Thursday, January 13, 2022

Pundit Propaganda

Barnum & Bailey clowns, geese, roosters, and donkey
photo credit: The Strobridge Lito. Co./Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Propagandist Pundits play too much with our perception. Will such folks ever appreciate that if we really do hanker for the current equivalent of performing geese, roosters, & a musical donkey, we'll find a real circus.

NOT talking here about the so obvious pundits whom we regrettably notice too much--these are the self-servers, who routinely speak conspiracy lies, or so much that's outrageous, that, if they had a moral compass, or any of the faith that some of them claim, their comments would surely head them hellward. NOR those mentioned recently in an opinion article in the newspaper, which suggested that pundits should own up when they get something wrong, just like the rest of us do, when inevitably in life we make a mistake.

Important as those are to address, more important are pundits who try to put truthful perspective, yet fail. And these pundits are important because of their potential! These are the folks who too often fail by being unwitting propagandists, constantly parroting the words and claims of some grifter, charlatan, propagandist, or other pretender--thereby publicizing the pretender's original claims. Particularly dangerous and destructive to democracy now are these prevalent and persistent pundits.

Ever since the first televised presidential debates in the United States in 1960, we've known that pundits who soon afterwards comment on what public figures say have more power than the original remarks. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, this was already apparent as long ago as 1943, when the brilliant pundit Martin Esslin--well before he famously described the theater of the absurd--participated in counter-propaganda radio broadcasts. His role was to immediately analyze Hitler's speeches, and Esslin's analyses--which were unfavorable to the Nazis--were broadcast in German into occupied countries, where people were allowed to listen only to radio broadcasts in German.    

Today, we need more pundits who use their own words more, to comment truthfully, positively, and plainly. To do this, many need to stop repeating the language of pretenders. For example, when will people's attraction to alliteration give way to sense? Should be plain as day that, if you keep quoting the audience-tested, much propagated slogan "St** the St***," you're helping the propagandist by spreading bad words (and lies) again, and again, and again, etc. And, it should be just fine for moderators on broadcast media or editors in the print media to use different words to challenge this as propaganda. No different than the responsibility to prevent dissemination of libel and slander, and unchecked propaganda is at least as dangerous.

Dear Pundit, if you really must have a slogan to repeat, or a bumper sticker to put up somewhere prominently, how about the alliterative "Stop the Stupid." Or, instead of still repeating "no fr**d was found," just dump the negatives--and say what's Fair for Freedom of thought, speech, and association. It's simple to do, when you remember what's at stake.

But apparently these pundits feel purified by putting a negative in front of their free publicity for some pretender--whom they ironically often decry--then do detailed forensics, reusing the pretender's fantasy verbiage, and repeat the original words and claims endlessly, sometimes putting "not" in front; mistakenly believing that "not" has some power that it actually lacks.

For example, if I said to you "Don't WALK on the grass," likely you'd hear most prominently the verb "walk" and what follows it, even if I'd not capitalized=shouted this verb, or if I'd used "not" instead of the barely noticeable contraction ...n't! Have you noticed also that verbs are more powerful in getting our attention than nouns and negatives... or just about any other bit of language. Since this imperative or instruction form of the verb is especially powerful and attention-getting because it rarely occurs in conversation, there's added inclination for your brain to totally ignore the negative and hear something more like "Go ahead, you (or y'all) go walk on the grass!!"

Out of habit, or dancing around legalisms, or ignorance, or just being lazy though, people do negate or double-negate comments, all the time. Some even double-negate themselves into insulting followers, as was reported recently.

It really is simple to rephrase or paraphrase, to purify the puerile and pernicious. How about just saying "X & Y have occurred, and Z suggests/ed this remedy..." instead of the usual pattern, "This killer fog that I'm showing you again and again will not go away anytime soon." Maybe cross the street, so-to-speak, to find someone who will offer a remedy to pursue, rather than continuing to provide a platform for some "Desdemona-downer" pretender! Or, for additional thoughts on what language to use, please re-check George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language."

It's not only preference for the positive that prompted this post. Among Jacques Ellul's warnings about propaganda is an alert to what he called social propaganda. This most powerful propaganda drives automatic behavior, triggered from the assumptions and norms wrapped within the context and language that we swim in everyday. Even if you're not perturbed about the impact of all these "nots" not-not-negating us into nothingness or worse, media bullhorns that repeat foul fantasies and pretense just perpetuate the mind warp first intended. 

Anyway, please consider that a great many people are just plain tired of hearing all the swamp talk of pretenders repeated. Surely, it's time to find a better way to call out the putrid and the puerile? How about perorating the promising? Now there's a prospect!  

A pundit is supposed to be, and is often paid to be, well, better--with an opinion to share, with perspective and precision. So, please, can this include putting a stop to promoting drivel?

