WOW WOW WOW, what is this thing again? The concept, coined in the 1990s by Joseph P. Overton, designates “the spectrum of ideas acceptable to society”. However, this window is mobile and moves at the rate or the perimeter of the acceptable evolves. But how ? Well, by confronting a radical idea with an even more extreme idea, we trivialize the first and widen the perimeter of what is “sayable”. In the idea, what shocks us, shocks us by contrast: the unacceptable idea becomes acceptable when we are offered much worse. Giving away a piece of your pizza: unacceptable. Giving away half your pizza: worse. So, giving away a piece of your pizza, finally… acceptable.
1. Robert Cialdini’s experience
In 1975, the American social psychologist began by asking students to volunteer to accompany, on a voluntary basis, young former detainees at the zoo, on a Sunday evening. Acceptance rate: about 10%. He then asks students to volunteer in a detention center for two hours a week, over a long period. Acceptance rate: 1%. He then goes on, showing himself to be understanding in the face of the refusal, and reiterates his first request for accompaniment to the zoo. This time, 3 times more people agree to lend a hand. There is a kind of manipulation here, playing on guilt and compromise. This is referred to as the “door-to-nose procedure”. (Source.)
2. “If you’re on the minimum wage, maybe you shouldn’t get divorced”
The shocking and very controversial sentence pronounced by the editorialist Julie Graziani in 2019, in the “24 hours Pujadas”. For many people, this “slippage” is not one. For them, the declaration fits directly into a political strategy of the far right, based on the Overton window. Indeed, as chronicler Clément Viktorovitch explains, Julie Graziani is an editorial writer for “l’Incorrect”, a magazine founded by relatives of Marine Maréchal Le Pen. However, the latter admits to having “conceptualized the cultural fight”: the idea that it is necessary first to influence public opinion to win an election. For this, we use columnists, send in maverick, to widen the window of Overton by making the most outrageous declarations possible. By comparison, political opinions deemed inconceivable then become admissible.
3. Zemmour and the theme of immigration
It is a fact: the question of immigration is today in the mouth of all the candidates, whereas it once belonged to the parties of the extreme right. Zemmour’s entry into the presidential race has something to do with it! For years, he has regularly created controversy by adopting radical positions on the subject (which will have earned him a few minor condemnations… oops). But by doing this, he not only makes himself hateful: he also shifts public opinion on the subject, and therefore, moves the famous Overton window. According to sociologist Erwan Lecoeur, his strategy is precisely to make “things that could not be said ten years ago” sayable, such as the association between “Islam and Islamism” or “the great replacement”. Last February, according to polls, 48% of French people said they were worried about this “great replacement” (an idea introduced in 2010 by the writer Renaud Camus) when the question did not really arise during the last elections.
4. … consequence: Marine Le Pen seems… softened?
Among the most blatant consequences of this war of words started by Zemmour: Marine Le Pen, until then considered the most radical of the candidates, seems softened, almost cooler (spoiler: it’s wrong, her opinions are always the same as 5 years ago). There are two reasons for this: the first, already mentioned, is that his speech seems more acceptable than the extreme speech of Zemmour. The second is that when she became president of the FN in 2011, she decided to smooth her party to begin its “de-demonization”. It is therefore close to the “sayable”, to the Overton window. Result: she leaves empty the “radical” place, sometimes “ridiculous”, occupied until then by her father. Guess who decided to take it? Yes, Zemmour, approaching the speech of Father Le Pen and then embodying a harder right than it had been for a long time. (All this is very well explained in the video, just above.)
5. Trump, propelled to the presidency thanks to this strategy
Exaggerating, making shocking remarks, announcing trashy measures to relativize real radical ideas: if the French far right seems to have mastered the trick, it is also true across the Atlantic! Radical ideas, shocking remarks, speeches that are difficult to sustain, does that remind you of someone? Come on, I help you: TRUMP. It was the widening of Overton’s window that allowed his election in 2016. Throughout his campaign, he used social networks to spread and popularize the racist and misogynistic ideas of the Alt Right (ultra- American right) in the political debate. Trump notably multiplies the sharing of racist memes on Twitter, whereas candidates usually denounce them. By doing so, through shocking actions, he manages to move the speakable in society and gather enough to win the election. Frightening.
6. Alain Finkielkraut, and rape culture
“Viole! rape! rape! I say to men: rape women. Besides, I violate mine every night.” : the terrible comments made by the philosopher and writer on the set of “La Grande confrontation” in 2019. And these are (unfortunately) not the only interventions that are difficult to sustain from this man, on TV, on the question of rape and child crime. At the time of the Duhammel affair, he notably questioned the question of consent. Fortunately, by dint of trying to move the Overton window, Finkielkraut ended up being slammed in the face by LCI. Ciao.
7. Poutou opens Overton’s window on policing
“The police kill”: the sentence dropped by the candidate last October, in particular with reference to the cases of Steve Maia Caniço in Nantes and Rémi Fraisse in the Tarn. If this speech will have earned him a complaint, filed by the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, it will also have opened the window of Overton: by pronouncing this sentence, polemical and deemed unacceptable, he pushes the boundaries of the acceptable and opens the question to public debate. Its wide dissemination in the media ended up infusing public opinion. (Source.)
8. Sandrine Rousseau, the attempt to move the window to the left
Sandrine Rousseau, political figure of EELV, has also chosen to shock in order to trivialize. Among his latest extreme proposals “to set up a crime of non-sharing of household chores”, involving politics in the private sector. Is the challenge really to make the measure desirable or possible? Not sure. Shift Overton’s window to moderate leftist ideas? More likely. Like the others, by making such radical remarks, she helps to legitimize more balanced leftist ideas. I am not re-explaining the process to you, you have understood.
Be careful, make massive changes in social consciousness is not ONLY negative. The proof: the right to vote for women, marriage for all, PMA for all, the abolition of slavery, the right to abortion,…: all these advances (which, by the way, show that everything was not better before) could exist because opinions have changed!
Sources: France Culture, Le Monde, RTBF