Sunday, May 27, 2012

Metaphors we die by....

I sent a shorter version of my "Speaking of offensive names, drop 'The Civil War'" post to The Oregonian as a letter to the editor after the paper editorialized in favor of the recent State Board of Education decision to force high schools do drop stereotyping names for sports teams.

Much to my surprise the editorial page editors printed my 150-word letter on Thursday. And to my equal surprise only one friend and my mother-in-law (who is, I should be quick to note, is also a friend) mentioned seeing it.

I think this speaks to the demise of the print medium. Or to my demise in reaching out to friends.

I actually addressed my comments to The Oregonian editors. I noted the media's role in perpetuating the use of "Civil War" to describe a mere collegiate rivalry. Sure, I wanted the paper's readers to mull over my modest proposal, but I really, REALLY, did want The Oregonian editors to consider dropping the term, just as they took the lead 20 years ago in dropping the use of Native-American names that describe sports teams.

Perhaps the most notable example is the "Washington Red Skins." Sports fans here have managed somehow with having Washington's NFL team referred to simply as "Washington" on the Oregonian's sports page.

So, in the few years left in which The Oregonian still clings to relevance as a means of communication, it could once again lead us to stop equating athletic rivalries with war.

While its editors are at it, they might look at the use of war terminology to describe political campaigns (war rooms, attack ads, war chests etc.) and government programs (War on Drugs, War on Poverty etc.)

Sadly metaphors have a way of unrealistically defining our expectations. Wars, government programs and political campaigns are won or lost...or so we are led to believe. There is no in-between. But were the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars won or lost? What of Afghanistan two years from now? And do wars ever really end for those who fight in them or are victims of them? Consider the rate of suicides among returning Iraq veterans....just for starters. Wars kill long after they "end" or are "won" or "lost."

And because of the flood of war imagery in our discourse is it wonder that compromise becomes increasingly difficult in our impressionable, emotional society?

The Oregonian, and the media in general, need to choose metaphors far more carefully. Who knows, it might even help them survive....

P.S. in today's Oregonian (5/28) is a letter supporting my letter. It is from William C. Woodcock of McMinnville.

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Blogger Meghan O'Flaherty said...

When I was in Charleston, SC a few years ago they referred to the Civil War as "The Late Unpleasantness". As in, "distasteful. Not something we, as a civilized people, would want to discuss or ever engage in again."
Maybe they have something there.

8:22 AM  

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