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Surf

 

Kawana, Sunshine Coast, Australia
photo credit: Finnrussell99, Wikimedia Commons CCA-SA-4.0 International

New Year for a couple of decades marked the final stage of three-weeks at the beach when growing up. Apart from a few seasonal celebrations, visits with relatives or friends, and some movies, this annual vacation was a time of uninterrupted surfing, of both waves and words. 

Early every morning in a land of endless summer, the family carried beach umbrella, rolled-up beach mat, towels, boogie boards, sunglasses, sunscreen, drink-containers, and of course books, to trek in caravan formation across sand-hills and the already hot beach sand--to find just the right spot, between the flags placed by the lifesavers to mark the area safe for swimming.

The morning was spent in the surf--after a quick survey of what the previous night's tides and weather had set as the surfing terrain, to make safe navigation across any deep gutters, rip-currents, or sandbars--out far, to where serious waves gathered--there to catch a deeply rolling swell the long distance to shore, riding on its final curl and roll onward to the beach. 

Swimming with the swell to catch a wave more than two- to three-times one's height was learned early, for an exhilarating ride as close as you'd hope to the beach. Sometimes, misjudged timing delivered an additional lesson as a human cork, tumbling in the wave or hitting the sand hard, with eyes wide open underwater, shrouded with flurries of white bubbles and sand clouds, until breaking the surface for air. Eventually we'd come back to the beach umbrella and outspread towels, talking and reading, until returning home for lunch. 

During the long hot afternoons, in separate places--indoors, under trees, or in the sand-hills, lots of reading revealed more than the year's schooling about how words work. Being carried along by words for the afternoon was different but in some ways similar to the morning's experience riding the waves.

Even from everyday Aussie talk, we were well primed to be curious about exploring language, often encountering analogy, rhyming substitutions, abbreviation, imaginative omission, and lots of figurative language. Not everywhere in the world will you hear the phrase "like a lizard drinking" with everyone around you understanding this translates to "busy"--because a lizard lies "flat out" busily drinking at the billabong... and it's commonly known that a billabong is a particular type of watering hole and not a surfing reference, despite the confusion created by this now also being a popular brand-name for surfing gear and clothing. 

Or, how many people do you know who, out of the blue, refer to a best friend and/or spouse as "china plate," or just "china," or "plate"? Of course, Cockneys and Aussies know what this is because there's a rhyme with "mate," and everyone knows what that means, right! These are some of what are better known among quite a large trove of Australian/"Oz-talk"--now, that's "clear as mud" you might say, but will you routinely put these and many more language adaptations and adoptions, one after another continuously in every sentence you speak? No wonder that John O'Grady, writing under his pseudonym Nino Culotta, sold so many copies of They're a Weird Mob--a 1957 comic novel about an Italian immigrant to Oz trying to work all this out. And, then there's Frank Hardy's irreverently humorous satire The Outcasts of Foolgarah--which would require too many blogposts to translate from Oz-talk, however imprecisely.

Later, it was kind of surprising to find thoughtful authors, mainly from Europe or North America, who bothered to write entire books about tropes, rhetorical style, slang, or colorful language. Mostly these authors were interested in how words are used differently in different places, or for different purposes. It didn't take long to catch curiosity about how we shape words and words shape us--which also primed curiosity about how a writer like Dylan Thomas opened a path to sounds, sights, and insights [here in 5 minutes, "Poem in October" and "In My Craft or Sullen Art," read by the poet]. Or, of his walk in winter Quite Early One Morning, describing a seaside Welsh village and its people waking to another day [here in less than 13 minutes], as he makes intriguing entrances to unfamiliar scenes and feelings, via his unique rhythm, symbols, and density of lyrical language. 

Then Charles Darwin describing human origins in language attentive to his wife's deeply different faith, to an eye-opening James Baldwin telling it on the mountain, to "Rabbie" Burns's reshaping songs and stories of Scotland, to Judith Wright visualizing the Australian bush, to Halldor Laxness's vision of independence, to the wit of Wislawa Szymborska, and so many other worlds of words.

Along the way, seeds from the thoughtful authors on rhetoric and language style progressively grew further curiosity--so it continues--recently and enjoyably, with much thanks to a friend, who pointed out yet another thoughtful author known on his weblog as The Inky Fool. This is Mark Forsyth, who dives into, if you'll allow the metaphor, oceans of words... and, who seems to have way too much fun with explanations of etymology, syntax, semantics, and rhetoric.

For anyone even a little interested in stretching understandings of what words can do, Mr. Forsyth, with an energy worthy of a surfer, dives into allusion, Diacope, and other examples of rhetorical style, to explain how apparently everyday language in movies or songs, or other word experiences, manage to carry us along.

If this is the nearest that a lexicographer comes in an armchair to surfing waves of words, good luck to us all. You can join in, and hopefully enjoy starting the year with one of his videos... here

Happy New Year.