Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Of Mice and Pizza

8.7.09 | | 28 comments

Since I’ve been thinking more lately about responsible rhetoric and what my language does once it leaves my mind and my mouth, I’ve noticed a number of Mormon cultural instances in which language has been used by leaders/teachers in what I consider reckless ways. Hence this series of Airing the Rhetorical Laundry posts, which I never intended to become a series (though who knows how long it will actually last) and which have become brief explorations of moments in LDS culture where I think language has been manipulated (knowingly or not) by individuals or groups of saints in their attempts to persuade fellow laborers to greater faithfulness.

Today, I’m taking on the faulty analogies often used to convince people away from movies or books that may be good, “except for one little part.” Notice, first off, that I don’t intend to deal with the idea of keeping our entertainment clean or with the varying degrees of readerly sensitivity, i.e., individuals’ varying capacities to endure evil in the fictions they frequent. (So keep that in mind in the comments, if you will.) Rather, I’m approaching the language itself and intend to judge its merits in purely rhetorical terms—that is, I’m more concerned with what work the language is actually doing than with what it’s intended to do* or with whether or not we should watch this movie or read that book because of this steamy scene or that profane word.

Now for the analogies (the first two come from the same paragraph of the same source):

Faulty Analogy #1: Of Mice and Pizza

“Suppose the hot pizza you ordered arrived with all your favorite toppings- plus a tiny little mouse that had crawled onto it before being popped in the oven. Would you eat this pizza that was perfect except for one little mouse? […] Few people would choose to eat something that contained a small dead mouse […]. Yet many choose to fill their heads, often repeatedly, with movies that have ‘one little part’ that’s disgusting and possibly dangerous” (ref).

Faulty Analogy #2: Of Narcotics and Yogurt

“[W]hat if someone put just a little date-rape drug into a serving of fat-free frozen yogurt? It doesn’t matter that this would otherwise have been a healthy dessert if “one little part” was not a scary drug that could fog a person’s brain and wipe out control. Few people would choose to eat something that contained {…] a little date-rape drug. Yet many choose to fill their heads, often repeatedly, with movies that have ‘one little part’ that’s disgusting and possibly dangerous” (ref).

Faulty Analogy #3: Of Toilet Water and Orange Juice

One Sunday afternoon we were just finishing our family dinner when somehow the conversation turned to popular movies. One of my daughters mentioned a very popular movie that had one of those very objectionable scenes in it. And she said something like this, “Dad, what’s so wrong with that movie? I’d really like to see it. We can always fast forward that two minute part.” Now, she knew about the bad part in that movie. She knew it was wrong, but the rest of the movie had captured her imagination and she wanted to see it.

[…]

Well, instead of arguing with my daughter, I remembered something a friend of mine had done in a class. Sitting on the table was a pitcher of orange juice with just one cup left in the bottom. I poured that last cup, held it up, and asked her if she wanted it. Now, my children love O. J., and of course she wanted it.

Okay then I said, follow me. With most of my children curiously following, I took the glass of orange juice and walked into the bathroom. I reached into the toilet with another cup and dipped out some toilet water. Ever so carefully, I poured just one tiny drop of toilet water into the orange juice. I held it out to her. “Here you go,” I said.

She screamed ­and ran out of the bathroom. “But, honey,” I said as I held it out to her. “It’s only one little drop.” “I don’t care!” she yelled. “It’s yucky!” You know, I could not get her to come within ten feet of that glass of orange juice. I finally had to pour it out […] you know where. (ref).

Again, my problem with each of these isn’t mainly the message they convey (though I have my quibbles there, too), but that each analogy is overdrawn, something the authors—supposedly expert teachers—ultimately fail to acknowledge. While to some they may seem ingenious teaching aids, in my book they suffer a tragic rhetorical flaw: You see (or I do anyway), entertainment does not have the same molecular framework or effect on the human body as food. Sure, I know we’re talking different bodies here—the physical used to analogize the spiritual—but there are some telling differences that essentially make the analogies moot.

