Popular imagination? 大众想象

2023-12-01 13:40:10

Reader question:

Please explain “popular imagination”, as in this sentence: The black hole has entered the popular imagination as an object too massive that neither light nor matter can escape its gravitational pull.

My comments:

Some imagination is needed to, um, imagine the black hole.

The black hole in astronomy refers to a gigantic piece of dark space so intense that no matter or light can escape it.

That’s what astronomic scientists believe. That’s the name they have come up for that hole-like darkness they see. This idea has been accepted by almost everyone.

Hence, the conclusion in our top example: The black hole has entered the popular imagination.

And that means the general public (or the populace) now think (imagine) that way, too.

To imagine, of course, is to be able to form pictures or ideas and concepts in the mind.

Popular, on the other hand, means it’s shared and liked by a lot of people.

Hence, popular imagination means pictures and ideas shared collectively, i.e. by a vast majority of the population.

Imaginations, by the way, are not real. The black hole, for example, may not exist. Or, I mean, scientists will in future find a new name for it.

Maybe. They need to be really imaginative, of course, to do it.

All right, here are media examples of “popular imagination”:

1. It’s been twenty years since Washington’s vehicles underwent a political rebranding.

In May 2000, the D.C. Council announced its plan to change the design of the standard-issue District of Columbia license plates. Some familiar aspects – the lettering, the patriotic color scheme – stayed the same. The big difference was the motto: no longer the neutral and ambiguous “Celebrate and Discover,” but the firm and attention-grabbing “Taxation Without Representation.” It was a stark reference to the District’s lack of representation in Congress and the long struggle for any kind of voting rights at all. Ironically, the Council feared that Congress – which has the power to overturn local legislation in the District – would shut down the proposed redesign. By August, though, an executive order signed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams ensured that residents could obtain their new plates by the end of the year.

The bold change was originally suggested by Sarah Shapiro, a Foggy Bottom resident and local activist, who wanted residents to “confront the rest of the nation with the injustice of our lack of voting rights.” Visitors and tourists, perhaps ignorant of Washington’s unique political circumstance, would be forced to wonder at the motto’s background. “This will make people scratch their heads,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting House Representative, told the Washington Post. “They’ll have to ask what it means.”

Most Americans are familiar with the phrase, of course. It brings to mind images of the Revolutionary War – colonists protesting a series of taxes imposed on them by the British Parliament, despite their lack of involvement in its affairs. According to tradition, the battle cry of “taxation without representation is tyranny” originated in Boston, where it featured in such famous displays as the Boston Tea Party. The Declaration of Independence, one of the country’s founding documents, condemns King George III “for imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.” In the popular imagination, the phrase defined the conflict that lead to the creation of our own, more just government.

So how did the phrase come to be associated with Washington, D.C., the center of that government? As it happens, the phrase – and the message it conveys – was part of Washington culture long before it was stamped on our license plates.

Arguments over D.C.’s voting rights are as old as its founding. Facing disagreements over the location of the national capital, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 established a new city which, intentionally, would not be under the jurisdiction of any one state government. James Madison, one of the leading framers, argued that Congress should “exercise exclusive legislation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district,” to avoid any regional disputes amongst the Congressmen. It would have no representatives in Congress, nor any kind of independent local government. The District’s early residents – at least, the white men who actually qualified to vote at the time – would not have the same rights as the residents of states.

The decision was controversial from the very beginning. With the Revolution still fresh in their minds, Washingtonians felt that, once again, they had become subjects of an oppressive government. Their disenfranchisement “does not appear to meet the spirit of the Constitution,” wrote Augustus Woodward, a lawyer practicing in the District. “Nor is it calculated to satisfy…the expectations of those who are locally affected.” Writing in 1801, Woodward was the most outspoken local advocate for the District’s equal representation; his series of newspaper columns called for representatives in both houses of Congress, the right to vote in Presidential elections, and a separate local administration. Some of his efforts paid off: by 1812, Washington had two popularly-elected councils that chose a governing mayor, to conduct local business. But Congress still denied full representation, even while they levied federal taxes.

- In Washington, “Taxation Without Representation” is History, WETA.org, February 12, 2020.

2. More than two weeks have passed since Election Day in the United States, and though former Vice President Joe Biden emerged the winner after a few days of uncertainty, the controversies over legitimacy continue to provoke fury among President Donald Trump and his allies.

Trump has refused to concede to Biden, much less to congratulate him. His administration has refused to share briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic and national security with the president-elect and has blocked the procedures required for a transfer of power.

Political scientist Susan D. Hyde, a UC Berkeley expert on democracy and “democratic backsliding,” views this conflict with some alarm. American democratic institutions are resilient, she said in a recent interview, but the question is: How much stress can they take before they suffer long-term damage?

Trump has tested democratic norms, and as he continues to contest the election results, Hyde said, the torrent of disinformation from the White House and the silence of most other Republican leaders is compounding the potential damage.

