Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Furious China

Comments made by Dr. Phil Fraundorf are responsible for my thinking along these lines, but the point he made is a good one. Is it not ridiculous to have a news title of “China is furious over...”? What information does that convey? I suppose it lets us know that at least some one in China is upset. They certainly don't mean the entire country. The title reads as if the country of China, not the people within it, have the emotion of anger. It assigns an individual feeling to a land mass and government. It might help us identify with an emotion in a knee-jerk kind of way, but is this not misleading? By merely accepting the title, we've accepted a huge simplification. It seems to me that this is somewhat dangerous. It is not as simple as “do A and China is happy, do B and China is furious.”

What harm could come from such absurd, though commonly accepted statements? Perhaps most immediately, it might discourage the reader to ask certain questions. It seems to appeal to the emotions first without being processed by the brain. For instance, if there were a similar news title about Iran being furious, we might never consider what that actually means in terms of consequences if we don't know specifically who is furious. Is it crazy old Ahmadinejad, the Ayatollah, or some portion of the population? The difference would be rather significant!

By glossing over these details and wording a title in an absurd, but easy-to-sympathize-with way, it might actually be more harmful than helpful to the person's understanding. To accept the wording is to deny the complexity of the power structure and it's relevance to the situation. I'm not suggesting that the title should be so in-depth that it become the article, but something as minor, but significant as, “Some Chinese leaders are furious over...” adds only two words. The reader might immediately wonder who and why, which eliminates the simplification and also adds the question of “who?” to the reader's mind. Once that is answered perhaps, “And what might that mean for the rest of the world?” will come next. A subtle change in phrasing may have the power to encourage the audience to read the article from a vantage point that nurtures the complexity of the world instead of disregarding it. And in an era where information is disseminated at the speed of light through a huge network of inter-connected minds, nurturing complexity may be our only hope of satisfying the vast needs of the network's members.

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