As Bruce Jorgensen puts it in his case for a Mormon erotica, “We are frequently, duly, and properly warned, over the pulpit in general conference, against the evil of pornography—an attitude […] I share, though [… I] also value and wish to allow a place for the erotic. But all too often, that evil is referred to in terms of poison, disease, or wounds,” as we have, in part, happening here. He continues, “I will call this the fallacy of overextended or overcredited metaphor. Yes, pornography is dangerous, as are poison, disease, and wounds. But right where we most need clarity for any genuinely moral discussion of the problem, the metaphors cloud the issue” (italics mine). Indeed, such reckless rhetoric, as I’ll call it, makes it difficult to engage in dialogue over this important issue, which falls into the “as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books” category (ref).

And while, as Jorgensen comments, “reading a Silhouette Special Edition romance or watching bare bodies simulate copulation on a screen is a kind of taking-in, […] it is not the same thing as ingesting botulism toxin from a can of vegetables or catching a cold by a kiss or breaking skin on sharp glass” or eating pizza tainted by mice or eating yogurt laced with narcotics or drinking a toilet water/OJ screwdriver. As Jorgensen concludes, “Each of these events begins a biochemical or physiological process that, unless decisively interfered with by other such processes [i.e., some degree of medical care], will proceed inexorably to its end: illness, bodily damage, death. But reading [or viewing a film] is an act of consciousness, a work of the spirit, a free act of a free agent; its consequences are not deterministically predictable, as far as my experience has shown” (italics mine). That is, reading a book or watching a movie, as opposed to ingesting poison, etc., will not follow the same course for each individual, especially according to that individual’s development of their agency. Indeed, in Jorgensen’s words, “I may ‘ingest,’ by reading, a false analogy like the ones I am talking about; I may ‘eat’ error. Yet I do not necessarily become erroneous; I can analyze and judge and even use the error to get nearer to the truth” (italics mine).

So how to break through the reckless rhetoric? What language, what analogies (if any) might best offer the clarity needed for us (meaning, Mormon culture generally) to engage in a genuinely moral discussion of the issue? Rhetoricians of the radical middle, what do you think?

* * * *

*Though the distinction here is subtle and intentions often can’t or shouldn’t be divorced from the words themselves, especially in real-life rhetorical situations, there is a difference between what words were intended to do and what they actually do (responsible rhetoric, I think, implies making every effort to wed the two aspects in our attempts to persuade others) and I’m drawing that line for my purposes here.

28 comments: “Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Of Mice and Pizza

  1. Wm Morris

    Maybe sugar and salt and fat are the right food analogies. In the right combinations they are fine (although some combos are better than others) especially if consumed in moderation. However, too much doesn’t work and gets unhealthy. And there are some people who are particularly sensitive to them and have to have reduced amounts or even cut out entirely.

  2. Katya

    I’m going to try to address this without getting into the sticky territory you mentioned, but I don’t know how successful I’ll be, so feel free to tell me I’m headed in the wrong direction.

    The main problem I see with these analogies is that something like a dead mouse has no place in a pizza; it serves no culinary purpose. But the element of conflict in a narrative (which is the source of many potentially objectionable elements) does serve a purpose; without it there’s no real story. (Which is not to say that a lot of Mormon fiction doesn’t try to eschew the “second act,” anyway, as William pointed out earlier this year.)

    If you want to stick with food analogies, I’d compare consuming different types of media to consuming healthy or unhealthy food. Some media is “junk food”: a mild pleasure that’s ultimately unhealthy and unsatisfying. Some media is like vegetables: most people consume it because it makes them healthier, even if they don’t particularly enjoy it. Some media is like low-calorie frozen dinners: Lacking in many unhealthy elements, but also lacking in the greatest joys that the palate has to offer. And some media is like a well-prepared gourmet meal: It may be high in fat or contain other elements which need to be balanced with healthier meals, but all of the elements are combined with care to bring joy to the senses.

  3. Katya

    I didn’t see William’s post before I wrote mine, but it looks like we’re thinking along the same lines. :)

  4. MoJo

    *Disclaimer: I am rambling.*

    I’ve never heard of any of those analogies. The two that I have vocally taken exception to in both Relief Society and Gospel Doctrine are the false Atonement analogies.

    The less offensive of the two is the one where the train-track-switcher takes his son on an emergency situation wherein if the rails aren’t switched, this train full of people will die. Little son goes wandering onto the wrong tracks and dad has to choose between killing his son by switching the tracks or letting a train full of people die.

