Media, Politics, and Irony

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Zeleny and Rutenberg write in the New York Times

Yet openly seeking political advantage in tragedy is a delicate business and can backfire, as some of Mr. Clinton’s aides suggested.

As generalizations go, that’s a pretty safe one. But it is meaningless, when anything said, any appearance made in media can cross contextual boundaries.

On Saturday, numerous appearances were made by commentators and concerned citizens on the Gifford’s attack and the language about media and message volatility came out quickly, where much discussion was made and will come in the future about “boundaries,” regardless of the many ways that ideas can be interpreted by sane and unhinged people alike. The graphic referred to in the article, the now infamous “cross-hairs” image, was removed, I believe, from the Palin website on Saturday, although I’m sure of that this is an accurate statement.

The attack by Jared Loughner on the public square is significant. One reason was the commonplace nature of Gifford’s gathering, attended by young and old and others who just figured they would make a visit and then leave and go about their business. Here’s a generalization: many tragedies like this begin as commonplace or prosaic–go to work, get on the plane, open the front door–and then the world shifts. The reader might remember those demonstrations outside the Phoenix Convention Center that altered the character of a fairly straightforward Presidential event, making it something other that it was intended. It was transformed into something bizarre. In the case of the Gifford gathering, it became bizarre, cruel, and where language meant as figurative becomes actuality.

One important notion in fiction is that depicted events are perceived as possible in actuality. The writer doesn’t assert that things are real, however. There’s really no differentiation of this notion across the genre or in modes, such as surrealism or realism. In the Kafkan or Twainian mode, we recognize the strange and the absurd in actuality. In a sense, this a recognition on the writer’s part of the power of irony. When people say “Truth is stranger than fiction” they mischaracterize the nature of fiction.


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