The Coastal Post - February, 1996

Unnoticed Violent Speech

BY JIM SCANLON

"A monstrous, crippling blizzard...attacked much of the East yesterday," began a front page report in The New York Times, January 8, 1996, [and it] "barreled up the Atlantic Seaboard on a diabolical track that targeted coastal cities like enemy bombers." The next day, the lead story reported that the "Blizzard of '96 broke off its ghostly assault on the citadels and hamlets of the Northeast." Was this overwrought writing perhaps a result of too many Stephen King novels and movies? Or maybe gangsta rap?

This kind of talk makes it seem that Mother Nature cannot only be a cruel motha, but may actually be out to get us. We have an unusually heavy snow storm presented as if Herman Goering's Stukas are peeling off with dive brake whistles screaming over the thud of detonating snow bombs on columns of stalled commuters. Or maybe squadrons of B-17s with bomb bay doors open dropping snowflakes from clouds of flack—wump, wump!

It certainly is a dramatic way to present information!

"Armies of snowplows were out, but were hard pressed to keep up...secondary roads and side streets seemed hopelessly lost." Patton on the move? Or maybe Rommel? No, the NYC Department of Sanitation.

I called my brother, who had just returned from a dangerous mission into his back yard to feed the birds. "It's pretty bad," he said, still breathing heavily. "I fell in a drift and had a hard time getting up, but the little guys were really hungry." Obviously modest about his heroic mission of mercy, he told me things were ok. "The bars are all full and everybody's getting drunk and playing Keno."

Many years ago, this reporter founded the organization C.A.V.E.M.A.N.—Crusade Against Violent Euphemisms, Metaphors And Nouns—to battle against using words to metaphorically imply violence, like "battle," "wars" on this, "crusades" on that, "fights" that are really disagreements, and "targeting" children, senior citizens, insects, etc.

The best example that sticks in my mind was when a Republican presidential candidate called for a "Rambo-like evangelical crusade against communism." It was obvious he was really serious, in the vivid-cartoon-like way prominent Americans have of expressing themselves. (I was once with a group of environmentalists when George Bush told us he had just gotten back from vacation where he had been "eyeball to eyeball with the Grand Tetons.")

On January 10, the Times printed an editorial, "Silent Snow, Deadly Snow," implying that the snow was somehow responsible for the poor physical condition of the three New Jersey men who died from heart attacks after shoveling the white stuff. (New Jersey women are either in better shape or don't shovel snow.)

No New Yorkers died shoveling the deadly frozen precipitation, but a large number of some 4,616 emergency calls were for cardiac-related problems. A cardiac psychologist was quoted, called these men "weekday warriors." (What do these two words really mean?)

The following day the Times reported on the Washington D.C. snow scene: "The Capital Goes Back to Work, and It's Murder." No, it wasn't that the murder capital's murderers had finally dug themselves out (without suffering heart attacks), but that the commute was difficult.

When the postman delivered my latest issue of The Sciences, I thought it might be time to defrost CAVEMAN in an attempt to smash this renewed outbreak of verbal violence. On page 12 appeared an article on ubiquitous chemicals "masquerading as sex hormones [which] could threaten our children's ability to reproduce." Maybe this wasn't, strictly speaking, violent talk, but it certainly involved diabolical masquerading molecules terrorizing parents worried about personal population increase via teen pregnancy.

A few lines down the index, I flinched as I came across an article on linguistics which said, "The words you are reading are shrapnel from a five-thousand-year-old cultural explosion ]and] linguists now think they know where it erupted and who set it off." My god, now CAVEMAN would have to face the assaults and booby traps of treacherous deconstructionist linguists!

And then I came to a review of the book, A War of Witches: "In the underworld of Aztec shamans, an anthropologist uncovers a vipers nest of feuds, poisons and gleeful murder."

It is certainly a dangerous world out there, but CAVEMAN doesn't blame it all on brother Tupac and Snoop Doggy Dog.