    *bbzzzttt*

    The more offensive one is where Brother Jones buys a new boat. His neighbor, Brother Smith, wants to borrow the boat to take it on a scouting adventure and Brother Jones, not having had a chance to take it out yet himself, says no. How horrible and selfish he is. The End, right? But no, the POINT was that Brother Smith went to the bishop and, through the powers of the priesthood, MADE Brother Jones cough up the boat because it was a WARD scouting thing and therefore, Brother Jones should have done his duty without having to be taken to task. Or something.

    In any event, the story was told to vilify Brother Jones (and, at the same time, say something about the Atonement, but for the life of me, I don’t know what) as Satan. Or something.

    I pointed out all the logical fallacies in that and I was SHOCKED at how many people in RS AGREED with me. They didn’t know WHY the story was wrong, but they knew SOMETHING about it was bad. However, no one would have said anything if I hadn’t. The teacher wasn’t too pleased with me, since it blew her entire lesson out of the water.

    So the point of that second one was that those rhetorical tricks are so prevalent that they aren’t questioned, even when someone knows they’re wrong. The problem is that they don’t know HOW they’re wrong.

    Then there was one Gospel Doctrine class, maybe a year ago, in the Ward Possessed by the Devil that kind of evolved into a similar discussion, and the way it was going was chock full of these little liturgical platitudes that slowly distort the principles of the gospel.

    Somebody compared a person successfully making a profit/income/living at something to the Gadianton robbers. It went downhill from there into the discussion of the sinfulness of having money. Any money. As in, even money enough to pay your bills.

    That was so horrible, I pretty much blew my top. If I’d been halfway calm, I’d have found it a fascinating social experiment using escalating rhetoric, but I still can’t think about that without getting mad.

    Anyway, the point of all these little examples is that (though they may not be of sex/taint/separation of evil from good) the use of flawed analogies, bad logic, and scare tactics to keep people in line is antithetical to the gospel’s purpose:

    “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

  5. Eugene

    The other basic problem with these analogies is that watching Phoebe Cates take off her bikini top in Fast Times at Ridgemont High is really, really yummy (yeah, I know, I’m dating myself, but I’m just reaching back for the proper personal context).

    However you get a teenage boy to state otherwise, in his heart, he’ll never believe you. And that might start a process where he doesn’t buy into any of your other metaphors either.

    Dispensing with symbolism, the great comedy Tampopo serves up food and sex in a delicious repast. The closing scene, simply of a baby nursing at her mother’s breast, is a clever challenge by director Juzo Itami to try and separate the holy from the profane.

  6. Bradly Baird

    I haven’t heard most of those before – how weird. I mostly ignore them because they are most often rooted in an attempt to provoke an emotional, not a spiritual response. Emotion does not a testimony build.

    Why utilize a decive that doesn’t communicate truth? Just preach the gospel in straightforward terms, and don’t confuse the rhetorical reasons for telling stories to engage an audience and build fellowship with the need to communicate pure truth via the Holy Ghost.

    Proper Prior Planning

  7. Patricia

    The confidence each of the analogies has in its effectiveness is striking. Suppose the parent who tainted the orange juice had a more stand-up daughter who grabbed the glass and showed every sign of calling the parent’s bluff (that’s what these analogies are–bluffs). If a child did that, the parent involved would then be in the hotseat, because s/he may well put the child at some risk.

    The agency these analogies engage relies heavily on aversion, in intentionally provoking “movement away” from something perceived to be frightening or unpleasant. IMO, more control-oriented than agency-engaging.

    Also, these analogies ask us to take much on faith. For instance, we’re told only in Analogy 1 that the movies “have ‘one little part’ that’s disgusting and possibly dangerous …” We’re not told the titles of the movies nor are we given any details to support the “one little part” assertions. In Analogy 3, we’re informed the daughter spoke of a “very popular movie that had one of those very objectionable scenes in it.” In all of these cases, we’re supposed to accept these vague judgments upon the films without question–another false rhetorical bottom in these magical boxes.

    If the daughter in #3 were my daughter and I thought the matter important, I’d sit through the movie with her and try to provide for and provoke in her language to help her work with what happens. Probably, I wouldn’t turn to pre-fab analogies, but wait and see what the situation gave rise to.

    Could be fun!

  8. MoJo

    Patricia, awesome points. I would never have dared to call my father’s bluff, but that’s a different story.

