Sunday, January 24, 2010

Literary Intent, via PSA

A foray into linguistics today. I would have liked to have had some graphics for this one, but a search was fruitless.

Maryland PSAs include the nationwide initiative of "Over the Limit, Under Arrest". In the last few months I've seen a similar add, which may not have anything to do with this other campaign and may be solely a local MD police initiative, but is in the same genre. Regardless, it's a fine example of muddying your meaning, which all writers should avoid (unless you want a muddy meaning for artistic reasons, but that's not the case with a PSA).

This add features a woman's feet walking toward you. She's wearing some kind of strappy heels and is obviously sashaying. A female voice over says "This little piggy went out tonight. This little piggy should have stayed home." Then there's something about her being killed by a drunk driver. Note, not that she was a drunk driver or killed someone as a drunk driver, but that she was killed by a drunk driver. Aside from truncating a perfectly good nursery rhyme to a mere two lines out of 5, I'm sure that more than a few viewers lose the connection between the toes sticking out of the shoes and associate the lines with calling the woman a little piggy.

But that's not the real problem. The PSA's intent is to dissuade viewers from driving drunk. The message here, though, is that sober people, or drunks who aren't driving, should stay home so that they're not killed by the drunk drivers who are out there. It has to be, because the victim of the drunk driver is the one being admonished to stay home.

To which I say, "Really?" Somehow I don't think this is what the local chamber of commerce had in mind, nor the creators of the PSA. Everyone stay home, locked behind your doors, lest you be killed by a drunk driver, teeming with them as our streets are. That'll help the tourist and hospitality industry.

Not to make light of the ongoing problem of drunk driving. I work in auto claims, particularly complex auto claims, so I see plenty of drunk driving fatalities, maimings and otherwise just plain stupid behaviour. Nonetheless, this PSA is a prime example of intending one thing and writing another. A fine example of why the legal doctrine of Antonin Scalia and his ken is suspect on its face, but that's a philosophy of jurisprudence discussion for another time.

Ah, another burr in my blanket removed.

No comments:

Post a Comment