This is a recent empirical oddity I want to share because of its potentially far-reaching and socially-damaging appeal. With publications of all sorts, I’ve observed often readers will take words out of context, which isn’t a new thing. What is curious is what words are taken out context and how these words are used out of context.
My observation is specific words that alone hold a outrageous or negative connotation are chosen, and grouped together amplify this preferred connotation. Qualifiers – typically adverbs – are dropped entirely, severely crippling the meaning and intent of the passage. From a recent article I composed – admittedly controversial and decidedly reasonable – “hypocritical” was selected over “inadvertently hypocritical.” Further, as a paired ranging comparative of “between repurposed ironic and inadvertently hypocritical”, only one word from one end member was chosen to represent the passage.
Standing alone, “hypocritical” is deemed mean spirited. And I agree. Unqualified, hypocritical rarely holds anything but negative insinuation. Yet, as any human can attest, through no ill will, absolutely anyone one of us can seem hypocritical and not even be aware of it. This is inadvertent and can also be ironic.
To me, as an answer to “why are these specific words chosen as representative?”, it seems specific words of negative connotation are quickly located and combined to fulfill the reader’s agenda. This agenda in part is motivated by a reflexive need to discredit or disprove what otherwise is a reasonable thesis, particularly if the proposed themes run contrary to the reader’s well-establulished and strongly-felt beliefs. Variance is unacceptable. More readily, the motivation reveals a similar reflexive desire to satiate moral outrage and challenge the audacity of even a hint of creating offensive prose. Variance is unacceptable.
As mentioned, taking words out of context isn’t a new human behavior. Political smear ads depend on this. What troubles me is single words pulled from throughout the prose, words that have no relation – not even existing in the same paragraph – are keyed in on and are employed as the keystone to the author’s character.
Further, any discussion of these specific out of context words becomes an argument of pure semantics, a battle of wits to champion whose connotation prevails. This is as ludicrous and as exact as “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”
This propensity for locating specific tantalizing words from across an entire article, and the consequential fabrications that arise, are a new form of contextual-compromising of an author’s purpose. It’s so distinct that a descriptive title popped into my head driving back from the STS Turquoise Lodge presentation today:
Being an inductive kind of guy, I like to use my personal life experience to extrapolate a broader social observation. This same sort of “media cherry-picking” I suggest is a causal culprit in the bogus fake political attack ads that are plaguing Facebook and social media lately. And, the sheer volume of these socially engineered pseudotruths have Zuck and crew challenged as to their complacency. If not for the preordained impeachment review in the House of Representives right now, I’m confident social media complacency would be under congessional investigation. Overstated? Remember when our congress brought to scrutiny the price of cold cereal? Google it. This happened.
Whether narrowly using my article as an example or taking in the larger social phenomenon of “media cherry-picking”, the underlying impetus is experiencing emotion and inviting others to be just as emotive. When in service of moral outrage, the mass appeal of “media cherry-picking” guarantees the “quick look-wtf-quick share” response purveyors of lies desire and depend upon.