September 19, 2015

Whatever Happened to Middle Of The Road?

Our world seems to be one of extremes. Extreme weather, extreme politics, extreme religious positions, extreme Internet hacking, extreme diets, extreme, extreme, extreme. Things seem to have gravitated to the edges of whatever the subject may be.

Maybe it is because of the nonstop intrusion of technology into our lives. In order to break through to be heard or seen, something outrageous has to be said or filmed or posted. Even if based on fact (whatever that means today), a simple, quiet presentation will slip beneath the waves without a trace.

road closed

All of this brought to mind a phrase that seems quaint and pretty much irrelevant anymore: middle of the road. An online dictionary defines it as

  • not extreme politically 
  • entertainment that is ordinary and acceptable to most people, but is not exciting or special in any way.

The definition of middle-of-the-road entertainment sounds a bit judgmental to me. "It is not exciting or special in any way" certainly implies boring, and unimaginative. I disagree. I grew up in a time when "middle of the road" was satisfying and could be exciting. It was safe, but not pablum.

There was "middle of the road" music - songs and artists that the whole family could listen to together. Politicians and political parties wanted to be perceived as middle of the road so large blocs of voters would not feel alienated. Movies were often marketed as family friendly, or one mom and dad could send junior to see without worrying about its content. Though the phrase wasn't used in this context, most restaurants served MOTR food, comfort food, that satisfied the majority.

Time for an important caveat before I continue: the MOTR mindset had its disadvantages. Those looking for something out of the mainstream had a problem. Those not included in society's definition of being "normal" had a struggle. Racism and sexism flourished while most of society turned a blind eye. Diversity was a foreign concept.

So, I am not suggesting a return to the time of Beaver Cleaver. What I am wondering is why being middle of the road in almost anything is considered wimpy, wrong, almost a dirty word (or phrase). If a choice in politics, religion, entertainment, family structure, or lifestyle isn't closer to the edges than the center it is deemed defective.

In our drive to be all inclusive of everyone and every thing, we have actually shut out the middle of anything. Pick a position and fight to the death. Vilify anyone who doesn't agree with you as the devil's child. Question their sanity, loyalty, intellect, and do it loudly and continuously.

One of the "rules" I learned during my years consulting radio stations was the if you tell someone something long enough he believes it. If the client radio station said "We are the #1 Radio Station at Work" often enough, listeners would begin to think of the station that way, regardless of whether it was the #1 station people listened to at the office or factory. Perception becomes reality.

I think that applies today to in almost all parts of society. The loudest voice, the most extreme position, the largest disconnect from fact, becomes the new truth. The concept of truth becomes relative.

I just wonder if we'd all have a more Satisfying Journey if being middle of the road was not so uncommon, or at least OK.


  1. Good morning Bob, another interesting post. But I view it from a different but not necessarily opposing angle.. (surprise, surprise).

    It seems that extreme is the 21st century middle-of-the-raod. Everyone thinks that if they want to be accepted in their clan they must be extreme. If that is true then what is extreme? Maybe MOTR is the new extreme. Maybe listening to others instead of constantly shouting each other down is the new thing that only a few have accomplished now. They do say what goes around comes around...

    Diversity is another matter. I really don't think it has changed that much. It seems that there are a lot of people now who just don't trust anyone other than those like themselves. Everyone else is to be feared. Diversity seems to be pretty much an on the surface thing without a lot of depth to me.

    Is this a world wide thing? I know when we took our month long visit to Canada a few years ago MOTR seemed very much in place with our neighbors to the north. Things to think about.

    I like this new Satisfying Journey.

    1. Good points and questions, RJ. I think we are saying the same thing, but you have clarified one of my key points: that extreme positions or thinking is the new MOTR and that actual middle of the roadism (a new word!) is extreme.

      I am glad you like the blog's different approach.

  2. As a middle-of-the-roader myself, I maintain that most of us are in the middle on most political issues -- it's just that we don't get as much attention as those shouting from the sidelines. (What's the old saying? If you want attention, start a fight! Or ... If it bleeds, it leads.) I recall reading that something like 25% of Americans supported the Occupy Wall St. crowd; and around the same number supported the Tea Party. That left 50% of us somewhere in between. You might say the same now, regarding right-wing Republicans and the Bernie Sanders/Eliz.Warren axis.

    As far as entertainment goes, I dunno. I loved Seinfeld (middle of the road). But also "Breaking Bad" -- is that middle of the road?

    1. Middle of the road thinking is still there, and probably still the majority's position, but it gets no traction. So, the thoughts and concerns of the more moderate folks are drowned out. That gives an incorrect image to the rest of the world, not to mention our own citizens. What to do about it? I have no idea.

      Breaking Bad is not MOTR, but still very well done, though I'd hate to see the protagonist's approach to problem solving become the norm.

  3. I do believe there are many who prefer MOTR to the hateful shouting out there right now. I know I do. I'm really sick of the right wingnuts screaming racist and mysogenist rants. If the DNC doesn't step up its game soon it will be hard to be heard over the hateful rants.
    It may be my age but, after being a big city girl and loving that life, I am so happy to be in a peaceful little town by the sea. That said, there are plenty of rightwingnuts around me here. They just aren't as vocal. When we go into Philly to see dad or run errands we can't do remotely I feel my chest tighten. As we approach the end of the highway into Cape May I mentally and physically relax. Must be a sign I'm ready for a life of MOTR, don't you think?