    I have a strong/bad reaction to faith-promoting rumors/stories, also. The first time I came home with one of the more fantastical ones (I was about 12, I guess), my dad pretty much blew his top and told me in no uncertain terms they were all lies. I never believed another one, but boy, did I WANT to. They were so neat, but tainted.

    Anyway, now that I’m, you know, almost an adult, I see his point and I agree with it, but he could’ve made it a better way. I think the little rhetorical tricks and the faith-promoting stories/rumors/lies work hand in hand.

  9. chanson

    Then there’s the unquestioned assumption that the work is whole/wholesome with one scene cut out — that any hint of sexuality is automatically some sort of added toxic taint adulterating it. How is that justified? I would guess that in many cases “that scene” is integral to the characterization and dramatic arc of the story, and is as valid as any other scene in the film.

    Allow me to repeat what I’ve said on this subject in my disclaimer to the “gratuitous love scene”:

    I’d heard too many people say things like “It would have been a good movie if only they’d cut out that one scene“). You don’t even have to have watched the film to know what scene they’re talking about: it’s the sex scene. And, really, whether the scene was integral to the story is irrelevant — for Mormons, every single story that has a sex scene would be improved by cutting all the sex scenes out.

  10. FoxyJ

    First of all, I don’t like these sorts of things because they often seemed to be aimed at youth, with the assumption that they won’t understand or be able to handle the lesson without some sort of cute little metaphor or object lesson. I generally dislike object lessons or metaphors/allegory for the reasons you point out; their actual relationship to reality is usually flawed enough to eliminate any sort of usefulness. Plus they generally take the focus off the lesson on hand and place on the sort of visceral/emotional reaction the story is meant to evoke. There was a recent thread on Segullah about bad chastity metaphors that was pretty funny until you stop and think about the time wasted in chewing gum that could have been used for actual discussion of sexuality.

    I find this interesting because I’ve been in Primary presidencies for several years now, and in Primary right now the emphasis (at least in the ‘offical’ rhetoric of trainings and handbooks) is on avoiding the fictional for the real. They strongly urge us not to use metaphor and to teach pure, simple doctrine to the kids. The Friend magazine won’t even publish fiction any more. The reasoning is that the Spirit flows better through simple doctrine and that kids are ‘confused by make-believe’ (yes, it says that in the handbook). This is interesting to consider–I wonder if we should have some sort of similar injunction in the teaching handbooks for youth and adults.

    And not to totally threadjack, but I think Chanson is right; I know way too many people who were mostly offended by the boobies in Titanic and not by the fact that the entire story revolves around fornication. I wish we could just eliminate the entire idea of the ‘one bad part’ from our cultural vocabulary.

  11. Jonathan Langford

    Several thoughts:

    First, I think it’s awfully tough to discuss the rhetoric in which a topic is discussed without talking about the topic itself. If you critique someone’s metaphor, it’s almost guaranteed that the person will think you’re attacking that person’s position instead. And, in fairness, we do tend to critique the metaphor primarily when we disagree with the message. So it’s a tricky thing to try to critique gospel metaphors.

    One part of the problem is that as humans, we think and learn largely in metaphors. The notion of “teaching pure, simple doctrine” without employing metaphors is a fantasy. (Believe me, as a professional informational writer I find out all the time that there is no way to write something so it can’t be misunderstood.) Not to mention the fact that if Christ found it necessary to employ metaphors in gospel teaching, who are we to believe that we can somehow be clearer by avoiding them?

    The only solution to the problem, in my view, is to explicitly acknowledge that while metaphor may be necessary and useful, all metaphors are also limited–that is, that all metaphors will fail at some point or other–and then teach ourselves (and each other) to become literary critics: that is, to examine each metaphor we use (or encounter) to identify both the points where it succeeds and the points where it fails.

    This means, among other things, abandoning the binary opposition of a metaphor being either “right” or “wrong,” “true” or “false.” Instead, we must identify the ways that each metaphor is both true AND false. It means abandoning the search for the “right” metaphor and the attempt to displace those we consider “wrong.”

    It also suggests that we should consciously strive to employ multiple contrasting metaphors–and use them to critique and illuminate each other.

