Everyday Semiotics

Thursday, August 21, 2008

'allarming news about the artic melting' (sic)

Northampton Media posts this rant sent by a rather militant Doubting Thomas to a climatologist:
i have checked out your allarming news about the artic melting away, and became very concerned for your health, i,m convinced that you and your colleges are sniffing the wrong glue and may have allready done massive damage to your very small brains, its obviously clear that your all fucked in the head and should seek some type of thearapy, i suggest you all start by BEATING YOUR HEADS AGAINST A GOOD SOLID OBJECT for as long as you can keep doing it. then go back to smokin pot, like you must have done for most of your mentaly retarded cariers. then if that doesnt work try puttin a gun to your head. you and all your tree huggin buddies can fuck offf with your global warming shit.
I'll spare you the full text; it gets a little redundant.

I'm puzzled that someone actually took the time to sit down and write this. Much like I was puzzled by the eagerness of anonymous posters to duke it out on the T&G's website (now 96 comments on the transgender janitor story -- evidently many were nixed by the webmaster as there were over 250 this afternoon).

Here again are unique environments giving way to unique forms of discourse, er, rants. (Cf. the lockerroom tirade, the press conference equivocation.)

What gives rise to the written rant and the anonymous bulletin board post as recurring, established genres of discourse? From whence does the individual author of such discourse derive satisfaction?

What's needed, I think, is an investigation of apostrophe (that is, the form of rhetoric in which the speaker addresses an absent person, not the punctuation mark). More later.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The latest reason I need to learn German

Who knew German public television made a miniseries of The Star Diaries?

The Stanislaw Lem book is one of the most enjoyable I've read this year; a beach book that makes you laugh and think. Recognizable in the trailer are scenes from seventh, eighth and fourteenth voyages (time loop, United Planets, squamp hunt). Not really sure where the holographic lady comes from ... the show needed some sex appeal, naturally. At any rate, I'm dying to get my hands on this, subtitles or no.

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Writing about gender

I keep up with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette even though I no longer live in the area it covers simply because it's a damn fine newspaper. Today's big story is about a transgender janitor at a small town elementary school.

Brianna Bonin is returning to work this school year after having been known as Brian Bonin. Readers have leapt all over this story on the T&G's website, many posting bigoted comments and posting again to insist they're not bigots. When I first clicked over to the story about 11 a.m. it had 55 comments. As I write now at about 7 p.m., it has 180. A tedious back and forth between closed minds and open ones.

I won't bother to grouse about the ridiculous fears voiced that schoolchildren are suddenly at risk because Bonin is now openly expressing her gender identity; or that parents should not have to explain to their kids why Brian is now Brianna. Heaven forbid! Children shouldn't be forced to learn things about the world around them!

The story itself is what perplexes me. While I found it about as fair as any news story should be, I was troubled that Bonin was referred to through as "he" even though she clearly identifies as a woman and is referred to by quoted sources as "she." There is other evidence of sloppy editing in the story; but clearly an editorial decision was made on how to handle the pronouns. It was the wrong decision.

I can only guess its basis is the fact that Bonin hasn't yet undergone gender-reassignment surgery -- something the article (no doubt through careless cutting and pasting) notes twice. The story's presentation suggests its preparers are too openminded to insist that because Bonin is biologically male she must also be grammatically male. I'm surprised Bonin didn't make a point to the T&G stringer that "she" should be used instead of "he"; or that this point wasn't respected.

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