“Human microphone” tactic: Scary or just moronic?

Repeat after me.

Michael Moore galvanized the Occupy Wall Street mob last week in an “address” amplified for the mob by means of a “human microphone.”  The human microphone has caught on like a sold-out Christmas toy with OWS mobs across America, from Atlanta to Chicago to Riverside, California (the closest OWS mob to me), where a small but doughty group of Hoos hollered with all their might last Saturday night.

The human microphone idea is simple.  The crowd repeats each phrase uttered by a speaker, in order to amplify the sound and ensure the message gets across.  If you’re not alone in being reminded forcibly of kindergarten, wait, there’s more.  Check out the Chicago link above, and scroll down for the links to photos of “spirit fingers,” “peace guns,” and “point of process” triangle hands.  These methods of communication remind me of nothing so much as the cues used by grade school teachers with their young charges.

“OK, second grade.  We will walk single file to the lunch room.  If we need to stop for another class, I will raise my right hand.  The person behind me should raise their right hand and stop.  Everybody else raise their right hand and we all come to a stop.  Now, what do you see if we have to stop?”

“Your right hand!”

“That’s right.  And what do you do if you see my right hand?”

“Raise my right hand and stop!”

“That’s right.  Now, who has any questions?  Yes, Grayson?”

“Miz Smith, when do we put our right hand down?”

People used to get their buzz over responsive yelling by attending football games.  Communicating in code, with hand gestures, was something that was fun for a while if you were a Boy Scout or a Campfire Girl, earning badges and learning special, secret things.  Bird calls, writing in hieroglyphs, spelling out cuss words in American Sign Language – kids can have a lot of fun with codes.

But we have no tribal memory, as humans, of a time when it might have been a good idea to give a say over our lives or our government to people who adopt the communication modes of childhood.  That would just be stupid.  The kid-level communicating is cute when kids do it.  It’s creepy and weird when the people doing it have the bodies of adults – and aren’t in a comms-challenged combat situation like a SWAT Team, a SEAL team, or an infantry patrol.

The “creep” factor is the one that struck J. Christian Adams, who posted the video of the Atlanta human-microphone incident for Pajamas.  (Jazz Shaw today highlights the same mob’s ignorant dismissal of John Lewis.)  And there is definitely an element of mindless invigoration to it.  It’s one thing to listen to a demagogue (or even just someone giving administrative instructions), registering the message in your brain but not doing anything about it, at least for the moment.  It’s another kind of action altogether, to vigorously repeat everything a speaker is saying.  Doing so generates a powerful sense of noisy assent for everyone involved.  You’re not just there listening and thinking: you’ve sold out your critical thinking faculties, and agreed to convey automatically whatever the speaker wants to say.

It is, as Adams notes, the perfect incubator for a violent mob.  The reliance on coded cues – rather than on reasoned debate – is another proto-mob feature.  Ann Coulter’s latest book, Demonic, gives a number of examples of how mobs go into a frenzy over coded cues, interpreting them as pretexts for action in ways they would not if they were in a different, more measured – more explicit and articulate – communication environment.

When you’re five years old, there are a lot of circumstances in which the right thing to do is to ask you to suspend your reservations and critical thinking skills.  For one thing, you don’t have very much of the latter.  You don’t have much discrimination or judgment.

But in the adult world – the world of binding decisions, commitments, promises, ideology, political thought – the suspension of skepticism and rational, critical thought is fatal.  There is no realm of politics in which it is appropriate for crowds to act as a human microphone.  Politics is a tool, a method; it isn’t something that merits such a hold on us.  It’s not something we can trust and give ourselves over to.  A political movement, conducted with temperance and intelligent suasion, has its uses; a mob paroxysm is just an accident – and probably a violent and costly one – waiting to happen.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

45 thoughts on ““Human microphone” tactic: Scary or just moronic?”

  1. The “human microphone” was one of the gags in “An American Carol.”
    Had no idea it was real.
    – Had no idea it was real! Had no idea it was real!

  2. Avram and Yngvar — welcome, and my apologies for the delay in your comments showing up. There’s a one-time “approval” to cut down the spam. But you’re “in” now, so don’t be shy.

    This is certainly the kind of petri dish in which evil thrives. Honest intentions and communications don’t work this way.

    “American Carol” hadn’t occurred to me. I’m trying to think of a Star Trek episode that featured something like this, on my theory that sooner or later, life will imitate everything in Star Trek.

  3. It was funny for the first 5 seconds, but then I realized how creepy this is.

    Human Microfone is like the chanting mob phenomena, alone you wouldn’t do it, but everyone is doing it and everyone is chanting and even the most dorky geek becomes a wolf.

