I’m besieged these days, as I’m sure we all are, by emails from the political, or quasi-political, organizations to which, in weak moments, I revealed even the mildest interest in hearing what they might have to say. Worse, I am sent missives, though they are more like missiles, at far less frequency, from my more assertive friends on matters political.
It works out, given what comes out of my mouth, and the impressions I apparently convey to other folks, that my proclivities are liberal in nature. Hence, most of the epistolary traffic that ends up in my mailbox derives from individuals with a similar bent (and I mean that in many senses of the word, particularly with the sense of the peculiarly compelling insult that was current among my friends back in the 1960s).
I wouldn’t ordinarily think that I’d say this in any context, but I prefer the mail from the "Truthouts" and even from the noxious "Moveon" to that from the amateurs who seem to have decided, at any particular moment, that the sky is falling, and only we, "we happy few, we band of brothers [though the latest email was from a ‘sister’]" stand between utter destruction and the fate of civilization as we know it (in third millennium America).
The glibness and slickness that the more established liberal organizations have developed aside (and I worked in marketing and marketing communications for over 30 years, so I know glib, and I know slick) is preferable to the Chicken Little style of rhetoric that pervades most home-grown campaigns. These individual rally-criers could learn a little bit from the pros (though the pros could learn something about the frequency with which they inundate the ‘Net — they’re as insidious and unavoidable as the fund-raisers on NPR stations — from the amateurs).
Perhaps the most vexing aspects of the emails I get to join the latest fray — one of the latest frays, by the way, is to give the Democratic caucus in the Senate the steel required to mount and sustain a filibuster; some of that steel, according to one strategist at least, will apparently have to come from moderate Republican forges: the object of the filibuster, the defeat of the nomination of one Samuel A. Alito, Jr. to the position of Associate Justice of the United States of America Supreme Court — are the rhetorical and typographic strategies of emphasis.
Curse the day (and I say this as a professional graphic designer, who has also taught the discipline in university) that civilians were shown how to make type on a computer boldface. What those civilians don’t learn, apparently, is that, to use a culinary metaphor, boldface is like pepper. A little goes a very long way. And some people really don’t like any spice at all.
The presumption of these warriors is that we (we happy few, etc.) are possibly too stunned or distracted at most times ever to put our brains in gear. In any event clearly there is the expectation that we are, for the time it takes to read an email concerning a matter "that will have an enormous impact on all our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren [O woe that the baby boom is about to enter its dotage…]," no longer susceptible to reasoned argument with the objective of raising us from what is apparently a generation-wide torpor, sufficiently long and sufficiently energetic enough to send a line or two to our Senatorial delegation.
Those who know me, indeed, those who merely read this blog, will know the irony of my advice that, at least in this case, shorter is better. Simpler is better. Indeed, as Einstein allegedly advised, make it as simple as possible, but no simpler. He might have added, "and don’t repeat yourself, not even once."
Hence, these emails, without exception are repetitive, redundant exhortations.
The famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, from Shakespeare, Henry V, the opposite of exhortation, but the model of inspiration (to the point of cliché, I shamefacedly admit) is 223 words, 1175 characters, including word spaces.
The last email I got, as I say, mustering the troops to "pull out all the stops" and presumably all the boldface, in two different weights of type, but mainly bold, and two different typefaces (for no particularly good reason), and get those Dems and Mod Republicans to filibuster their little hearts out, was 690 words, 4,624 characters (with spaces). And I assure you, not the least bit of inspiration to yours truly to do a damn thing.
Worse, the tone of the piece is the rhetorical equivalent of pure boldface (I have another friend, who resides largely on the Right side of the tracks, as it were, equally exhortatory, who had a habit of sending all email in ALL CAPS, but he started the practice as a novice; then he tried to plead as an excuse a problem with dyslexia; all in all it took about two years of invariable responses simply saying, stop putting everything in all caps or I won’t read it, and finally ignoring all emails altogether, to get him to stop; his emails are no less crazy or convincing today, but at least they’re readable). Bold-face exhortation. Like they say, white on rice. Yuch.
Perhaps it’s petty of me. Perhaps the reason for my inaction is purely psychological, self-defeating resentment of the messenger, and not the message. But I must say, it is not in response solely to the message, as the messenger in this case is an inveterate exhorter, foam-at-the-lips, and gleam in the eye and she lost me a long time ago — though I remain sympathetic to many of the causes, and I believe I remain, as I characterized above, a reasonable person in possession of my intellect, and susceptible to rational argument, and even responsive to reasonable call to action. She also has not learned the value of intelligent typography, even in so mundane a thing as email. Even when the fate of American and the World is at stake.
In this case, this entry in the blog is my rise to action. I have only one piece of advice.
Can the bold in every sense, and maybe next time I’ll give Teddy K, and Big John F. K. a buzz…