    One implication of this approach is that we must acknowledge that the value (or otherwise) of any given metaphor lies largely outside itself, in the social and cognitive context. The same metaphor can be either dangerous or valuable, depending on the way it is used and the experience that the audience brings to the situation. A metaphor may have great value for someone to whom it and the point it is designed to illustrate are new. But the same metaphor may reinforce dangerously limited attitudes for other hearers with a different experience.

    Finally, I will say that I think this will work only if we start by critiquing the metaphors that we ourselves employ. When we point out the flaws in someone else’s metaphor, and then attempt to substitute a metaphor by pointing out only the areas where the new metaphor succeeds, we succumb to the same basic problem we’re trying to correct.

  12. Eugene

    The day before reading this post, I watched a lecture on Buddhism by Lewis Lancaster. One explanation he offers for Buddhism becoming the first “universal” religion was its ability to deal with “pollution” issues. Buddhism figured out how to live in the world without becoming “contaminated” by it, and then use metaphor to transcend provincial cultures instead of being constrained by them. What I find fascinating about the above analogies is that they tie morality directly to an atavistic fear of pollution. This is not just bad pedagogy, but could become a debilitating theological weakness.

  13. Jonathan Langford

    While I think it’s useful to point out the underlying connection of these metaphors to the notion of pollution, dismissing this as “atavistic” falls (in my view) into the trap of calling certain metaphors wrong simply because they’re incomplete – as all metaphors inevitably are.

    The language of pollution is deeply embedded in Mormon scripture. While I certainly agree that there are limits to this metaphor, deciding that we’ve simply grown beyond it (based, it appears, on a particular model of human progress) puts us on a slippery slope, in my view.

  14. Tyler

    Wm. & Katya:

    I like those food analogies and think they may provide more for the complexity of the issue at hand whereas the three analogies I point to are unnecessarily reductive (which is why I consider them faulty).

    It seems like food metaphors are favorable for discussion of media consumption. In light of moving outward from the culinary, however (although I am always hungry), I wonder if there are other ways of analogizing it, like Eugene’s discussion of pollution, which seems to extend the ideas of physical contamination (as contained analogies 1, 2, & 3) to more universal spheres (i.e. those beyond the body). Or at least that’s how I read it, anyway, though I may be wrong. Could “moral pollution” be a useful analogy or is it just a variation (as you seem to suggest, Eugene) on the themes suggested in these faulty analogies?

    (Just thinking out loud, as it were.)

  15. Tyler

    As for you Mojo:

    I appreciate you bringing in those other analogies and your response to them because, in my mind, this shows how we can use our intellectual gifts to potentially purify the language we use to persuade others (which is really what I’m reaching for by airing all this rhetorical laundry here, if not for others, at least for myself), even though some may question our questioning. It seems to me though, as you suggest by saying that others agreed with your critiques, that if we (as in this motley community of saints) are wondering about the aptness of the metaphors we live (and perhaps die) by in the Church, there are others out there who may sense that there’s something terribly amiss in our popular analogies, but they just can’t put their finger on what it is.

    So with my ramblings here, I say thanks for your ramblings there.

  16. Tyler

    Bradly, Patricia, chanson, FoxyJ:

    Excellent points, all. Your thoughtful comments are the kinds of critiques I was hoping for, that is, focused on what the language of our cultural analogies is actually doing and on fruitful alternatives for furthering the moral discussion. What I didn’t want was a slip into a discussion of whether or not it’s right or wrong or whatever to watch that movie or read that book. In light of AMV’s culture of respect and openness, though, I don’t know what I was worried about (if, really, I was worried anything).

    Anyway.

  17. MoJo

    [I wonder if] there are others out there who may sense that there’s something terribly amiss in our popular analogies, but they just can’t put their finger on what it is.

    Yeah. That. What you said.

  18. Tyler

    Jonathan:

    I also appreciate your thoughtful and substantive comment. In response: several thoughts of my own:

    I think it’s awfully tough to discuss the rhetoric in which a topic is discussed without talking about the topic itself. If you critique someone’s metaphor, it’s almost guaranteed that the person will think you’re attacking that person’s position instead.