  4. Pingback: Untitled 1
  5. Not evil. Stupid. Also, way over reported. That Atlanta gathering was far smaller than the group you would expect to show up at a special sales event at Walmart. Wake me when thousands are gathered and expressing some sort of coherent message.

    1. yup. they’re a bunch of pampered and arrogant and ignorant things.

      and worse that that, they’re mostly the ones from the dumb end of the pool.

  6. “”””The “creep” factor is the one that struck J. Christian Adams,””””””

    yes, yes, yes. excellent writing.


    the human mic, is of course a gag. and it;s aimed at the somewhat questionable city rule that requires permission for use of amplifying equipment for a demo.

  7. Neither scary nor moronic. Just the rich tapestry of this wonderful nation. A left-wing Tea-Party – but with a rather better sense of humour, and without the hate. Both Tea-Parties will weave themselves into the national cloth. In any case, movements which oppose government or corporate domination/interference in our lives have a long and noble tradition in our political lore.
    To prove the point, Obama is probably the most centrist President this nation has ever had. On the Republican side the Tea-Party screamers and haters are falling by the wayside, either victims of their own extremist rhetoric, or the realization that most Republican voters are sensible centrists rather than ideological absolutists. Reasonable, consensus seekers, like Romney and Cain are coming to the fore. The media celebs and hate-inciters like Palin and Bachmann have gone to the recycle-bin as the Republican core and its inate sense of what is decent and American has reasserted itself.

    1. Eric Hoffer explored this phenomenon in “The True Believer”, there’s nothing new under the sun.

      1. Eric also said, when asked about the future of China during Vietnam,” They will be Laundrymen.”
        They do launder our debt and currency. In an unanticipated way, he was spot on.

  8. Paul, I bet you have some really strange wall paper in your home. Hopefully the new Orwellian prints will make an appearance soon. Enjoy your reality.
    Don’t forget, Mars is warming at the same rate as the Earth. You must address this pretty soon.

  9. Could it be a collectivist type of thing. By all reciting the same as the speaker they are showing that they are of one mind and just an equal member of the collective and not an individual.

  10. Welcome, omegabit, and my apologies that your comment went to the spam queue. You should be good to go now. Yep, the passage from Life of Brian is coming up a lot in connection with the human mic tactic.

    Jon, welcome, and again, apologies for the delay in your comment posintg. The one-time “approval” keeps down the spam. You’re certified 100% approved now, so post away. And yes, I agree, it’s a collectivist type of thing. It never occurs to non-collectivists — those who prize individual rights and limited government — to do things like this. It’s always those with a collectivist ideology who are found engaging in mindless hive activities.

  11. Now, if my recollecton serves me…………… this “collectivist” chanting and the brandishing of placards with tired cliches and other “hive activities” exactly describes the meetings of the other Tea Party (Yes, that one. The one comprised of those “who prize individual rights and limited government” – or, at least limited to giving loads of moolah to themselves and their friends and nothing to grasping layabouts like teachers, firemen, and cops. You know, the right wing Tea Party of “tell the government to keep its hands off my medicare and fat army pension” types)

    Keep up the hillarity JED.

    1. Its time for your medication Paul.
      Okay very slowly, Hell No I won’t go, Burn Baby Burn, Jane Fonda is a Patriot, Power to the People, Give Peace a Chance. Okay, lay down now.
      We will have special brownies when you wake up.
      You can smell bad and leave a mess if you wish. Mother will clean up after you.
      Yes,Yes things are tough. Sweet dreams.

  12. Oh, and I forgot…… The one whose endorsement had proved a kiss of death to the presidential candidates rendered unelectable by its suffocating and posionous embrace. The fate of Palin and Bachmann and other Tea Party favourites re-affirms my admiration at the good sense and basic decency of Americans.

  13. Yeah, opticon, it’s just like that hoary old story where Churchill says “We’ve established what you are, and now we’re just negotiating the price”.

    It’s only those dippy kids that embody collectivism. it’s not people like the ones in that Life of Brian clip who believe that following the teachings of some guy, imputing divinity to him and then spending a couple of thousand years building enormous structures physical, societal and political to enfold the flock of followers.

    Yeah, you don’t hear anything at all like the human microphone every weekend in every part of this country.

    Yeah, it’s just those dopes that think all the wealth should be pooled. Not the ones who are only 10%ers.
    It’s not all the teenagers walking around wearing white shirts and black pants, and special underwear, either with skullcaps or with name tags saying that these kids are Elders.

