In Response to "Are You Hardcore?"

Posted in 2010 The Gnovis Blog

While reading Meredith’s most recent post—“Are You Hardcore?”—I was immediately reminded of my first gnovis entry, about Jon Stewart’s then-upcoming “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally. In that post, I posited that the rallies’ respective billings were indicative of each side’s conception of American national identity.

In Meredith’s post, she challenges Spiral of Silence theory, questioning whether the existence of vocal “hardcore” minority groups undermines that theory’s assumption of self-perpetuation, whereby minority status begets minority reticence begets further minority status.

This really interested me. So, in the spirit of interdisciplinarity and collegiality, I thought I’d use this space to provide something of a response to “Are You Hardcore?” And, just as I’ll be using this as a space to respond to something I read, I invite any and all to use the comment function below to do the same.

The first thing to pop into my mind while reading Meredith’s piece was how contrary Spiral of Silence theory seemed to Nixon’s conception of the silent majority (not that I have a stake in either). Indeed, whereas the idea of the silent majority confidently maintains that the ostensible non-existence of a constituency (as indicated by its absence of voice) serves to signal not only its existence, but majority, Spiral of Silence theory seems to hold just the opposite—that silence belies majority. While I can’t endorse either notion fully, I share Meredith’s sentiment that Spiral of Silence theory is too context-dependent to be broadly applicable. This begs an important question: Is Spiral of Silence theory concerned with perceived majority/minority status, or actual, statistical majority/minority status? Depending upon the answer, I can see wildly different implications for the Beck-Stewart dichotomy.

On the topic of the “Hard Core,” which Meredith characterizes as “deviant citizens who are willing to speak out against the majority regardless of context or cost,” I was also taken. She states: “I ask, if this research suggests that we, as individuals, are aware of the majority opinion and its portrayal in the media, yet we maintain and voice our viewpoints, are we all, at some point, classified as Hard Core?”

As someone operating at a lay level, it occurs to me that true membership to a hard core would require some degree of self-consciousness, or at least awareness of the existence of that core. If we are to turn our attention to common, colloquially ‘hardcore’ dissident groups (say, animal or environmental rights activists, like those in the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts; anti-drug ‘straight edge’ communities; etc), a central element of those cores’ existence would seem to be self-awareness of core membership. Following from Anderson, whose conception of ‘imagined communities’ I examined in my first post, groups often exist merely because they believe they exist.

To maintain one’s own opinion despite popular trends isn’t then, to my thinking, sufficient to qualify one for membership in a hard core. The term itself—“hardcore”—connotes some degree of gradation—or at least seems to allow for that possibility. In other words, if some among us are hardcore, might others be softcore, and still others mediumcore? Considered thusly, I don’t believe that my own distaste for pizza (it’s true—I don’t like pizza), by virtue of its minority status alone, constitutes my belonging to a hard core of pizza dissidents. (A medium or soft core, though? Perhaps.) Taken a step further, might some ideological minorities just as easily be no-core—utterly unconcerned, that is, with their minority status?

As such, I agree with Meredith’s claim that the Spiral of Silence theory is, at least partially, “too context-dependent.” Perhaps the most pertinent consideration of all, however, is to what degree hardcore-ness exists on the same spectrum as fanaticism. This is a question I pose non-rhetorically.

Thoughts, anyone?