Friday, November 7, 2008

Spinning ourselves stupid

Listening to a local radio station today I heard a lady from Cancer Care West (whom I respect greatly) say: "The needs of cancer patients are greater than ever".

Now I'm sorry. But they're not. They're the same as they always were. Probably slightly lessened, in actual fact, due to advances in technology and medicine and general living conditions.

This is a classic example of the type of hyperbolic spin that is put to use by everyone everywhere with a cause to promote. There are few causes I care about more than cancer care, but I have to ask that a line be drawn somewhere.

Nobody benefits from the exaggeration of something that requires no hyperbole.

The vast majority of people are aware that cancer patients, even those who recover, have a horrible, painful, demoralising journey to go through, and that this is the case no matter how good their treatment is.

Exaggerating something that speaks for itself is dangerous - and these days we are becoming more and more de-sensitised because of it. Forget violence on TV, the constant tugging of our heartstrings and appeals to our compassion are more likely to harden our hearts than anything else you could think of.

As a journalist, I come across a hell of a lot of this.

Some examples from press releases I have recently received:

- "Residents of X are at the end of their tether arising from the behaviour of out of control thugs who are bush drinking, drug dealing, urinating, and generally causing a great disturbance in the area. " (About teenagers drinking in an alleyway)

- "There is no doubt that these five cuts by this Fianna Fáil-led Government has perpetuated a barbaric attack on our children's education in primary and second-level schools." (Increase in class sizes by one child per class)

- "Now we have the details of these savage cuts." (ditto)

I have also received press releases proclaiming weeds (yes, the plants) to be "disgraceful" and trees to be "a dangerous hazard".

To me the words 'savage' and 'barbaric' are rooted in their origins: cannibalism, murder, extreme violence.

Cutting some funding and making life a bit less comfortable for adults and children is not desirable, but nor would I equate it with murder or cannibalism.

I don't know if it's a societal immaturity or the fact that we really need a shock to tug at the heart strings. But where is it going to stop?

Working in the media, you come across a massive amount of this.

In fact, some press releases from my own collection:

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