Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Shrinking Tent Effect

(One of the casualties of having less time to blog is less time to write full-blown analysis pieces. However, this is an idea I've been formulating for the past few months, and the wake of this week's election results gave me the perfect framing device.)

There's a lot of post-election analysis concerning why the Republicans took such a beating this past Tuesday. Many of the Republicans are blaming a combination of factors, including Hurricane Sandy, Chris Christie, and Mitt Romney himself. But I think I've pinned the real reason down:

It's because the Republican Party has fallen prey to what I call The Shrinking Tent Effect. The Shrinking Tent Effect seems to happen to some communities over the course of time. The steps are as follows:

1. Recognizing a need for more members, a community attempts to make itself more inclusive.

2. Said inclusion efforts succeed in initially drawing the community more diverse new members.

3. However, over a period of time, membership in the community tends to gradually dwindle, beginning with those same newer members.

4. As community membership dwindles, a fiercely loyal but also fiercely reactionary core following remains. Said core following begins to represent an increasingly higher percentage of the total group over time.

5. The community begins to notice said reactionary core following and begins to increasingly cater to that following.

6. The reactionary core following notices the community's increasing dependence upon it, thus becoming increasingly vocal and demanding.

7. Consequently, the community begins to cater to the reactionaries even more.

8. This catering begins to alienate the more reasonable, moderate, and diverse members of the community, driving an increasing number of them away, further increasing the percentage of reactionaries and further increasing the community's attempts to placate them.

9. The reactionaries become increasingly emboldened and their behavior grows increasingly out of touch with the mainstream public, until actions that would have been deemed unthinkable only a few years ago (such as booing a gay soldier or attempting to "redefine" rape) become routine.

10. The community eventually loses its power,and becomes irrelevant or extinct.

This cycle seems to be nearly complete in the Republican Party. The fiercely loyal social reactionaries in the Tea Party asserted themselves in 2010 after decades of being placated by the GOP, and then they essentially became the GOP. As they asserted themselves, they drove out more reasonable conservatives either through primary challenges (see: Richard Lugar), or retirement in disgust over what the party became (see: Olympia Snowe). But after the last two years of obstruction, hyperpartisanship, and general craziness, many of those same Tea Partiers found themselves unceremoniously dumped like the Boston tea at the event which inspired their name (see: Allen West, Joe Walsh, and rape apologists Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock).

However, I've also noticed signs of the Shrinking Tent Effect at various stages in other communities, most notably in the religious community, the gaming community, and especially in the comics community.

That's why the more conservative bishops and other religious leaders have become increasingly bold about blurring and even attempting to eradicate the separation line between church and state, even to the point of telling their congregations that their souls depend upon whom they vote for, with said behavior leading to a growing exodus from organized religion.

That's why a small but vocal percentage of male gamers see no problem with sexually harassing female gamers online and, when called out on it, defend their behavior as being an intrinsic part of the gaming community.

And that's why you have things in comics and comics fandom like gang-rape attempts in all-ages comics aimed at young girls, sexual harassment of female cosplayers at conventions, and cyber-harassment of female bloggers (including rape threats and death threats) for having strong opinions on comics.

See the parallels?

All four of the communities I mentioned above need to do some serious soul-searching: Are the reactionaries in their memberships an irreplaceable asset? Or are they a crushing liability which threatens to plunge them down the road to irrelevance or, worse, extinction?

If they're smart, they'll realize the answer is the latter. But if they mistakenly decide it's the former, they may find themselves casualties of The Shrinking Tent Effect.


At 1:15 PM , Blogger SallyP said...

I think that you have hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head, here.

About the only people that the increasingly strident Republican party can appeal to,is angry old white men. They've managed to enrage and insult just about everyone else.

What amuses me, is the reaction to the re-election of the President, is the belief on the part of the Tea Party that they weren't conservative and insulting ENOUGH! And also that all of those billionaires spent a crap-load of money for very little return. Not really a very good business model after all.

But yes, the analogy also applies to the Gaming community, and comics and other bastions of male dominated areas. You can cry all you want...but things are, albeit slowly...changing.


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