Our country’s current political climate is defined by division. This current election has become a clear demonstration on the vast gap between the ideologies of Americans embodied by the ridiculous campaigns driven by bad mouthing as opposed to policy. Americans are picking teams and the teams are becoming increasingly militant, refusing to come to terms on so many of the issues that plague the country. Driving this aggressive division is the polarizing campaign rhetoric, that encourages audiences to mindlessly demonize the political opposition.
English professors, Andrew Piper and Richard Jean So, point to the contrast between the divisive language of politics. There is a culture it creates is one of conversation and empathetic understanding surrounding literary conventions. Drawing from this marked difference between the two worlds, these two professors were curious what they could find by comparing the literary habits of the two major political groups in the USA: liberals and conservatives. While the findings seem to confirm the stereotypes associated with the political affiliation, digging a little deeper one begins to see the power of literature to inspire conversation and compromise.
Conservatives, often stereotyped as underexposed, do show an affinity for low-brow mass market fiction such as the works of Tom Clancy and John Grisham. Liberals, on the other hand, are commonly characterized as hyper-literate. They demonstrate more interest in high-brow and “difficult” fiction associated with a college education, such as Don Delillo and Toni Morrison.
Digging deeper into the reading habits of these two groups, the professors found a select number of books, which seem to carry a high level of interest in both. They labeled them “bridge books”. The top among these were Game of Thrones, along with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Lord of The Flies (a list of the top 100 bridge books can be found here).
The significance in these bridge books is in the way that members of opposing political leanings spoke about them. The authors of the study used text analysis on the conversations surrounding bridge books and found the following:
“What we found was surprising: when both conservative and liberal readers talk about “bridge books” instead of their usual partisan books, they change their way of talking and thinking in significant ways. They use less negative or hateful language. They use more words related to cognitive insight, such as “admit” and “explain”. In short, what is special about these books is that they make readers who otherwise have strong political dispositions become less tribal. When people read these books, they embrace a more tolerant worldview.”
According to the study, it’s also clear that conservatives are the ones doing the majority of the ideological compromise. Conservatives use more positive language when talking about books, defying the angry stereotype often attributed to right-wingers. Books inspire empathy, an invaluable resource in today’s world and one which we should work to cultivate.
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