Reporter's Notebook

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Archive for August 2017

Flags and Tote Bags

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Flag in truck

Since the 2016 election, I have noticed a plethora of big flags flying from the backs of pickup trucks in Oregon.  I don’t know how common this is across the country.  But it occured to me the other day that this display of affiliation; i.e., people who want to be known as “true” Americans, is kindred with people who carry public radio tote bags.  This is just a guess on my part.  Though, anedcotally, they are probably on opposite sides of the political spectrum, now might a good time to apply public radio research which, weirdly, seems to tie them together.

Audience 98, a seminal public radio study, was the culmination of decades of deep dives into who listen to and financially supports public radio.  For many years, it was the road map for how stations plotted their survivial by tuning their pledge drives to study results.  And one of the main things the work revealed was that certain types of listeners liked showing off their connection to public radio.  They liked not only setting themselves apart as people who gave to public radio in their own minds, but also letting everybody else know they’re in that distinctive class.  And the tote bag was how public radio responded.

The bags, hauled through grocery stores, antique shops, jazz concerts, wine tastings and all of the other venues any respectable public radiophile knows they need to patronize, immediately associates them with the “I’m better than you” crowd.  And when I see a fifteen square foot “Stars and Stripes” violently whipping in front of me on the interstate, I think, “Holy Shit, this person is saying exactly the same thing”.  As much as they would deny it, both groups are people who are desperate to convince me of something, though they’d probably say what I think isn’t important.


Plug in your own experience.  “People who tend to vehemently ____ that they’re ________________, often secretly ___”.  With this rock solid meme, the flag/tote bag dynamic starts to look less like a preference and more like a character trait.  It’s ironic to me that scratching the surface could show tote bag shoulder swingers and pickup truck flag fliers probably have more in common than they’d think.  But sadly, one of those might be their belief that they each, of course, think they are better than the other.

Written by Interviewer

August 13, 2017 at 23:08

Posted in Scratchpad