Hyde has travelled extensively for research on election observation, and she has worked with top international democracy-promotion organizations. Her article, “Democracy’s backsliding in the international environment,” was published recently in the journal Science.

Berkeley News: As a scholar in democracy and democratic backsliding, how are you looking at the current post-election moment in the United States?

Susan D. Hyde: I’m seeing the current moment as one that I hoped that we wouldn’t see in the United States, but that every country with democratic institutions is somewhat vulnerable to. Democratic backsliding can be very subtle. It’s akin to hollowing out the inside of a tree: You don’t know how far you can go before you kill it.

We’re seeing trends in democratic backsliding in a lot of countries around the world, which I think a lot of people maybe don’t recognize. Poland and Hungary are examples from Europe. Venezuela was pretty democratic for a long time, and then it became a leader in democratic backsliding. Turkey and India are also on the list.

Regarding the tension and conflict around the transition to a new president – is Trump simply unhappy that he lost? Or is there something deeper underway, in which the president and his allies are weighing their commitment to core democratic principles?

Many people, I know, are very much focused on the worst-case scenario, in which he tries to stay in office beyond the deadline for his departure. It’s impossible to be certain what he’s thinking at this juncture. Yes, he has been a sore loser. It’s possible that he is trying to use this as a fundraising opportunity. He’s clearly not attempting to govern right now.

I’m confident enough in U.S. institutions that I think he will have to leave. But it’s concerning that other leading Republicans have not come out in stronger support of normal U.S. democratic processes. There are real national security risks and other problems that result from that.

And the disinformation that he is sending out directly to his supporters about election fraud is damaging to U.S. election integrity and probably to the ways in which those voters will interact in the political system going forward. So even if he’s just being a sore loser, his actions are consequential. And that is problematic.


Berkeley News: In the popular imagination, democracy is all about government action reflecting the will of the people. But it’s striking right now that 77% of Trump’s supporters, and 32% of voters overall, think the election was not free and fair. Is this a signal of backsliding?

Susan D. Hyde: I’ve seen conflicting public opinion polling on questions like this. I’m a little curious how this will play out in the weeks to come as those conducting these polls try to get a really reliable measure. It does not help that Trump is still tweeting his lies about the quality of the process – by all credible accounts thus far and the evidence that has been made public, the allegations of election fraud are baseless.

A lot of people do seem to be looking at his administration and saying, ‘That’s fine.’ My hopeful side thinks that they feel that because they’re following party leaders – that’s the Republican Party’s position right now. But public opinion could change if more elected officials in the Republican Party put democracy and loyalty to their country over loyalty to Trump.

- American democracy – stressed out and ‘backsliding’? Berkeley.edu, November 18, 2020.

3. Silhouetted human and animal figures cross a burning, orange screen, as a narrator repeats the Bible’s exhortation to “be fruitful and multiply … to fill the earth and subdue it.”

“So why would the industries stop exploiting the Earth if it is our divine right to do so?” the narrator asks, as black talons reach for the viewer.

Part of the Climate Woke series from The Center for Cultural Power, these are scenes from a searing animation by Abraham Matias, a reminder that “we are the stories we are told,” as the narration states. Matias follows his Biblical introduction with a series of myths from other traditions that offer very different views of humans’ place in the world: stories that begin with how human beings were created from wood, mud, or corn; a Mayan creation story where humans are tasked with tracking the passage of time and caring for Earth; a North American Indigenous tale of animals saving the first woman.

This video, and others like it in the series, reexamines humans’ relationship in caring for the planet, treating it as an innate responsibility, an ongoing process, or even a profound source of joy, rather than a moral obligation or burden. It is part of Climate Woke and The Center for Cultural Power’s push to transform how we tell stories about the climate crisis from a White, Eurocentric, “doom and gloom” approach to a more constructive one led by frontline communities. The goal is to empower people to take action and, according to Cristina Uribe, chief campaigns officer for The Center for Cultural Power, to “shift our worldviews.”

“So much of what people are seeing actually reinforces this narrative that … this problem is so big, I can’t do anything,” says Uribe.

Such apathy, she says, stems from overlooking the emotional aspect of cultural change. It takes everything to make progress on climate change: facts and science, policies that can actually make a difference, and a sea change in how people feel when faced with the challenge of climate action.

“We have the facts, we have policy solutions to the climate crisis,” says Uribe. “What we don’t have is the popular imagination, and that’s why we need artists. We need those new stories.”

The Center gave the Climate Woke artists prompts, such as climate’s connection to the return of stolen Indigenous land, Black liberation, immigration, and the exploitation of workers. But beyond that, it allowed them free rein. Different things move different people, it reasoned, and who better to know how to move people than an artist?

- How Artists are Transforming Climate-Related Storytelling, YesMagazine.org, May 11, 202.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣   编辑:丹妮)