Friday, 23 May 2014

The joke's on us

Here’s a terrible old joke I first heard in the early sixties.

Customer enters a posh barber’s shop and sits down in the chair.
 Barber – “Yaas sir?”
 Customer – “No me ‘ead.”

Ah well... but what about the words? In the astonishing event that anyone would pass on this joke, the passer-on first has to remember the words. Sometimes the words can be changed, embellished or whatever, but to stay coherent they have to remain essentially as they are.

The joke must be passed on as received.

Modern political narratives are a repertoire of words, key phrases and even body language which must be passed on as received. It's very much like passing on a joke and sometimes funnier too – for the cynical onlooker.

Once a politician has learned the narrative, there is no need to edit it into something more personal. No need for elaboration or explanation, just as there is usually no need to explain a joke. Explanations detract from the narrative anyway - just as they detract from a joke. This is why going off-topic is seen as so damaging by a narrative’s minders.

Deliver - never explain.

Yet most of us who enjoy the minority pastime called “thinking” prefer to reshape ideas into our own words. In fact it's usually essential. We use our own words to analyse what is being passed on to us, rephrasing key concepts to suit our understanding and vocabulary.

We may well reshape an idea into our own words and then reject it on that basis. As we might reject a joke and never pass it on. Fine, that’s the power of language.

Yet in their professional capacity, the political class tend to forego the power of language and in so doing, forego the power of thinking. They don’t need to think outside the narrative. If they do, they risk running into difficulties as it unravels in their incompetent hands.

So it's vitally important that they don't go off-topic and don't use language as we do by reshaping a narrative into their own words. In a professional sense they don’t own their own words anyway - their sponsors own them.

Political language may be a joke, but the joke's on us.


Demetrius said...

Perhaps garbage out garbage in?

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - or recycling as they call it.