I have, at times, a rather sick sense of humour.
I have been up to my digital eyeballs in newscasts, online articles, and paper articles for the past month. And while it does stress me, I sometimes find myself bellylaughing helplessly at the immense and dark absurdity of it all.
As a physically vocal being, with a life-long and passionate love for understanding communication, words and people fascinate me. I am obsessed with how we use words, which words when, how and if and to which degree and which direction they reflect, distort, and belie meaning and intent. I watch and listen hungrily to everything. And I gather and hold and examine and cherish it all, because it’s raw data. It’s information on two things I love dearly: information, and human communication.
These passions have led me to pore over issues and instances of human communication consistently, my entire life. Almost unfailingly, I note everything I possibly can in a communication of any sort. It’s not that the message is meaningless to me. Far from it. It is that I understand well that the medium is also the message.
Take sarcasm, for an extreme example: voicing the “opposite” of what one means. Ironically, in order to convey what one does means. Or, to deliberately convey nothing of pertinence, as a means of sidestepping expression of anything actual or factual. There are other uses for sarcasm, of course, but that’s just the illustration of the point, not the point itself.
The point is, considering medium itself, as well as the message, gives rise to an understanding of the entire and actual message. Hopefully. Ideally and more specifically, considering the medium as well as the message gives rise to the questions, which, answered, will give rise to an understanding of the entire and actual message.
Body language, anyone? How about tone of voice? What about timing? What about the lilt and the lull of the speech or text?
I guess because I am a singer, I consider the tone of media automatically. No matter whose speech, writing, body language, I immediately note the tone(s) of communication. Is it authoritative? Hyperbolic? Guarded? Cold? Cruel? Critical? Dismissive? Sarcastic? Argumentative? Dictatorial? Celebratory? Gleeful? Gravely concerned? Calm? Pleased? Belittling? Something else? I could go on for so long, but I won’t. You get the point.
The tone is the “charge”, if you will, to every act of communication. Even in private journal writing, and self-talk. Even when that charge is deliberately muted, as many who have ever been painfully shy will know. (Will know because the inherent charge of the communication gets “stuck inside”, in my experience, and it is almost impossible NOT to be hyper-aware of the full range of tone and meaning intended in a simple act of withheld communication.)
The point is, what’s the tone? What purpose might that tone serve? Is it:
- “tugging at my heartstrings”?
- “appealing to my better judgement”?
- “a startling look” at something?
And here’s the most fun critical thinking part (for me): How does the tone prime me? What specific state does it predispose me to, as the message is delivered? How does it effect message’s impact on me?
As I’m considering tone, I’m noting what is being conveyed as fact. Am I being told about a place? A person? A percentage? A group? A discovery? A question? An event? What specific things am I being told, and about what? And, because I am still sobered by realizing the implications of the Santa Clause fiasco, I ask myself: Is this true? Is this thing, actually, a fact?
Here’s an interesting example from the past week. I’ve noticed a shift, in mainstream media, from referring to demonstrators as “Idle No More demonstrators” to referring to Idle No More demonstrators as Natives. Let that sink in for a second, please. And understand the scope and impact of that shift.
“Striking teachers lined the streets today to protest Bill 145…”
being replaced with:
“White people lined the streets today to protest Bill 145…”
Isn’t it fascinating how replacing a single, qualified noun, with a racial description throws off the whole message?
Know what else is fascinating? It completely absents the fact that not all of the participants are white. In fact, it states the exact opposite of the fact! Isn’t that absurd?! Isn’t it amazing how it can happen, right there under our noses and eyes, and we, for the most part, don’t even blink at that?
Here’s another example from yesterday, #J11: While major news outlets reported hundreds having gathered in Ottawa, many smaller sources cited police as indicating that thousands were actually present. Like THREE thousand.
Is that not a remarkable discrepancy?
But how are you to know, right? It’s the news. They’re paid to tell you what is what, to keep you informed, to be trustworthy, reliable, dependable. Why on Earth would you suspect they’d misinform you? (Hint: Odds are, any entity droning at you to trust it, is doing so specifically because you would be wise to question its trustworthiness.)
So how do you know if what’s being presented is actually fact? The answer is, you don’t. You don’t know if the media outlet is giving you accurate facts. Unless you check them out yourself. (Is there such a thing as an audit of a media outlet? Not a financial one, but like a practical one, or an integrity audit, if those exist… Wouldn’t those be interesting audits to read?)
And that, to me, is one example of mainstream media massively failing us all. If an outlet cannot be trusted to relay a simple fact like attendance, or composition of a group accurately and clearly….. Well, geez…. Which part of informing our personal perceptions of the world around us can mainstream media be trusted with? [Hint: the answer is only the part where it informs us that there is, indeed, something to look into.]
And of course, when ingesting media, I consider the actual words used to convey messages. One of the things I love about words is that they each generally have a sphere of meaning, rather than just a single meaning. There are cultural and historical implications to each word; there are synonyms and homonyms, there are distinct ties to whichever matter is being expressed. It’s a rabbit hole, really. A deep and fascinating rabbit hole that opens up a myriad of glorious questions about the entire truth, and so the accurate bottom line, of the message.
For example: Harper, yesterday, reportedly (note how a single word (reportedly) informs you that I don’t know it for a fact, that it’s been reported) reportedly said that he would like all Canadians to reflect on the legacy of John. A. MacDonald. Now, I want to focus on that name. Know him? This John A. MacDonald? I know OF him. What I know of him is that as Prime Minister, he and his government created residential schools. He also introduced the bill which made the potlatch illegal. He publicly promised he would get rid of “the Indian problem”. Also, I was told that he ordered the flood of an entire valley of Indian territory somewhere in/around Quebec during his rein. Without informing the people living there. (I have never verified this. Would be interesting to know if it’s true.)
So, what could Harper possibly mean, making reference to this past Prime Minister? Is a good question, eh…? Probably a very very important question for all of us to be asking.
Another example of the use of specific words, from yesterday again. Duncan has expressed that there will be no repeal of C-38 and C-45, the omnibus bills rammed through from conception to legislation to law, this past 2012 (bizarrely, deceptively named budget bills). Duncan also expressed that “they” feel they have fulfilled “their” constitutional responsibilities in passing them. Isn’t that amazing? Note the fact, please, that the bills are literally unconstitutional. For the swift and easy proof, see Section 2 of the Canadian Constitution, see almost any treaty, ever, and then see amendments to Environmental Protection Act, Navigable Waters Act. Wham, done. You can skip every single amendment and reference to the [commentary redacted] Indian Act, and even having to read the Indian Act yourself, and STILL see, plainly with your own eyes, that both Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 are literally unconstitutional.
However, Duncan and whoever his “we” is, in this case, FEEL that they upheld the Canadian Constitution. Therefore, regardless of fact and actuality, the bills will not be repealed.
Also, most people will not know that the bills are unconstitutional. Cause the mainstream media doesn’t tell you that.
If you are lucky, the mainstream media might have told you that some legal experts say or claim the bills are unconstitutional. Which is fascinating. Because, as journalists, I would think it their job to read the bills, the constitution, a few treaties, and journal the facts of the matter at hand, the matter being reported.
So, yes. On media, and critical thinking. That.