Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Words have meaning too

Cleo Stoll

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

A phrase that all of us undoubtedly grew up repeatedly hearing from our parents or constantly repeating to ourselves. As we get older, we learn that words really do hurt because contrary to the popular belief: words have meaning. Updating your Facebook status or using a Twitter trending topic that is either grammatically incorrect or lacking important prepositions can dramatically alter the entire meaning of the message you were trying to convey. So, if we are so wary of it with respect to our own personal reputations, why does the vast majority of the mainstream media find it unnecessary to find value behind a word.

The article Undocumented or Illegal struck a chord with me. The debate over Hispanic immigration has been more heated and controversial in the past few years that I have been politically conscious than ever before. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has been actively attempting to remove the phrases "illegal immigrant" or "illegal alien" from the jargon which mainstream media addresses the situation. They assert that even the word "illegal" removes credibility from those in question and often dehumanizes them. It also creates the mentality that they are all criminals, due to the definition and persona attached to the word.

The criminal ideology surrounding the phrase "illegal immigrant" gives the politicians who focus on legislation against the migration an upper-hand when dealing with organizations like the NAHJ. The language used during stories can completely affect the outcome of any debate and can create an entire new perspective on a subject. In "Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant" by Lina Newton, she says that "rhetoric is elemental to the conduct of politics" and I completely agree with her. Much like the impersonation of Sarah Palin by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, popular culture and mainstream media have an overwhelming effect on political outcomes. The continuous use of "illegal" or "alien" can virtually brainwash voters with a negative connotation and reverse the outcome of a legislative vote.

The NAHJ has created their campaign to end the use of the phrase "illegal immigrant" to be replaced with "undocumented immigrant." They sent statements condemning the use of the former phrase to news organizations and received positive responses from many. The vast majority of news outlets are being consumed by a diverse population and need to adjust accordingly by willingly speaking politically correct. The sentiment throughout this article was simply to be conscious of the words that are being used by the media because, as we learned in class, most Americans create their positions based on what their favorite media outlet tells them to.

If only mainstream media could tackle issues like Stephen Colbert....(hint: listen to what his response around 8:57)

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