk Republican” stories lately? If not, count yourself lucky.

You know the kind of piece we mean: one predicated on the notion that — and you might want to brace yourself for this — people don’t always conform to our preconceived notions. That’s a lesson most of us learned in elementary school, but the media likes to remind us anyway — again and again and again.

The New York Times may be master of the form, which is why we’ve named the genre after its March 21 story, “A Bush Surprise: Fright-Wing Support.” In the piece, we discover that 22-year-old Nick Rizzuto, who sings in a punk band and has a “mohawk, ratty fatigues, assorted chains and a regular menagerie of tattoos,” is — yes — a Republican. Sure, nearly half the country is as well, but, well … this guy’s got tattoos! Also fascinating: “he’s hard-core into capitalism.”

(The Times, however, is not alone, to use a hackneyed phrase of our own. Just nine days before the Rizzuto story came out, the Washington Times ran a profile of conservative punk Johnny Ramone that called him “a rebel in a rebel’s world.”)

What we have here is the media pointing out that an idea that they helped sell us on — that people of one subculture, in this case punk rockers, are all essentially the same — is actually a gross oversimplification. The corrective is made necessary in large part because of the broad generalizations that the media broadcast and print every day.

The American Prospect this month adds a corrective of its own, asking: “Think all evangelicals are right-wingers?”

In an absolutely non-shocker, it turns out, of course, that they’re not. Sadly, Ayelish McGarvey’s piece, which is essentially a collection of interviews with people who are religious but not necessarily conservative, is probably necessary, precisely because reporters tend to portray serious Christians as less independent-minded than insecure junior high school students. (Exhibit A, as McGarvey points out, is a “60 Minutes” piece from February that featured “shots of vast ‘megachurch’ congregations swaying hypnotically.”)

And the New Republic, normally at the vanguard of counterintuitive thought, asks, in a pair of stories today, if either Republicans or Democrats can be “cool,” before offering up the conventional wisdom answer on the matter: Hell no. A cool political junkie, it seems, is harder to find than a drag queen in Omaha.

Admittedly, it’s not entirely a bad thing that the media occasionally punctures the preconceived notions it at other times pushes on us.

If reporters are going to give us the disease, they might as well throw us a cure now and then.

Brian Montopoli

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.