Saturday, December 20, 2003

Missing the "To-Me" Factor

Caryn James of the New York Times could benefit from some study of general semantics formulations. Or perhaps I should say her readers would benefit. In her heavily editorialized movie review of the recent "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, titled "Are Women Just Bored of the 'Rings'?" (no longer available online), James makes a series of assumptions, generalizations and personal evaluations with barely a hint that she might have projected her opinions onto the larger audience.

For example, several times she calls the movie "soulless" and contends that the only appeal of the movie comes from the special effects. As a woman who found the series deeply moving and personally signficant, and with a male life partner who has absolutely no interest in such movies, I have trouble with her bald and unsupported generalizations. (Update: guess I'm not the only one...)

The very fact that she and I, as two women, have completely opposite reactions to this movie demonstrates several principles James could learn from general semantics. To whit:

1. "To-me-ness"--the idea that when forming or stating an opinion, one should acknowledge the relativity of one's own perspective by adding a modifying phrase like "to me" or "from my point of view", mentally or verbally. This also relieves the reader or listener from having to object to an incorrect generalization that doesn't reflect their own "to-them" views.

2. "Non-allness"--the idea that you cannot know or say "all " about anything. James' scant references to statistics in support of her contention leave a lot unsaid and unreferenced. Again, the very fact of my personal evaluation of the movies as meaningful and soulful stands as a contradiction of her generalization. If one woman evaluates the movie differently, how many others might as well?

3. "Non-elementalism"--the idea that, despite having language that separates a class of things into two sides, the real things themselves fall over a wide range of attributes and don't necessarily qualify as one or the other of the two verbal sides. In this case, I submit that there exist many more personality types than "male" and "female" when it comes to evaluating movies. And that statements forcing real people into two verbal camps contributes nothing to a thoughtful discussion.

4. "Non-Identification"--the idea that no two things, however similar, qualify as "identical". James has equated one woman (herself) with the class of all women, disregarding the multitude of differences that distinguish each of us from everyone else, male or female. I object to someone trying to force me into a definition just because of a few outward gender characteristics.

All this could have come across quite differently if James had simply employed a few of the formulations of general semantics. If she had said, "I'm bored of the Rings", or "I found no soul in these movies," I could not argue with her assertion, and I also would not feel the need to argue with it, since she had not made an attempt to include me in her assertion.

Fortunately, I know that I enjoyed the movie even though my driver's license has an "F" in the gender field. "To me", that's all that matters.

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