24 January, 2010

Words have Meaning

Buried in a political polemic is something sadly profound about one of the many things that separate "elites" from the rest of us.

Mark Steyn discusses the newly-elected Senator Scott Brown's truck in the middle of an article about President Obama's use of words and his astonishingly high number of speeches in the last year:

The truck wasn’t just any old prop but a very particular kind: “In some places, there are codes, there are images,” [Newsweek editor Harold Fineman] told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. “You know, there are pickup trucks you could say there was a racial aspect to it one way or another.”

...Whenever aspiring writers ask me for advice, I usually tell ’em this:

Don’t just write there, do something. Learn how to shingle a roof, or tap-dance, or raise sled dogs. Because if you don’t do anything, you wind up like Obama and Fineman men for whom words are props and codes and metaphors but no longer expressive of anything real.

As I've watched my elders continue to struggle with the racism they learned in their early years, I can usually understand their angst at least a little bit. But hearing Fineman last week say that pickup trucks were racial code truly made me laugh aloud. It's so utterly absurd, a Rorshach test that says so much more about Fineman than about the truck itself.

The older I get, the more aware I am of what divides us. And in this case, how little it seems I and the people I know have in common with someone like Fineman...

But Steyn knows the remedy for such silliness: do something. If you've only got words to play with and never dip into the real and substantial of life, reality can begin to warp. Such people tend to wrap themselves in the insubstantial effervescence of words, living in a world of their own creation rather than the one that stares them in the face. Their world becomes a place where words--and by extension the things and beings they truly do represent/embody--are merely pawns in service to the users' goals and desires.

"Words, just words," said President Obama during the campaign...