Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Words Are Not Enough

Don’t look now, but something is happening to the language of dissent.

Hyperbole has historically played a starring role in partisan political commentary, with only a rare cameo appearance in mainstream news coverage.  There is something about the language of extremes that seems at odds with objective, just-the-facts-ma’am reporting.  In recent years, however, perhaps due in large part to Fox News, hyperbole has found an increasingly welcome home in the mainstream.  

Maybe the increasing use of hyperbole simply reflects an attempt to be heard over the pandemonium of a Youtube-Twitter-Facebook cacophony, to be noticed against an ever-expanding backdrop of instant infotainment where all but the most extreme and most outrageous is ignored.  

Whatever the reasons, a side effect is that the words and expressions that we use to describe extremes are being divested of their capacity to have an emotional impact.  Words such as tragedy and catastrophe are applied with equal descriptive power to a minor irritation such as a traffic jam, a statistical blip in the stock market, and the plight of an Afghani father whose children were vaporized in the night by a US Predator Drone attack. 

As potential weapons in the battle against the machine, words are losing their cutting edge.  The language of dissent is being worn down, dulled, blunted. 

Language is still an important weapon in the arsenal of revolution.  But words alone are not enough.  They never have been.  Dissent needs to be action-based—we are not going to talk the corporate machine into pieces.

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