Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Safeguarding against "Neuro-Semantic Pollution"

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Safeguarding against "Neuro-Semantic Pollution"

Article excerpt

MY FAMILY RECENTLY VISITED Knott's Berry Farm at Buena Park, California. Since my visit over a decade ago, the park has added more thrill rides, perhaps to compete with Disneyland and Six Flags, catering more and more to new generations of thrill seekers. While my offspring spent the afternoon getting terrified, shaken up, drenched, and motion-sick, I enjoyed the serenity of slow train rides and stage coach adventures with the occasional mock hold-up. I avoided those exciting rides with warnings about restrictions on people with:

** Back problems

** High blood pressure

** Motion sickness

** Claustrophobia

** Pregnancy

** Anxiety attacks

** Vertigo

which appear along with a level of fear rating, ranging from 1 to 7, on most of these adrenaline-pumping rides.

The motion picture industry has also set up a rating system warning parents that certain portions of a movie may not be appropriate for certain audiences. The Statler Brothers recorded a lament about this several years ago titled Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?

    Everbody knows when you go to the show
    You can't take the kids along
    You've gotta read the paper and know the code
    of G, PG and R and X
    You gotta know what the movie's about
    Before you even go
    Tex Ritter's gone and Disney's dead
    The screen is filled with sex.
    (See Reid, Don and Harold)

Ride and movie ratings have come into use because of the increasing level of thrills in amusement park rides and the increasing level of profanity, violence, and sex in movies. Back in 1940, when the Catholic Legion of Decency condemned the steamy scenes between Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in Strange Cargo, critics could not have imagined a culture that would casually accept such a film as Brokeback Mountain in 2005.

The clamor for First Amendment rights coupled with a neo-epicurean, hedonistic, narcissistic bent in American culture has seemingly leveled the differences between sublime and profane--placing Beethoven's majestic Ninth Symphony on the same level as the starting of a tractor engine, a jack-hammer noise, or the blaring of an angry hip hop album. In terms of publicly-consumed symbolism, we have become desensitized to considerations of possible desirable or undesirable, healthy or unhealthy, semantic influences on the viewer or participant.

Neuro-Semantic Pollution

I have come up with a name for the words and imagery that tend to incite anger, disgust, lust, violence, etc: I call them neuro-semantic pollution. This notion may be useful in helping us respond in a healthy manner to such "pollution," but it also raises questions about freedom of speech and about taking responsibility for our own semantic-reactions to "neuro-semantic pollution."

Victorian poet-turned-critic Matthew Arnold suggested that we:

  "... turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to
  sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete, and
  most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be
  replaced by poetry." (p.300)

Even though Matthew Arnold felt critical power was of a lower rank than creative power, he recognized that not every poetic idea or event had equal value. Some poetical attempts he believed were not only inferior to others, they had the capacity to inflict emotional damage. Significantly, he withdrew from his own poetical canon a work which had significant poetical force, but which he felt would bring about an unhealthy semantic reaction.

Arnold suggested, along with Henry James and W.D. Howells, that poetry is justified if it provides an accurate and interesting representation of life, including some subjects containing intense pain and anguish. Even the anguish of Oedipus Rex provides a moving experience sufficient to effect what Aristotle would term a catharsis--like the relief one would achieve from crying. …

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