    Of course it’s tough, but I think it is possible, as illustrated in what’s been happening in the short thread we’ve got going here. When people are really open to improving the effectiveness of their message, to judging the success of their attempts to persuade, they should also be open (though this isn’t always the case) to critiques of the rhetorical media the message was delivered in. And if we’re really interested as a People in teaching the gospel more effectively, we should be equally as interested in perfecting our teaching means and methods, including our language, our rhetorical tools.

    The real difficulty, then, is becoming someone who keeps her/himself open to what others are saying, to the feedback others are giving, until s/he finds shared spaces of understanding from which real communion can grow (as Stephen expresses in his discussion of Wayne Booth’s rhetorical quest for connection).

    So it’s a tricky thing to try to critique gospel metaphors.

    But is it just tricky to critique gospel metaphors? Since, as you and others before you suggest, metaphors are our primary way of understanding the world (language itself is really just an expansive and self-referential system of metaphors), I think it’s tricky to critique any metaphors, but especially those that are atavistically embedded (thanks for that word, Eugene) in our cultural consciousness and which we often fail to really interrogate. So you’re right when you encourage us to test the metaphors we ourselves employ, including those that come to us through our cultural heritages.

    I also think you’re spot on when you suggest that we stop calling metaphors “right” or “wrong,” “true” or “false.” To expand on your suggestion that we consider ways each may be true and false, perhaps we should talk about them by degree of faultiness, that is, in terms of their correlation with the object being analogized (as I’ve tried to do here). Maybe by doing this, we can create more compelling, more persuasive, more responsible ways of teaching the gospel to a wide variety of people, which, I believe, is what we’re driving at.

  19. Th.

    .

    Like then Elder Packer said, when you really come down to it, soap isn’t really like repentance. Yet it’s a useful metaphor all the same.

    So we need to be careful not to swing clear to the other side.

    After all, is the kingdom of heave really like a pearl?

  20. Jonathan Langford

    Tyler (#20),

    I agree that it’s worthwhile – essential even – to critique the rhetoric of gospel metaphors. I think my concern is with the idea of critiquing them while ostensibly NOT debating the topics themselves – since it seems to me that much of whether we think a metaphor does or doesn’t work comes back largely to whether we agree with the message that it’s being used to deliver.

    In short, we engage in what claims to be criticism of the rhetoric, but actually becomes criticism of the idea. (And I think there’s been a fair amount of that in this thread too.) Better, in my view, to admit that in talking about the rhetoric, we’re simultaneously debating the topic – and that arguments about whether metaphors are apt or not is an integral part of that debate.

    With respect to describing metaphors in terms of degree of faultiness… The notion of degree of faultiness, it seems to me, immediately invites comparisons where some metaphors win and others lose. I’d rather talk about *areas* of congruence and dissonance, as opposed to *degrees* of congruence and dissonance. It is (in my view) more accurate – and more productive as well, since it moves us away from contests over which-metaphor-is-best and toward an arena where all metaphors become useful starting-points for examining ideas.

    In our quest for better metaphors, it seems to me that it becomes all too easy to place the blame on the metaphor itself – that it wasn’t the right metaphor, that it emphasized the wrong elements, that it was atavistic. All these criticisms, it seems to me, essentially blame the metaphor for being a metaphor, and not the thing itself. It seems to me that what we need is not better metaphors, but better readers.

    The other thing we need is a multiplicity of contrasting metaphors, so that no one metaphor (or set of related metaphors) starts to become canonical. I would argue that a multiplicity of contrasting metaphors is almost inherently better than any single metaphor, no matter how well-chosen.

    In short, I’m not actually advocating testing metaphors in order to find out which ones are superior. Rather, I’m advocating teaching people how to interpret metaphors. The discussion becomes the end, and the metaphor the means to that end. It’s only when the metaphor starts to crack and display its fault lines that (I would submit) real learning starts to take place.

  21. harlow

    My son has loved The Simpsmans ever since he was small, and when The Simpson’s Movie came out he just had to see it opening night. I think later we went to see it together, probably at the Towne Cinema in American Fork, the $1.50 theater. I found the opening sequence enjoyable and funny, especially when they reveal the naughty bits of a Bart. The whole movie was fun, except this tiny part at the end, one word really, where Marge yells, “Will you just throw the g**d*** bomb already.” That’s so out of character for Marge, and there’s nothing to undercut it, like there is in the “Who let her jugs out, Marge! Marge!” episode where she asks Lisa to forgive her for objectifying herself by bearing her breasts to the police to distract them from shooting the elephant, and of course Homer and Bart at the same time.

