“Get over it! You’re too sensitive!”

February 15, 2010

Inspired by our conversations in Visual Rhetoric, I want to leverage the blog to explore what is perhaps a widely shared view: That individuals and groups who feel slighted or offended should just get over it, that they are being too sensitive, that we shouldn’t be so concerned with what we might call ‘political correctness.’ This theme is from our examination of the Popeye’s re-do ad featuring the four college students.

Before I ask for your reactions, a few thoughts:

First, as I shared in class, a general principle holds that if a group sees that there is the possibility that they are being insulted by another, it will. This is how we are hard-wired. We are always on guard. We like to think the best of FILL IN THE BLANK HERE (Northerners, white people, the French, whomever), but we don’t.

I will default to my worst fear. For an African American viewing the Popeye’s Annie, he or she will fear you are perpetuating Aunt Jemima. Consider if Annie were white. The black stereotype and historical antecedent disappears. The default fear is gone. (We still might think about the portrayal of gender.)

So if we think there is any chance of intent to slight us, we will feel slighted. We live in a culture of indignation. Some are hacked off because we got it wrong. Some are hacked off because we got it right. This is the key: We should care about the first; we don’t necessarily have to lose sleep about the second.

Second, is it up to us to determine when another people group should or should not feel insulted, regardless of intent? When we don’t share that group’s history, culture or even language, how can we judge? We do not relinquish our own “right” to decide when we’ve been slighted, I wonder how it is that we are so quick to decide for others.

Third, our goals in the course are ethical decision-making, ethical image-making, ethical communication. And ethics requires a process. We need diverse people in the room. We also need a process for systematic dialogue and conversation, so we can be deliberate, thoughtful and persuasive. So we can say what we mean, not something else. To discuss how a group or groups might be unintentionally offended, alienated or even victimized by our messages costs very little before the message goes out. As we’ve seen in our in-class examples, it can become quite costly after.

Perhaps a good guide for us is the Keith Woods quotation on the board Wednesday: ‘Appreciate my uniqueness, but treat me the same.’ This gets to the universal sameness of difference and diversity. Don’t we all share this sentiment?

So how do we better appreciate difference? We all are guilty to some degree of staying in our comfort zone, of failing to notice much less engage with the ‘Other,’ with those outside our group, whoever that might mean. I have a trio of exercises that will help us better appreciate difference and what it means to be on the outside looking in, exercises that get increasingly difficult. Don’t worry; all of them should be fun, if you buy into the point or ‘takeaway’ here.

So, to get us started, the first exercise:

Write a response to this post that tells the rest of us of a time when you were the ‘Other,’ a time when you didn’t fit in, when you were excluded. Say something about what that felt like, and about what you wish the dominant or ‘in’ group knew or considered or valued. This exercise is required.

Deadline: midnight Sunday, Feb. 21

YouTube-Pulitzer contest call

February 9, 2010

Through April 20, YouTube, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, will accept videos for its Project: Report 2. The contest is for nonprofessional, aspiring journalists to tell stories that might not otherwise be told. Last year, two school graduate students far in the competition.

This year, 10 semifinalists will receive Sony VAIO Notebooks and Sony HD Camcorders. Five of the 10 semifinalists will then have a chance to win a $10,000 grant from the Pulitzer Center to work on an international reporting project.

For more information, visit www.youtube.com/user/projectreport.

Freedom of Expression® help desk

February 5, 2010

Prompted by one of our members, I’m posting this help desk where you can seek and receive clarification, elaboration and answers to questions related to what we’re doing in class. I sometimes make assumptions about what we know, and of course assumptions are often wrong. So don’t hesitate to ask for more, or to step back and go over something again. And everyone in the class is invited to chime in and crowdsource the answers.

From our last time together, I wanted us to outline the significance of Times v. Sullivan, which included

  • the establishment of a higher level of fault that libel plaintiffs had to prove if they are government officials (actual malice, which is reckless disregard for the truth, as compared to negligence for just us regular folk)
  • the distinction the Court made between political speech (the people’s speech, not just politics) and commercial speech (expression for the purposes of commerce), as well as the speech that is somewhere in between, like the Times ad in the case and Hillary: The Movie
  • that the burden of proof after Times is on the plaintiff, not on the defendant (news media)
  • and that in making these distinctions the case has proven to provide in some ways “the central meaning of the First Amendment,” as the book describes.

We’ll return briefly to the case to look more closely at Hugo Black’s absolutism, and to make sure we all feel good about where Times v. Sullivan fits into the pantheon of landmark First Amendment cases.

Taking your questions . . .