    1. You raise the same issue that Tom does: what can be done about the noise level? The true "silent majority" (I can't believe I just used that phrase) is pretty much absent in the early stages of political campaigns and entertainment options. Maybe that is the real problem: silence.

      I completely understand the Philly-Cape May point. Betty and I would be happiest in a small town where we knew our neighbors and could be as active or inactive as we choose. But, we have chosen to stay close to family and live with the hassles (and pluses) of big city life.

  4. Being the "rebel" has been the cool thing to be since at least Elvis and maybe before that. ("Cool" is probably dated but I can't think of a better description). It has been glorified in books, film, music, TV, all popular culture in general for going on 70 years now. It has seeped into our very fibre and what can you rebel against other than the MOTR, in other words the vast bulk of society.

    The rebels are the ones with the new ideas, want to change how things are done and, honestly, without them there wouldn't be a lot of change. We all want our leaders to be cool, our music to be cool, be on the leading edge, wear the latest fashions, be part of the "in" crowd (which of course once everyone else is there it's no longer cool or in).

    Of course with experience (i.e. age) we realize it's a mugs game and we'll never win for as soon as you get to be cool the line is moved. I guess that's when we become MOTR. If being a rebel doesn't kill you then we all get there sooner or later.

    I would add that I think the generations in the two world wars knew that following the plan was probably the best way to come home alive so we had a long stretch of active discouragement of the "rebel" in the interest of self preservation. I guess that what that's what the rebel was rebelling against.

    - David

    1. I think there is a difference between being a rebel and being extreme in viewpoints and tolerance. Most of us who were raised in the 60's and 70's were "rebels" compared to mainstream culture. But, that rarely crossed the line into the type of vitriolic words and actions that are much more prevalent today.

      Your point about most "rebel" thoughts and actions becoming mainstream is dead on. I know my parents weren't wild about The Beatles and rock music.It was quite radical for the time. But, because I made my living playing that music on the radio they accepted it. Now, we hear Beatles music as background while grocery shopping.

  5. I think you have a valid point there. I hadn't thought of it that way - but it makes sense to me. Having moved a couple of years back from an English university city to rather "welsh" Wales - I have been wondering whether I am being expected to be "one particular extreme" to fit in. That is - I'm supposed to be the "extreme" that regards it as perfectly ok to say that no-one can get a public sector job unless they speak Welsh (regardless of their level of qualifications/experience). The Welsh Nationalist Party is deemed to be a perfectly "normal" political party AND to be "more important than other political parties" and the only acceptable viewpoint in some circles is to support them. Apparently people are More Important than others if they are elderly (ie just for being old)???? So middle of the road me - that is querying these things am apparently an "extremist" in some ways because I don't support that particular "extreme". Huh????? I do get fed-up with people who don't want to know about my careful "On the one hand this, on the other hand that - and I can see all viewpoints" way of thinking/talking.

    1. You have made my point very well: moderation is not seen as a virtue by many people. If one isn't willing to rush to the barricades over everything than that person is wrong and needs to be shunned or "corrected." Since none of us has perfect wisdom we are not really in a position to deem those who don't agree with us as the enemy. History is full of examples of what was once thought to be true only to be proven completely wrong.

      I believe the MOTR viewpoint is the overwhelming majority. But, with lowered voices and a more accepting nature we are drowned out in the court of public opinion.

  6. I think the middle of the roaders are very present in society. The very nature of those in that category might not raise much attention, but where I live, in the middle of rural America, they are the norm. Solid, caring citizens who work hard, put God and family first, and play hard (if there's enough time and money leftover). A recent meeting with our accountant has stuck in my mind. He shared that about 25% of his clients will travel the world, build a second home, or even launch a new business when they retire. Another 25% are content to stay close to home, pursuing hobbies, helping raise grandkids, and volunteering. The other 50% are the middle of the roaders who mix it up. However, his observations are that the majority of those in the first 25%, soon join the ranks of the middle of the roaders--maybe due to health, finance, or family constraints, but his theory is that once people see what's "out there" in the world, they're usually more content with what they have in their own backyard. So interesting to think about. There might be a sizable group of us who are quietly plodding down the middle of the road, and if we choose to raise our voices, I'll bet we will make an impact.

    1. I would agree with your accountant. I have certainly aged into a stay close to home, be with family, and volunteer type of person. Betty and I still like to travel, but find hearth and family more satisfying in the long term.

      As I noted in my comment to Ceridwen above, the MOTR crowd is the majority, but you'd never know it from the news or what makes headlines day after day.Particularly in the political world, anyone who takes a moderate position is doomed to lose.

      I am against the concept "playing to the base" when it means pandering to the most extreme views just to advance through the primaries, only to move more toward the center to try to win a general election. That is being dishonest and is so transparent I can't believe people fall for it every time. If all candidates move back towards the center what would happen if they started there? Defeat, I am afraid until we raise our voices as you suggest, Pam.


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