Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
They are slow-moving spots of cotton-topped crimson along the railings of the upper floors. They crowd the glass-walled elevators, rising and falling in rushes of red, white, and green. They are at the bar, by the pool, and in long lines for the buffet. A few are planning to meet later for milk and cookies near the spa. Outside, in 90-degree temperatures, Santas compete in tug-of-war and footraces. At night, they dance in their Santa casual cocktail outfits on a twilight steamboat cruise.
And everywhere, there’s the sound of jingles. Not short, hard rings that might signal a passing sleigh, but the slow, rolling sound of bells on the shoes of old men walking carefully and heavily.
Being Santa is not a young man’s game.
Still, I admire Bill’s ability to cut from popular science to lurid misadventures. And there were so many passages I underlined. When someone queries the use of “performativity” and “the voice of the other” in the exhibition essay, the narrator explains to us “that the purpose of this kind of writing – this kind of ‘text’ – is magical. It’s not there to give information or guidance; it’s there to evoke the spirit of contemporary art.”
What the cognitive psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker has artfully termed ‘the euphemism treadmill’ is not a tic or a stunt. It is an inevitable and, more to the point, healthy process, necessary in view of the eternal gulf between language and opinion. We think of euphemisms as one-time events, where one prissily coins a way of saying something that detracts from something unpleasant about it. That serves perfectly well as a definition of what euphemism is, but misses the point that euphemism tends to require regular renewal. This is because thought changes more slowly than we can change the words for it, and has a way of catching up with our new coinages. Since that is likely eternal, we must accept that we’ll change our terms just like we change our underwear, as a part of linguistic life in a civilised society.