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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘msnbc’

Offensitive Redux

These times in which so many are offended so often by so little reminded me of this previously posted essay.


One who is easily offended. Have you seen the sculpture at Wellesley College in Massachusetts that’s been causing such a stir? “Sleepwalker” is a lifelike depiction of a rather–OK, very–unappealing male sleepwalking in nothing but a pair of “tighty whities”. The appearance of the sculpture has created a spasm of outrage among the offensitive, those especially prone to being offended. It’s gone as far as a petition demanding the removal of the statue because its very presence is a kind of assault, a violation of the civil rights of the offended.

Think about that for a minute: art that offends, or even art that only provokes a bit of discomfort, is a violation of some sort of civil right.

What have we become when a statue that should be met with ridicule and contempt because it is actually quite banal is rather invoking reactions that imply some sort of assault on the collective population of Wellesley? Is it the topic, the subject, a nearly naked man, skinny fat with a paunch and a frog butt that fails to fill his skivvies? It does make one wonder, what with the venomous attacks on those who were offended some years ago by sculptures of a Crucifix covered with excrement, or years before that by various desecrations of the American flag. Have we succumbed to some sort of spiraling weakness of spirit or character in the ensuing years, a collective fragility driven by the growing population of the offensitive, or is there some qualitative difference in the “art”, who it offends, and how they are offended that is at issue?

That last part is a question that is probably above my pay grade, the relative effect of art on different audiences. There are a couple of things I do understand, though. Art, in all of its forms, is meant to provoke some sort of response in those who consume it. It’s my considered opinion that BETTER art makes you work a bit harder in its appreciation in order that you arrive at your own response; being bludgeoned by the artist’s intent markedly reduces my appreciation of any particular work. Some art makes some people uncomfortable, sometimes on purpose. I’m quite sure there’s a line beyond which it stops being art and truly does become an assault–free speech, after all, famously does not include the right to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theatre”–but “Sleepwalker” is as benign in this respect as it is banal.

The other question, that of our thin-skinned tendency to declare anything that makes us feel bad as some sort of assault, is something I also understand. We are trending as a society, at least at a certain educato-economic strata, to a level of offensitivity that threatens the fabric of our collective. Not only is there a greater tendency to be offended by ever tinier actions, but there is also a corresponding ratcheting up of the response to any offense. Call it the “offendedness arms race” if you will. Something that produces discomfort or offends is now something so much more. I mean, seriously, “Sleepwalker” violates civil rights laws? Other, even more trivial pieces of art have spawned lawsuits and public condemnation of any who have the audacity to question the fortitude of the offended. It’s all so silly. Have we in Western society so little to contend with in the prosecution of our daily survival that we have both the time and the energy to be offended by “Sleepwalker” and its ilk?

I dunno. Maybe it would have been different if “Sleepwalker” had been a CrossFitter.

Secular Tailwind

“Well Hannah, we really think ABC, Inc. is poised for a big uptick. We see them riding a strong secular tailwind in the 3rd quarter with earnings to follow”

Excuse me? “Secular tailwind?” Seriously, WTF is a secular tailwind? Does the presence of a secular tailwind mean that there must be a secular headwind hiding out there somewhere? And how about the “secular” part of this weather front? Secular always seems to be accompanied by sectarian. You know, like Sunni’s and Shiites. The yin to someone’s yang. Heathens and infidels on one side, true believers on the other. If a “secular tailwind” is good, how bad is a “sectarian headwind”?!

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, I not only play a doctor on TV, I also play one in real life. We doctors have been vilified for using impenetrable language to make ourselves look oh so very smart, all the while confusing the heck out of our patients and making them feel unintelligent. Small and embarrassed. Kinda like when you ask the wine steward for a suggestion and you just know… you KNOW… everything he said about the wine was pure nonsense, and your wallet’s about to get violated. Heck, at least we doctors had the decency to use opaque phrases in a different language. We really sounded pretty cool and very smart when we said everything in Latin or Ancient Greek.

Not the good folks in finance, though. The don’t even really SAY anything. They’re just making S__T up. “Secular Tailwind.” Seriously, how do they say stuff like that and keep a straight face? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that everyone who watches or listens to those financial shows is doing so by choice; unlike a patient in his doctor’s office who has some kind of illness to be sorted out, the people watching CNBC or MSNBC are voluntarily tuning into Cramer and his buddies. Not a soul in that audience needs to be listening. Their reward is to be insulted.

It turns out that the relative “literacy” rate for medical information is roughly akin to the vocabulary of an eighth grader. In other words, if I choose to use words or phrases that would not register with the average eighth grader a substantial percentage of my patients will not understand what I am trying to get across. Real research has been done on this stuff and reasonably so; it’s important to understand what your doctor is trying to tell you. Many of us in medicine really do get this, and really do try to neither speak above or speak “down to” our patients. Gone are the days of multisyllabic jargon sandwiched between words from a dead language.

Imagine if that wasn’t the case. Even worse, imagine what it would be like if physicians and other caregivers acted like all those financial talking heads and not only tried to confuse you but just blatantly made crap up while doing so. “Well Mrs. Jones, I’m afraid there’s a involitional reservoir of hard fluid residing in the retrosplenic attic which appears to have suspended all glomerular transport underneath. There are a number of ways it could have gotten there, and of course there’s no guarantee ┬áthat we are right,┬ábut we are pretty sure it was blown there by a Secular Tailwind.”

Don’t worry, though. We’ll just start a little IV Novena…