Sunday, January 02, 2005

Perspective, again.

I carry GOP-USA and AlterNet on my Palm Pilot. When I get sick of left-wing rhetoric (and it don't take long), I switch to GOP-USA to see what they're trying to pass off these days, and when my skin crawls (and again, it's quick), I flip back to AlterNet.

A few years ago, somebody in the Globe wrote a great piece about Planet Left and Planet Right, about how a dismissive "I don't do the mainstream media anymore" essentially tells you a lot about the person who said it. One could also say "I'm converted, and like being preached at, and returning the same" but it wouldn't sound as cooly dismissive at a dinner party/collective potluck/wine tasting/food bank drive, etc.

Anyhow...not a Naomi Klein fan, but she nailed something here about the nature of rhetoric and perspective. You can find the piece yourself at alternet.org, here's the opening.
Example

Iconic images inspire love and hate, and so it is with the photograph of James Blake Miller, the 20-year-old Marine from Appalachia who has been christened "the face of Fallujah" by pro-war pundits and the "The Marlboro Man" by pretty much everyone else. Reprinted in over a hundred newspapers, the Los Angeles Times photograph shows Miller "after more than 12 hours of nearly non-stop deadly combat" in Fallujah, his face coated in war paint, a bloody scratch on his nose, and a freshly lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

Gazing lovingly at Miller, Dan Rather informed his viewers that, "For me, this one's personal ... This is a warrior with his eyes on the far horizon, scanning for danger. See it. Study it. Absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I."

A few days later, the L.A. Times declared that its photo had "moved into the realm of the iconic." In truth, the image just feels iconic because it is so laughably derivative: it's a straight-up rip-off of the most powerful icon in American advertising (the Marlboro Man), which in turn imitated the brightest star ever created by Hollywood (John Wayne) who was himself channeling America's most powerful founding myth (the cowboy on the rugged frontier). It's like a song you feel like you've heard a thousand times before – because you have. But never mind that. For a country that just elected a wannabe Marlboro Man as its president, Miller is an icon and as if to prove it, he has ignited his very own controversy.

"Lots of children, particularly boys, play 'army' and like to imitate this young man. The clear message of the photo is that the way to relax after a battle is with a cigarette," wrote Daniel Maloney in a scolding letter to the Houston Chronicle.

Linda Ortman made the same point to the editors of Dallas Morning News: "Are there no photos of nonsmoking soldiers?" A reader of the New York Post helpfully suggested more politically correct propaganda imagery: "Maybe showing a Marine in a tank, helping another GI or drinking water would have a more positive impact on your readers."

Yes, that's right: letter-writers from across the nation are united in their outrage – not that the steely-eyed smoking soldier makes mass killing look cool, but that the laudable act of mass killing makes the grave crime of smoking look cool.

Better to protect impressionable American youngsters by showing soldiers taking a break from deadly combat by "drinking water" – or, perhaps, since there is a severe potable water shortage in Iraq, Coke.

Incidentally, free advice for other bloggers. Cite your sources. Statistics pulled out of your ass sound like statistics pulled out of your ass. And make sure of your source. I once had a recently-converted-to-thefashionable-left buddy (and recent converts are given to enthusiasm, no?) send me a bit of news that supported his position on a topic, but some further investigation revealed that the story stemmed from a decidedly right wing news site, complete with a "Hillary Clinton is in the Employ of the Kremlin" lead story.

That site's sheer existence contradicted anything he stood for, and the site's founders would have been unamused with his riff on their material as well. So, proselytizers, waste less time of the passers by and learn to read, ok?

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