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21 November 2016 @ 07:25 pm
"Arrival," and Return to Basics  
As you can see, I've started this blog up again and hope to post at least weekly. I swear I will do more than movie reviews/reactions eventually.

This is a step in that direction, because aside from being about the (frankly, excellent) movie "Arrival" it's also about journalism, and politics in a way. Unfortunately, I have to spoil at least some of the movie to say what I want to say here. I'll try to be as vague as I can, but you've been forewarned.

So, I wrote last week that "Doctor Strange" was actually about time. This movie is ostensibly about time, but really, I think, about communication, and the need for it. The central premise is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which essentially says that the language you speak in influence the way you think and perceive the world. "Arrival" takes that to an amazing and fascinating extreme, and while I don't think anything quite as cool as in the movie can come from changing language usage, I do firmly believe words have power and need to be used carefully.

As a journalist, I do this every day: structuring stories so they convey the message they need to, and so readers can understand it. And also in more mundane ways: the best way to word an email to get the response I want or the information I need, how to fit a complex thought into a 140 character Tweet. And this movie has lessons for fellow reporters about the importance of what they do.

The most obvious one is people listen to what reporters say (to some extent; whether this is still true in a post-Trump, "post-truth" society is out of the scope of this post). And it's conveyed obviously through the radio personality-pundit guy spouting off about "shows of force." His words resonant with many of the soldiers and cause them to lash out, leading to tremendous consequences for all involved. In my mind, the critique of talk radio pundits is obvious and damning.

It's also interesting to note that the "traditional" journalists in the movie, who are shown giving newscasts as the situation progresses and worsens, seem to be doing their job well but are not listened to like the shock jocks. In times of stress, people want to be told what to feel, not always presented facts and allowed to make up their own minds. I think the past year, if not more- if not since 9/11 itself- has been a continuous stretch of great stress for many, whether from war or the economy (downturn, long-term changes, pick your poison) or climate change or just life events that now seem so magnified by social media. Perhaps this is art of the reason the traditional press has waned in terms of influence in favor of the "new media" or "shock jocks." It takes time to process information, digest it, and people feel they don't have that time- like they don't have the time to be teaching grade-school nouns to aliens, even though it's proven to be effective.

So, back to Sapir-Whorf: language influences thought and world view. A language with a more collectivist structure- that uses the plural case more often, say- would make a person less self-centered and more about the larger group. So, too, can language with rigid divisions increase the us-versus-them mindset. When writing, we can phrase things as broadly inclusive a way as possible- residents, versus citizens, is one I've been conscious of myself lately, with the rhetoric surrounding immigration and the demographics of the area where I work.

In the end, it is by coming together as one world that humanity is able to solve the problem posed in the film. And language- the alien language, true, but simple communication as well- is the only way that is accomplished. Sharing information, which is the journalist's base purpose. In a society as polarized as today's, it's comforting to see a situation, even in fiction, where conflicts are ended peacefully and true, human connection prevails.

I'm not being aggrandizing (which anyone who knows me will attest). I'm not saying journalists can save the world. Honestly, I think certain types of "journalist" are part of the problem with our world. But at the heart of it, communication is the only way anything is going to get better, at all. So if any of the communicating I can do will be a part of fixing things, that's my goal. I hope it is for others, too.
I'm feeling: listlesslistless
Listening to: Chris Tomlin, "At the Cross"