Monday, March 27, 2006

Playing the Game

One of my favorite segments of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno is the “Headlines” where Jay goes through some of the funniest headline mistakes, or even non-mistakes. One store will have a big sign saying “Store Closing” and then in a small sign on the same store is “Now Hiring.” There is a picture of a huge billboard that says: “There’s plenty of room for all God’s creatures. Right next to the mashed potatoes.” And finally another advertisement in the paper that says: “Illiterate? Write for free help.”

We all have stories of amazingly funny signs and headlines but what is even more important are the headlines that say things that aren’t in the words. We can say so much by telling the “truth” with our particular bent. Let me use an easy example. If you see a headline that says: “Bush Lies Again!” or “Clinton Too Close to Another Woman!” You can see that what is behind those headlines is more than just the words in the headlines. The first insinuates Bush lied the first time and that you KNOW he lied the first time. The second insinuates Clinton is playing with other women AGAIN, like you know he has in the past. Words are VERY powerful and they tell a lot about you. I read newspapers and magazines every day and I can tell by the headline the bent of the writer. Now I know a lot of writers don’t have control of the titles of their stories but you can tell the bent of the editors if nothing else. While we may not react to “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!” as a headline, we might react to “Arabs take over US Ports!”

Mark Twain said that there are “lied, damn lies, and statistics.” Which means that statistics are even worse than damn lies? So when you read a headline that says that “Senator’s Approval Rating at new Low” you really don’t even know what that means. When you hear ANY statistic, you must look at it through a critical eye. I could go out and poll drunks and find “80% Polled want Drinking and Driving Laws Repealed, while 15% think cars should include a beer dispenser and the other 5% passed out before they answered the question.”

That’s the game. It’s played out in the news, in politics, AND in your teenagers. “You didn’t say I couldn’t go, you just said you want me to stay home.” You can’t avoid the game but, with experience and open eyes, you can avoid getting played.

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