qualified

Here’s a game for you….

In order to play, you’ll need your change purse, a jar or box, a comfortable place to sit, and access to cable TV news.

Before you start watching, you’ll need to know that you’ll be listening for two expressions: “Sort of” and “Kind of.” It’s important to realize that these synonymous expressions can be used in two different ways. First, as means of defining or clarifying type, as in, “A morel is a sort/kind of edible fungus.” Second, as a means of qualifying or lending uncertainty to the state of something, such as, “My room is sort/kind of messy.”

All set?

Good. Now, turn on the TV to one of the three major cable news stations, it doesn’t matter which you start with, because, after 30 minutes (yes, you’ll need to give it that long), you’ll change the channel to one of the others for comparison.

From this point the game is simple. Every time a show’s host or guest uses “Sort of,” or Kind of” as a way of qualifying their comments, throw a coin into your chosen receptacle. As you play, keep track of what, exactly, the expression is qualifying, and how that affects the impact, and, even legitimacy of the commentary. Also, keep track of which station causes you to throw in the greatest amount of coins, and how that difference between news sources affects you. If you want to make the game more interesting, you can grade the seriousness off the qualifications. So, if a reporter says, “So-and-so was sort of unsure in his/her response to the question,” you might throw in a penny. But, if a doctor advises the public to, “Sort of stay home if you can,” you might throw in a quarter.

I’ve been playing for a year now, and am convinced that qualified truths are not truths. They are maybes which give viewers and listeners permission to disregard them. That makes them only slightly better than useless.

I haven’t yet heard anyone say, “She was sort of pregnant,” or “The victims were kind of dead,” but the way things are going, I won’t be surprised if I do.

And that frightens me.

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Mass Hypnosis

Albert von Keller – Hypnose bei Schrenck-Notzing

There’s a moment in the film, All About Eve, where Margo Channing, an actress in mid-life with a salty tongue and noble spirit says, “I detest cheap sentiment.” Words to live by. Yet, she becomes prey to the cheapest of sentimental ploys by a young, ambitious, and conniving actress, named, Eve.

Margo is the model for my inner critic, Griselda, mentioned in earlier posts—although Griselda’s cynicism would never allow her to be victimized by someone as saccharine as the title character in All About Eve. She would have seen through Eve immediately and sent her packing.

As you might suspect, I detest cheap sentiment, too. Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize that sort of emotional manipulation. Google’s recent Super Bowl ad was a particularly offensive example. Narrated by an actor playing the part of a widower asking Google to remind him of things his departed wife said, the voice-over and images were set to a threnody designed to to wrench viewers’ heartstrings from their chests.

And, judging by the majority of reactions on social media, the technique worked.

But I was infuriated. Because aside from what I saw as a facile and obvious attempt to manipulate people’s emotions, there was an underlying awareness to it that all the sorrow and empathy evoked would make viewers forget forget forget that Google is storing those lovely memories and photographs, along with plenty of other data they’ve amassed via tracking, and that the accumulation of that data, and access to users’ lives and activities comes with risks.

Cheap sentiment is a powerful tool, and those who use it know that.

Last night people’s screens filled with shamelessly sweet and heart-stirring images and false promises designed to make them forget forget forget years of the most sinister and self-serving behavior.

Look here not there, listen to this, not that, and think only about how the images and words make you feel….

It hard to blame people for not seeing the truth. The technique is cheap, but frighteningly hypnotic.

It’s hard to fault them for being distracted, forgetting….

But do you hear that? It’s the sound of fingers snapping. Wake up. Wake up. And remember….

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Here and There…

There’s a bird in the neighborhood on a frenzied calling streak. I’m familiar with most of the feathered fliers nearby, the way they look, their habits, the sounds that rise from their throats, but this one is new to me.

***

I’m wrestling conflicting plot turns in my latest project. Part of me wants to disable a major character with a stroke (let’s call him Character One), in order to push another major character into taking a risk she would not ordinarily take (we’ll call her Character Two); and the other part of me is resisting, afraid the stroke will seem too pat, too manipulative. I mean, it’s not as if I haven’t set it up, laid numerous hints that Character One’s condition is fragile enough that such a thing could happen, but really….  Then, of course, I wonder if I, or anyone else, for that matter, will believe Character Two’s willingness to put herself in harm’s way if he doesn’t have it.

It’s a conundrum.

***

Lately I’ve been particularly irritated by the phrase, “Ordinary people,” particularly when it’s employed by politicians and media personalities.

If ever there was a way of creating a divide—no, a chasm between groups, designating one as special, the other not, it’s that.

We were all born pretty much the same way. We all need liquid and nourishment to survive. We all process that nourishment via the same route (some with medical modifications). We all have vulnerabilities—flesh that can tear, bones that can break, organs that can wear and malfunction. We are all constantly fighting and adapting to microbes we can’t see, or worrying about surviving weather that is worsening and becoming more severe and destructive.  We all depend, to varying degrees, on assistance for survival. In the most fundamental ways, we are ALL ordinary.

Still, the other night, I heard the host of a late night news show say that the flag-draped casket of our recently deceased past President was going to lie in state so that “ordinary people could walk by.”  Why not simply describe the people attending as, “mourners?” Why even make a distinction?

I know there are people with unique abilities and gifts who merit recognition and honor for their heroism, contributions, innovations, selflessness, and brilliance. But is it really necessary to spotlight their accomplishments by calling everyone else ordinary?

***

Clues notwithstanding, I don’t know if I’ll be happy if I let Character One have that stroke. But I know I won’t be happy with Character Two’s motivation unless he has it. Would more clues help? Or would they stick out as laughably obvious?

***

Sadly, that bird stopped singing. Maybe it was resting here on its way to its winter home. I hear they are expecting record snowfalls in some areas down south, while here in the north, it is crisp and sunny.

So, I think I’ll take advantage of this spell of indecisiveness and go for a walk. Maybe I’ll hear other bird songs…undoubtedly ordinary to their own kind, but to me, nothing short of miraculous.

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