November 16, 2009

language: a means of miscommunication

Did a bit of link hopping early today and came upon a list of Groucho Marx quotes translated for the environmentally inclined which I very much hope were intended as a joke for the more humorous members of that community. Alas, I'm afraid they were serious. When you study homo-eroticism in Victorian literature every fop is a queer. When you're convinced the sky is falling every comedian is a planet prophet. I guess. Anyway I thought I'd have some fun with their quotes.

1. "A four-year-old child could understand this report. (pause) Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it."

Decoded: The cause and effect of our current eco-crisis is simple but all the bureaucracy and subterfuge swirling around it makes it confusing and disempowering. Maintain a beginner's mind.

Grouch couldn't possibly have been creating humor by taking an idiomatic statement seriously. Nope, he's asserting that discovering apparent subtlety in an issue is "disempowering" and we should endeavor to bring the same child-like self-absorption and indifference we see in classrooms world-wide to bear on our environmental challenges. Side note: if weather and ecology were so simple I think we'd have much fewer consternation about hunting and endangered species. We could just establish safe minimum numbers for all species and have at it. Also, your picnic would never ever be rained out unexpectedly. You know, because this is all so "simple."

2. "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."

Decoded: Firstly of course, he wasn't talking about Planet Green's TV shows. But his point is well-taken. The average American spends 145 hours a month watching television and the net result is a nation mostly unwilling to do the hard work to create social change.

I suppose that to Groucho's apparently intelligent mind television would have little appeal. I would, however, submit that reading a book is rather different from guerrilla gardening or writing indignant letters to Archer Daniels Midland - particularly if it's book written by some right wing nut job intent on drilling oil wells in Alaska. But Groucho didn't mean those kinds of book. Just like he thoughtfully excluded your improving tv shows.

3. "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms."

Decoded: A not-so-subtle reminder that the U.S. Department of Defense is the planet's worst polluter and biggest gas guzzler.

Yes, because some guy perched on a roof with binoculars and a walkie talkie has a HUGE carbon footprint. Must be the pork rinds he's eating. They'll give him away some day if he doesn't watch out. You can get dna evidence off anything these days.

4. "The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

Decoded: Smells like greenwashing to me.

Ok, so it's sort of hard to really misapply that quote.

5. "A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running."

Decoded: The time is long overdue for America to adopt a single payer-style of health care and for each of us to take responsibility for our own health by making greener choices.

A government run taxi paid for by government employees with government issued money is much less expensive because when you run out of money you can just print more. Never mind that children are getting blocks of money for Christmas to use as building blocks because it's cheaper than an apple in the toe of your stocking. Please also note the irony of getting something you're not paying for (my taxes only go to support orphaned whales) as a means of inducing responsibility. We all know that children showered with toys take better care of them than children who carefully hoard pennies and do extra errands to get that new Spider-man action figure.

6. "I could dance till the cows come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the cows till you come home."

Decoded: The only human with whom a cow would tango is a vegan.

Actually, you're just ugly and step on my feet a lot.

7. "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies."

Decoded: Two words: Clean coal.

They've got a point here, but they could also make the same argument about the Federal Reserve, the War on Terror, and No Child Left Behind. Actually, most any bill or committee you threw this at would stick. Not a fan of coal myself.

8. "Florida, land of perpetual sunshine. Let's get the auction started before we have a tornado."

Decoded: An eerie preview of today's climate change-created monster storms.

Couldn't possibly have anything to do with the Disney World brochures that fail to tell you about the afternoon thundershowers that sweep through nearly every summer afternoon. Groucho, making fun of marketing schemes? Never. (Ok, so you could convince me that this is eerily apt.)

Disclaimer: this is not to say that I am unsympathetic to conservationists and those who seek to use resources wisely and with due consideration for those who will come after us. I love clean water, clean air, fertile soil, and good food. I also enjoy people who use really bad logic to assure us that we don't have to laugh at humor -far better to use those valuable carbon emissions in deconstruction.

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