That which we call a rose….

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. –William Shakespeare

Have you ever noticed that, while conservative publications refer to the “Left” and the “Right,” and to “Liberals” and “Conservatives,” liberal publications never do? They refer to the “Right,” but not the “Left,” and to “Conservatives,” but not to “Liberals.” In other words, they never apply a label to themselves. This NYT’s article, describing a negative documentary that liberals made about Michael Moore, perfectly demonstrates this verbal dance (emphasis mine):

MICHAEL MOORE, who carries around controversy the way Paul Bunyan toted an ax, has won legions of fans for being a ball-cap-wearing fly in the ointment of Republican politics. For tweaking the documentary form. Even for making millions of dollars in the traditionally poverty-stricken genre of nonfiction film.

Many despise him for the same reasons.

The Toronto-based documentary filmmakers Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk started out in the first camp. But during the course of making an unauthorized film about Mr. Moore they wound up somewhere in between. In the process, their experience has added a twist to the long-running story of an abrasive social critic who has frequently been criticized from the right, but far less often, as is the case with Ms. Melnyk and Mr. Caine, from his own end of the political spectrum.

“What he’s done for documentaries is amazing,” said Ms. Melnyk, 48, a native of Toronto and a freelance TV producer, who even now expounds on the good he says Mr. Moore has done. “People go to see documentaries now and, as documentary makers, we’re grateful.”

But according to Mr. Caine, 46, an Ohio-born journalist and cameraman, the freewheeling persona cultivated by Mr. Moore, and the free-thinking rhetoric expounded by his friends and associates were not quite what they encountered when they decided to examine his work. “As investigative documentarists we always thought we could look at anything we wanted,” Mr. Caine said. “But when we turned the cameras on one of the leading figures in our own industry, the people we wanted to talk to were like: ‘What are you doing? Why are you throwing stones at the parade leader?’ ”

Ms. Melnyk added, “We were very lonely.”

***

That link contains a refutation of a number of complaints taken up by conservatives regarding “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but the Melnyk-Caine movie isn’t really about that. “We didn’t want to refute anything,” Ms. Melnyk said. “We just wanted to take a look at Michael Moore and his films. It was only by talking to people that we found out this other stuff.”

This is just one article, but I’ve been aware of it time after time when I read the Times or The New Yorker, or listen to an NPR story. Always, conservatives get labeled; always, the author or speaker, gracefully or awkwardly, works to avoid applying a political label to those who are not conservative.

Please tell me if you think I’m imagining this, or if you’ve seen the same pattern. If I’m right, I have my guesses as to why this is so, but I’d love to hear your guesses first.

del.icio.us | digg it

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

  1. Deana says

    Bookworm –

    I rarely hear people on the left identify themselves as actually being on the left. Instead I get treated with endless references to the word “Progressive.”

    Several of my friends, especially the females, refer to themselves and people who think as they do as “Progressives.” It’s a curious term because it denotes a positive and desirable quality. “Conservative” does not convey a positive or desirable quality. It is a neutral term and is simply utilized to reference in general the political beliefs of a person or group of people.

    It makes me laugh, though. Whenever I hear people on the left refer to themselves as “Progressives,” the only thing that runs through my mind is that one Seinfeld episode in which Elaine is dating a man who is the maestro of a local NYC symphony and insists that everyone, including Elaine while they are in bed together, refer to him as Maestro.

    It’s ridiculous!! And why? Because it is up to others, the observers, to determine when and if something or somone is actually progressive.

    Deana

  2. Marvin says

    Well applying label to yourself would implicitly acknowledge your own possible bias. But the “progressive” left’s main idea is that they are the ones who hold the monopoly to truth, they are the only ones that “logically” and “scientifically” analyze every issue and arrive to the right answer every time and they are the ones that should categorize everybody else according to their prejudices. In this mind frame it is impossible to acknowledge your own fallibility.
    I’ve seen it many times when talking to “progressives”. According to them, for example, BBC is not biased but is exactly at the center reflecting the correct view of things. This sounds ridiculous to anybody with an ounce of brains but that’s what the progressive church & inquisition makes their follower to believe.