    That one word marred a really fun movie for me, partly because it was so prominent as to be unavoidable, not a bit of profanity in passing. I certainly didn’t have that reaction to Jamie and Edmund tossing around the same word in Long Day’s Journey into Night when I read it 9th grade. (My sister’s baby, not many months old, had recently died of spinal meningitis and at the funeral my father said that when he heard Clark was ill he had gone to the saddest story he knew for consolation, so when I saw it in his office one day I started reading it.) I’ve learned since to expect some harsh profanity in Eugene O’Neill (though not as harsh as David Mamet and others), especially the later plays.

    Please note, I’m not discussing whether I think it is appropriate to see a play by Eugene O’Neill, or a Matt Groening commercial enterprise, or even a Spike Lee Joint, I’m simply pointing out what O’Brian tells Winston in Room 101 in that 25-Years-Ago novel that I just listened to with Simon Prebble narrating. (Or is it the point Alex sans droogs learns in the reprogramming room in that bolshy horrorshow novel Tom Hollander narrated to me a year ago during Apricot month?) Everyone has something that terrifies them, that gives them an aversion reaction, or mars or spoils an otherwise pleasant, or lovely occasion. I have avoided reading that novel that sprang from the Orwell river (by George!) for a long time, because I knew those last four words were coming. (And I know that I truly do need to immerse myself in the sorrows of The Gulag Archipelago.) But that last comment about Winston is not the end of the novel, anymore than, “I was cured, all right” is the end of John Anthony Burgess Wilson’s novel.

    The appendix on the Principles of Newspeak completes Orwell’s novel in the same way Burgess’s seventh chapter of part 3 makes the orange properly round, makes it run like clockwork.

    Which is a very long way of saying that the metaphors Tyler is working with are themselves a reaction to a faulty metaphor, or a faulty argument, the argument that a little leaven really does not leaven the whole lump.

    One of the characteristics we don’t talk much about when we discuss the nature of metaphor is that metaphor is a subset of metonymy, and metonymy works by displacement. When we say, “The White House assures us that Americans do not torture, and certainly don’t use Room 101,” no one imagines a white house with a mouth and vocal cords and a throat and tongue and teeth and jaws to produce sound.

    The metaphorical meaning displaces the literal meaning so completely that if someone points it out they’re likely to sound like a crank.

    In other words, metaphors work by seizing common sense. I mean, really, who would want to eat a pizza with a Kentucky fried rodent on it? That is, metaphors are essentially coercive. (Okay, maybe the coercion is part of the essence of arguments–as Robert Nozick explains in the preface to Philosophical Explanations–and not of the metaphorical tool arguers often use.)

    Our natural reaction to coercion is resistance, and if someone finds a compelling argument, “It’s just one little part,” they may feel compelled to resist the argument with a compelling argument of their own.

    Indeed, I have a nifty counter-example of “it’s just got a few objectionable words,” but it requires a glimpse into my private and embarrassing world of nonsense syllables, beats, songs and rhymes, so I think I’ll post this now and the other later.

  22. Jonathan Langford

    According to my son (20), anyone who would discard a whole pizza just because there was a mouse on part of it is far too fastidious.

  23. joe

    A big problem with these metaphors and with much of what could be called Mormon entertainment morality is that they obsess with the obvious, while completely ignoring the hidden and truly subversive.

    One real world example is KBYU censoring a few swear words in Les Miserables, but showing the Helen Hunt Twelfth Night stage production uncut. My favorite example if of the fabulous remake of The Thomas Crowne Affair. Cut out the nude scenes and you still have a movie about a man who gets away with the crime (moreover, ignoring the latter arguably makes you completely miss the point of the fairly tactful nude scenes.) Another great example is “His Girl Friday” which, like Twelfth Night, is chock full of [very witty] sexual innuendo, some of it so blatant I was quite surprised KBYU showed it (though thankful since it’s a hoot of a movie.)

    Going back to Eugene’s comment about Fast Times. Having recently watched it again, what’s fascinating is how deeply moral the movie actually is. (Moreover, exactly how Phoebe Cate’s breasts being exposed is immoral is still beyond me, or should I say udderly beyond me.)

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