Saturday, July 07, 2007

The metaphor defense

How good to know that in our dumbed down world, literary analysis has clawed its way into the news cycle not once, but twice this past week. The metaphor, favored by poets, hopeless romantics, and slimy defense attorneys, has found new life as an excuse for saying stupid things. First there was neo-con apologist Fouad Ajami's non-metaphorical explanation that he was merely being metaphorical when he compared convicted felon Scooter Libby to a slain American soldier. CNBC's David Schuster tore Ajami a new one, with the help of a literal Iraqi-War vet who pointed out the obvious - that Libby is a metaphorical lying sac du merde, unlike the honorable men and women who risk their lives in combat.

The other metaphorical shoe hit the ground today when finance professor Don Chance explained he was merely being metaphorical when he blamed that libertine pleasure-seeking Mr. Rogers for an epidemic of youthful narcissism that is ruining America's future.
Signs of narcissism among college students have been rising for 25 years, according to a recent study led by a San Diego State University psychologist. Obviously, Mr. Rogers alone can't be blamed for this. But as Prof. Chance sees it, "he's representative of a culture of excessive doting."

Prof. Chance teaches many Asian-born students, and says they accept whatever grade they're given; they see B's and C's as an indication that they must work harder, and that their elders assessed them accurately. They didn't grow up with Mr. Rogers or anyone else telling them they were born special.

By contrast, American students often view lower grades as a reason to "hit you up for an A because they came to class and feel they worked hard," says Prof. Chance. He wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: "The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you'll have to prove it."
Chance later explained that he doesn't know what he's talking about, and besides, he was just being metaphorical:
The reference to Mr. Rogers was just a metaphor. I have no professional qualifications to evaluate the real problems or propose solutions. Mr. Rogers was a great American. I watched him with my children and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again if I had young children.
The metaphor defense is obviously catching on, its application broadened to explain the numerous gaffes, malapropisms and dissembling that led America to an ill-advised war.
For instance, when George Tenet said the evidence for WMD was a "slam dunk", he wasn't speaking literally, unless there was backboard and hoop installed in the Oval Office. He was speaking metaphorically, comparing the case for WMDs to the actions of a 7-foot tall power forward on a court full of 6-footers.

President Bush was likewise waxing metaphorical when he told America that the smoking gun of terrorism would come in the shape of a mushroom cloud. I mean, c'mon, terrorists don't use guns anymore, and who cares if they smoke anyway? We have laws against smoking in public, remember?

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