Saturday, October 28, 2006

Language, Gender, and the Media

Just browsing the news. News, which of course, is biased from the selection of what makes headlines, how the news is presented etc. I was struck by several paragraphs from an article about the man, D. Rolling, who was just executed in Shreveport, Louisiana, (not too far from my Dad's family home) and confessed to three other murders before he was led off to execution.

I could make this a post about execution and the morality or immorality of it. That might be appropriate, considering I just saw the most amazing South African film, Forgiveness, a fictional piece about the ambiguities left behind South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the complex desire for forgiveness and revenge that the charachters exhibit.

But I'm not going to make this post about the death penalty, about revenge or about forgiveness, I am going to make it about language.

Several things jumped out at me in this article. First, I was struck that the language in the note left behind by Rolling was very similar to the language in my grandmother's 6 self-published (Holiness) Christian novels about sin and redemption.

Here is what part of the note said: "I, and I alone am guilty," said the one-page note. "It was my hand that took those precious lights out of this ole dark world. With all my heart & soul would I could bring them back."

It is not surprising how similar the language is, considering Shreveport is only about 45 minutes away from the little town near Alexandria, Louisiana, where my grandmother lives and writes. I could write more on this, but I don't have my grandmother's novels handy. (Because of my constantly overflowing bookshelves and my very small room, they are down in the basement.)[Oh how fascinating, I just did a google search for my grandmother and found one of her poems: see page 17 and 18 of this pdf document --This is for another post, but I was for years terrorized by my grandmother's outrageously strict beliefs--now I feel very tender (although still not in agreeance)about them.]

The other kind of language I noticed in this article was that of the journalist:
"Police have long suspected that Rolling stabbed 55-year-old William T. Grissom, his 24-year-old daughter Julie and 8-year-old grandson Sean as they got ready for dinner on Nov. 4, 1989, in Grissom's home."

I was struck by the choice of who to describe in relation to other people. Here Julie, Sean, are defined in relation to William T. Grissom.

The journalist could also have framed it "Police have long suspected that Rolling stabbed 24-year old Julie [rest of name], her 55-year-old father William T. Grissom, and her 8-year old son/nephew, Sean [rest of name]."


"Police have long suspected that Rolling stabbed 8-year-old Sean [rest of name], his 24-year-old mother/aunt Julie [rest of name], and his 55-year old grandfather William T. Grissom."

Depending on which victim is priviliged, it gives a subtly different tone to the statement.

I'm not going to give a long editorial on this, just observe how language once again deconstructs itself.

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