  14. —Ed Rendell to Occupy Wall Street protesters: Go home—-

    This is all wrong. It’s not at all how to deal with this crazy occupation movement made up of mannerless, graceless yokels claiming that they’re morally superior and are “entitled” to take over the whole park.

    First, you do what Bloomberg just did and announce that they can stay long-term, if they’re nuts enough, as long as they don’t break any laws.

    Next, you don’t laugh at them when they proclaim that the park belongs to them and only them. You get the police to keep counter-protesters away, to avoid violence.

    Then you see that they have a way to get food in from the outside. If necessary, you set aside money to built up special paths that only they can use.
    You provide water and electric service for them and keep a large police presence. You have the city government vote them special subsidies for the protesters to run educational programs teaching the divine mission of park occupation and allot welfare funding for any adult attending the “schools” and then maybe you allot a couple of city council seat just for protesters.

    After that they get their representatives to explain the protesters needn’t obey the City or recognize it as a legitimate government and then they start throwing rocks at citizens who want to drive by the neighborhood at unholy times or dress in unapproved ways on God’s holy park’s vicinity.

    Then the UN steps in and screws things up just when everything was great.

  15. The implication of Fuster’s ironic references is that OWS is essentially a potentially violent cult, and that’s probably right, even if their ridiculousness will probably limit the harm they do.

  16. “Essentially a potentially violent cult”

    You are obviously an admirer of the values enshrined in our Constitution. I fully agree. We should lock up all people who we dont like because of what we think they “potentially” might be.

    I mean, has one of these people turned up at a town-hall meeting with a shotgun, Tea-Party style? Potentially, one of them might. Might you? Are you a potentially violent cult? Should I be calling 911?

    Should we be allowing freedom of expression and assembly to anyone who potentially questions socialism for billionaire bankers?


    1. What an odd reply. They are a mob, and its members should be arrested when they break the law, which they already have, and probably are by “occupying” public space. I’m assessing, with the help of fuster’s implicitly ironic reflections, on the nature of a group that performs the rituals JED makes the focus of her post. They’re a mob, and this can’t go on much longer without lots more lawbreaking (that march on millionaire’s houses is sure to go well), unlike the Tea Party–inteligent public officials will be prepared.

      Personally, though, I would be very happy to see this continue, to see more Democrats and their media mouthpieces getting behind and–best of all–for the OWS people to get strong enough to start primarying Democrats for not being leftist enough. Oh, what a happy day that will be!

      1. Oh, I see…..

        They should be arrested for “probably” occupying a public place!

        You’re in the wrong job and in the wrong country, mate. Where were you during the Tianmen Square protests when the Chinese Communist Party needed you to squash a few people with your tank?

        I am beginning to think that Fuster’s irony was probably wasted on you. I am glad that the rights we Americans enjoy under our Constitution don’t depend on your protection. Yes, the rights of expression and assembly that these good-humored ‘anti-socialism for megabuck Republican bankers’ protestors enjoy. The same rights as enjoyed by the hate-filled, mean-spirited, threatening, and enraged Tea-Party mob before them.

        1. I am unaware of any right to live in the streets. No need to crush anyone–just escort them out. If they are defecating on police cars or littering (surely a serious crime in Mike Bloomberg’s NYC), well, that’s another story.

      2. adam, greetings from NYC.
        they’re a bunch of kids and are a very small bunch and are very silly and very well-behaved.
        they present less danger and cause less trouble than the crowd for a big Friday night music concert or a Sunday Jets game.

        these kids are just lost suburbanites and you could take the whole bunch of them and put them in a Disney theme park exhibit and it wouldn’t be more than “edgy”.

        the cops don’t even really WANT to smack them and after a few weeks the most violent thing that’s happened is that some grumpy-arsed cop pepper-sprayed a couple of them. (and the word is that the other cops thing he acted like a puddycat )

        overall, these kids aren’t New Yorkers and if there weren’t all the cops around, they would have been stripped of their cell phones, laptops, credit cards and lunch money.

        1. The open air Yoga was nice, but the body painting was the best.
          The world has not changed. Left Wing chicks really like to slum.
          We always carried some radical books, pics, and better yet some poorly printed crack pot mantras as bait. I wore my Che T-shirt often. Like moths to a flame. We never dined alone.
          Oh well, how are your taxes Fuster?

          1. all in all, not too bad.

            go to the right schools and they teach you the basics of how to deflect incurring liability and also teach the wisdom of consulting someone who knows all about it.

            only thing I never figured was how to duck withholding from my paycheck, but should I live till 62, that money starts coming back.

            got a nice, big house and the taxes on it are based on less than 15% of what the house would sell for within two weeks of hitting the market. taxes might be lower elsewhere but we get decent return in services and proximity to a wide range of stuff. (the feds and the state don’t treat us as well as the city)

            (and let’s not brag about knowing how to dress for gourmandic success)

            1. I washed that shirt several times over the years of my youth.
              Gosh, the recurring liability sounds very painful. Don’t take a salary, bonuses and targeted goals only. You avoid self-employment tax dilema. Try to avoid the whole SS thing when you can.
              Let your wife or children draw a small salary to handle that whole IRS “someone must run the company thing.” The President title works very nicely for them.
              Oh yes, don’t own anything. That is what trusts do very well.
              Much better to lease success than to own it. Less maintenance.

        2. Well, then my assessment was based on left-wing hype–if it’s as you say (what about that “spreading” supposedly taking place across the country?), then I suppose I’m a little disappointed–I was hoping the Democrats would maneuver themselves into owning this.

          1. I think that the Dems aren’t going to get all twisted up in this stuff the way that the Repubs got screwed with the idiots of the tea parties.

            these young idiots are the nephews and grandnephews of those old idiots…..and these don’t donate as much money or vote as often as the retirees.

            the young ones lack the discipline and, while theyre nearly as conformist as their elders, they haven’t reached the point of viewing conformity as a positive good. they’re not going to gather every Sunday and they sure as heck aren’t going to kick in 10% of their money for the cause.

            all the kids are going to get is called to come home when the weather turns nasty

            1. And yet quite a few Dem biggies have made a point of expressing solidarity; not to mention the media fawning. I suspect there’s more to this than you think, but why argue?

              And, of course, I’m quite happy with the Tea Partiers’ influence over the Republican party–an influence they have, obviously enough, because they actually command a nice chunk of votes. I only wish it were sufficient to block Romney’s nomination.

              1. enjoy, I can’t think that the tea party and the folks going all out to block Romney ( can it really be true that he’s a Muslim and wants to destroy America on orders from the angel Marxeroni?) are any more pleasing to you than they are to Axelrod.

  17. Solidarity amounts to “aren’t these young people soooo nice and idealistic and not at all apathetic and uninvolved and don’t we all want a better world and a brighter tomorrow? Let’s all give them a big wave as they go off to bed now ’cause they have to get up early for school.”

    1. Yes, yes, and yet they couldn’t just ignore them or point to them as a general symptom.

      What’s pleasing to Axelrod doesn’t concern me–I’m sure he’s exactly as insightful at this point as those advisors of Carter hoping to see Reagan come out on top instead of the terrifying Howard Baker. They’ve screwed up a presidency, I don’t expect them to do any better on the re-election.

      Anyway, on your own account, there’s no parallel–the “Occupiers” of Wall Steeet are in the tens, maybe hundreds, the Tea Partiers in the millions.

      1. Maybe I should have been more clear. The “pleasing to Axelrod” was shorthand for the tea partisans blocking the Repubs from an appeal to the middle and causing the party to lose a winnable election.
        Reagan was a polished and well-known entertainer with a load of personal appeal and an image of not having a mean bone in his body.

        The Repubs got one of those hanging around?

        {And of course Reagan had the enormous advantage of running against a stuck-up (redundancy alert) former naval officer ;}

        1. It’s true the Republicans don’t have a Reagan, but they do have an incumbent even more discredited than Carter. An appeal to the middle now involves a plausible account of restoring economic growth and adding jobs, which also means not piling up more debt and flushing billions down the public sector union toilet. I doubt the Tea Party would block such a candidate. Maybe Axelrod thinks that Perry’s rocks or his pastor will sufficiently alienate the middle, or Cain’s… well, I don’t know what. But I’m looking forward to seeing him bet on that.

          If there’s a risk here, it’s in being too explicit about the scalpel we’ll have to take to Medicare and Social Security. Romney has made it clear he’s taking no risks in that regard; I’d prefer a candidate who considers that it might be riskier not to be a bit more honest at this point.

  18. took a swing through the Occupy Boston mini tent city yesterday (it’s a block away from where I work). Lots of entertaining signage. Lots of kids who look like they’re getting ready to head into a Grateful Dead concert. Things were calm and their “area” had been reduced by the cops after 100 of them got arrested the previous day.

    I had inadvertently driven by their protest on “arrest day.” Cops everywhere. Unmarked police cars with sirens blaring and bombing down the street. It was quite a mess.

    The most noticeable thing when I walked through the tent city though was the assault on my nostrils. I don’t think any of them have showered for a week.

  19. I don’t think any of them have showered for a week.—–

    that’s rather unusual

    most New Englanders, while the weather’s still warm, bathe every week.

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