  3. Lulu says

    You can also see this trend when the media writes about foreign affairs. In his lifetime, Ariel Sharon was always referred to as a “hardliner”, but never the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or even Yasser Arafat. His government was “right-wing”, but Fidel Castro is never described as “radical” or “left-wing”. There are so many examples of this. Similarly, Cindy Sheehan is never referred to as “left-wing” though Ann Coulter is always described as “right-wing”. Heck, Rosie O’Donnell, Sean Penn and Barbara Walters get no label either. Marvin is certainly right in his assessment. Reporters see “right” because it is what they are not. They don’t label what they are because it is normative, not a category for them.

  4. Roger Dodger says

    You actually believe that only the left is labelling the right? You outta check your rose colored glasses. Hell the right so ran down the liberal label that even liberals stopped using it prefering instead to refer to themselves as progressive. That change came as a direct result of conservative labelling or (to our way of thinking) mischaracterization rather than liberal action. Oh and if the media invokes ‘conservative’ or ‘hard-line’ or ‘right-wing’ it’s because they know the label does damage. Of course you object because by merely identifying one’s political stance as ‘right of center’ is to identify one with fruitless, pointless wars, record deficits and bloated government, regardless of what current administration claims to stand for. The proof is in the pudding as they say.

  5. says

    Roger: I’m not talking about names we call each other. I’m talking about names we call ourselves. The New York Times, The New Yorker, NPR, the SF Chron, Newsweek, Time, etc., all shy away from applying any label at all. An interview will be with “John Doe, a think tank member,” and “Jane Doe, a member of a conservative think tank.” If you read conservative publications, they label themselves as well as others. That conservatives succeeded in making the term “liberal” a pejorative may simply reflect the fact that Americans, having considered liberal policies, didn’t like them.

    I think Lulu’s view is the correct one, which is that “They don’t label what they are because it is normative, not a category for them.”

  6. Roger Dodger says

    Of course now I see we label others and not ourselves.

    And the American public having considered liberal policies and rejected them instead have opted for endless war, tax cuts for the wealthy, record deficits and larger government. Whee, way to go! Thank you for making our country such a better place. What next? Outlaw abortion, kill the poor, invade all Muslim countries and kill their leaders and demonize foreigners. How’s that working out so far? Ummm tasty pudding.

  7. Bob says

    This is hilarious how the pot now calls the kettle black, that’s figurative language for those of you that like to equivocate between figurative and literal meanings when you need to try to remind yourselves and others of the closemindedness that epitomizes your purposes as well as the quibbling which your ilk attempts to pass off as legitimate logical reasoning.

    Roger Dodger hits the nail on the head (*writer’s note: more figurative language ymarsakar) when stating how Right Wingers pilloried the “L” word which caused it to fall into disuse as a legitimate means of explaining views along a political continuum. Just more manipulation employed to label, connote and marginalize one’s opponents while preventing their views from getting a fair hearing.

    Anyone who believes the hogwash about so-called conservatives actually standing for conservative values needs to look behind the scenes and see that those carrying the conservative flag are working with carte blanche, as the lackeys of those with money and power, to wield as they see fit until they no longer suit the purposes of those right wing (virtually neo-fascist) wolves wearing conservative sheep’s clothing. (For an example look up Paula Jones’ or Linda Tripp’s whereabouts these days.) So labelling oneself a conservative doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in fact an adherent of conservative values in the traditional sense which truly renders the term of little use regarding veracity and as a utilitarian tool in political discussions, which is also the case with the term liberal.

  8. says

    This is hilarious how the pot now calls the kettle black, that’s figurative language for those of you that like to equivocate between figurative and literal meanings when you need to try to remind yourselves and others of the closemindedness that epitomizes your purposes as well as the quibbling which your ilk attempts to pass off as legitimate logical reasoning.

    Too much garbage here for a good figure. The wind is whistling through the bag, bob.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply