Kathy Owen


Or should I have said fess up. Either way my point would perhaps have been lost on those who refuse to see the subliminal effects of our word or image choices – specifically in the print and electronic media. Flipping through the magazines strewn across the desk of my head office I happened to notice last week’s edition of The Economist, which had the candidates for the US elections portrayed as playing card characters. ‘Up in the Air -The Game After New Hampshire’, was the headline.

Stacked on the cover were the top of the court. Republican John McCain was profiled on a King of Clubs, a smiling Hilary Clinton as the Queen of Diamonds, and Senator Barack Obama as one of the lowest court cards – the Jack of Hearts. Now I’m no gambler but I could have bet that I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed the ‘subtle’ message that was being transmitted here.

So I immediately rushed to my computer and started clicking away at internet pages trying to find a comment that reflected the thoughts that were shuffling through my mind. Alas only one Blog came close. ‘At least they didn’t make Hilary the Queen of Hearts’ was the comment; but still nothing about the Knave. Some took time to mention the positioning of the Aces and Kings. There was an observation that the American populace was indeed up in the air with their vote, – as stated by The Economist’s headline – yet, not a word regarding the obvious pecking order.

I started to feel my mind was playing tricks on me with this one; like perhaps it had done many other times before. So I showed the cover to someone else in the office – “…aaahh, I see what you’re getting at. Obama is the Joker?” OK, so he doesn’t play cards. But neither do I. So I thought I’d see the set from a different side, and change my general point of view.

Maybe there was absolutely nothing behind the pattern on the cover and I was just reading too much into a simple play. Maybe I was too keyed up by the constant colour lines and comparisons that are drawn once you look obviously different from the other players in the game.

So, for the day I tried not to feel carded or boxed as I made my way through the city. Walking into the elevator today, though the guy asked the other two occupants which floor they were going on and left me to find my own button, I blamed my imagination. I decided to ignore the length of time it took the bar man to notice I had been sitting there and still ordered my coffee with a smile.

And I certainly made no notice of the newscast that kept repeating the report of the Kenyan chopping another to death in full view of a camera in broad daylight, whilst having my lunch. As, the fact that all subsequent stories of murders, car accidents or other such mayhem dealing with non minority citizens had their bodies covered, if shown at all, had nothing to do with media influence or the casting of a die. Maybe the reporters just never get to the scenes in time.

I thought about how much emphasis I put on language and considered that I could just be a victim of over exposure to my work. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being occasionally guilty of reading ‘too much’ into an article or an otherwise ‘innocent comment.’ This indeed could be a case in point. However, since communication has always been much more than speaking for me, I found it as no coincidence that the said field was my calling and line of work. It comes therefore as no surprise that I am particularly sensitive to how words are placed in a sentence and which ones are chosen above which.

Sensitive here, by the way, can be whichever meaning you choose from your dictionary. So should I act oblivious to the way views are presented in magazines or TV, because ‘it’s no big deal’? Should I just ignore the fact that people do react to what they read or see? Even this commentary may itself have its own kind of sway.

There are those who may even protest that, no matter where they had placed Obama, an offence could have been taken; that there was no intended message on the deck placement or suits. Well, my response to that would be – so why not put Hilary as the Joker, McCain as the Queen and Obama as the Ace of Spades? But not even that would have worked either, would it? So maybe a game of cricket would have been a better pitch.

This is how I see it. The ones that have the hand in delivering our news either need to pay more attention to what they put on the table or continue to turn a blind eye to their effects all together. The people with the power and influence would do us all justice by choosing their words more carefully and thus narrowing the racial divide. As individuals we, too, have our responsibility.

Too often is a statement made and recanted with an apology: Former Senator Bob Kerrey’s (uncalled for) allusion to Barack Obama’s six year period in Muslim Indonesia as a child, and Senator Joe Biden’s reference to the said presidential hopeful as ‘clean’ spring to mind immediately. But once the inference is out there the way back is rather hard.

We (one to the other) either have to be more careful as to how we deal in terms of what we say, when and how, or decide to play the game blindfolded and opt not to read between the lines. Whichever way suits best. But know that who gets trumped always depends on how we play.

With that said I fold. For, if I were to continue I may be accused of pulling the race card, or, at the very worst, insinuating that The Economist was doing the awful same. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The article itself was great if you were able to get past the cover. This therefore is by no means an attack on the magazine, for I have always viewed it (and will continue to) as a solid source of factual and thought provoking news.

Nor am I suggesting that they could by any means single-handedly influence the outcome of the election campaign. But I have to call a spade a spade. Whether you see Barack Obama as the ‘wild card’, Joker, or ‘one-eyed’ Jack, Giuliani as Ace or McCain as King, Hilary your Queen, or your bet’s on Huckabee, for me The Economist card analogy was a risky gamble and I’m not sure if it’s just a candidate who will lose in the end.
The Author: Kathy Owen is a Journalist, Freelance Writer, and former Television News Anchor presently living in the North of Spain.

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