BY JIM SCANLON
For years the Coastal Post has waged a losing battle in a relentless war against the violent metaphors that have invaded the news media and threaten the very fabric of our society and the continuance of our species. CAVEMAN is, of course: Crusade Against Violent Euphemisms, Metaphors And Nouns.
The Republican primaries of the last few months produced so many examples of metaphorical violence that Caveman has had trouble recording them all. Like good jokes, the best are quickly forgotten. Like flies, they are hard to notice except when they bite you.
It is difficult to decide which examples to use. Most came from the New York Times and reflect mental processes obviously conditioned by images of violent combat.
February 24, 1996, "Dole Soldiers Are Set for Buchanan Brigade," the Times fancifully reports, "The well-financed legions of the Republican state machine...are defending...the critical gateway to a string of primaries..." and, "...from the castle ramparts Dole radio and television commercials rain like arrows on Mr. Buchanan. He is being denounced for 'extreme' and 'dangerous positions.' "
"News Report Becomes a Weapon in Debate over TV Violence." This headline is self-referential to violence. It goes on, "A new report suggesting that violence pervades television entertainment shows is shaping up as a...political battle between advocates of the V-chip...and broadcast networks..."
Usually when writers wish to call special attention to the metaphorical status of a word, they enclose it in quotes. On February 9, the Independent Journal headlined, "Prison pigeon kill called 'bloodbath' " about shooting 134 pigeons at San Quentin. Since this actually was a killing, there seemed little need for the quotes on bloodbath. Of course, the quotes would probably not have been used if 134 stool pigeons had been killed in a bloodbath.
San Quentin reminded Caveman of candidate Phil Gramm's statement quoted in the Times that he was committed to, "...grabbing violent criminals by the throat and not letting them go to get a better grip." God, this guy sounds tough—almost as bad as some of the fathers of the boys Caveman grew up with.
This tough-guy attitude was apparent in the Times of February 11, "Fists Are Bared in the Fight for Religious Right's Votes: The battle for religious conservatives... erupted today into a contentious showdown..." Can't you just see them, Bob Dole and "Steve Forbes launching the first attack...bitterly [accusing] unnamed rivals of engaging in desperate distortion." Forbes was accused of supporting homoerotic art because his family-owned a seascape by Robert Maplethorpe, a gay photographer. Caveman scratched his matted hair trying to figure out what could be erotic about a seascape. But everyone knows that maliciously and hostilely challenging the "normal" sexuality of another man (Forbes), or his family (Forbes' father) is a well-known tactic to intimidate and provoke another to a self-destructive action.
The violent macho man (definitely not Caveman!) was at it again. March 6, "U.S. Slap on the Hand Brings Colombia Out Punching." This was a reference to decertification for narco-corruption (which is different from tobacco corruption). The next day the Examiner headlined "Dole Knocks Out Two Rivals."
The Business Section of the Times had a toy story, "Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie...accused Hasbro, Inc., the maker of G.I. Joe, of conducting a 'scorched earth campaign' to derail the merger."
Scorched earth refers to the policy employed by the Red Army retreating before the invading Germans in 1941. they burnt everything which might be of any use to the invaders. Just a few days later Caveman noticed a reference to "slash and burn public relations" which seemed to be a rare, misplaced, pseudo-violent metaphor. "Slash and burn" is a form of tropical agriculture practiced by semi-nomadic farmers who chop down the vegetation in a small plot and burn it to unlock the nutrients for their tubers. Although the earth is scorched, it is not "scorched earth."
This article once again in the Business Section was titled, "A Practitioner of Bare-Fisted Public Relations Takes Punches." It was continued on page C-8 as "Expert in Bare Knuckled Public Relations Is Now Target." The "bluff, bearded PR man" is John Scanlon. Caveman has a brother named John who bared his knuckles to him more than once, but he is not this guy. This Scanlon was once a PR man for Phillip Morris who participated in the "take no prisoners" campaigns of the tobacco company.
Tobacco litigation was front-page news on March 16 as "Smoking Fight: Tactics in a Holy War." As anyone knows, wars on this and wars on that are commonplace. We had "Energy Chief at War with House G.O.P." (February 16), "War over Republican-led Efforts...", "War Against Hepatitis B," "Illinois Is Battleground in War for Senate while Battlelines Are Being Set Up on Sweeping Environmental Provisions in Farm Measure," "War at Children's Zoo," "MCI-AT&T; War Is Now Fought for the Internet."
The hapless consumer is a war victim, "...computerized telephone systems...left me a battle-scarred victim of the new war: the customer versus the store owner."
There are always lots of "battle" and "assault" references. "On the Battlefields of Business, Millions of Casualties," "U.K. defense ministry plans new assault on Gulf War Syndrome," "Battle over Breast Implants."
Extended metaphors seem to be more common, such as, "An Aerial Assault on the Wired Nation: Airwaves are Ammunition of Choice Against Phone and Cable Targets." The article goes on, "...the battle among local and long-distance phone companies...rather than wage a ground war...many companies now seem intent on taking their battle to the skies..."
The limits of the war metaphor were exposed after a series of attacks in which dozens of Israelis were killed by kamikaze Palestinians carrying primitive bombs made from recycled land mines, nails and screws. Prime Minister Peres "...vowed to wage a methodical and incessant war against the militant Islamic movement." It was hard to imagine what he meant by "methodical and incessant" since his agents had just shot down one militant in Malta and had managed to plant an explosive in the cellular telephone of the leading bomb maker, get him on the line, and remotely detonate the phone and blow the back of his head off. This last event apparently provoked the suicide attacks.
Peres then promised "...a war in every sense of the word." This meant a blockage of 8 major cities and 465 villages, effectively imprisoning 2 million people. Caveman felt sort of sorry for Peres, one of the very few Israeli politicians who has been trying to years to come to some kind of a peaceful agreement. Caveman felt a sense that things were truly out of control, when Peres was quoted, "We are trying very hard not to create any starvation or any suffering in the territories.
Caveman believes this Crusade is endless, but in the end all violence will be uprooted clubbed, crushed, knifed, destroyed, beaten to death, then either eaten or scattered to the four winds.
The quote of the month is from KTVU's Dennis Richmond: "The FBI said it had driven a stake through the heart of the Mafia in Detroit. But even Caveman knows you can't kill the undead!