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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Invective

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“…if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”  (George Orwell)

I’ve tended to use profanity the way many people do—as an exclamation point. Hit my head on the freezer door (freezers on the top? Not a good idea), or bang my leg on a chair? Curse.  Break a plate or glass (I am very bad with glass), knock a goblet of wine on the rug? Definitely curse. Or find a mess left by a pet? Curse, curse, curse.

On occasion, my curses have been directed inward—when I couldn’t believe I’d been dumb enough to make this or that mistake, or when I disappointed people I loved; and on other occasions, I’ve hurled them outward, generally at the TV during football games.

When I was teaching, my football curses were a convenient way to let go of pent up frustration, and the hundred times I bit my tongue to keep from saying what I knew I’d regret later. The act of spewing invective at players, coaches, and officials who couldn’t hear me gave me the release I needed to face the next week’s set of provocations with my intellect, vocabulary, and self-respect intact.

~~~

Not so this past year.

It’s hard to bite one’s tongue when reason and decency are in scarce supply. When those in power veer from what is critical, and what requires thoughtful examination and discourse, straight into selfishness, lies, and sycophancy, and when incoherent blather is lauded as expertise. It’s hard to resist invective when even decent, caring people feel they must use the crudest and basest means in order to be heard, make their points, when they feel it is acceptable.

I understand because I have been hurling curses  at more than football games with an ugliness, ferocity, and frequency that is toxic to their underlying sentiments.

And so, among the handful of resolutions I am making this year, if I stick to only one, it will be this: to avoid sinking into the muck around me, and protect my language and thought from corruption.

Football season is almost over. I expect my tongue will be sore for months….

Wishing all a Happy New Year.

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