Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tools of the Tirade: The Gift of a Timeout

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director



If he could hear today’s talk radio, I think Ernest Hemingway would be rolling in his grave. As the one who said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen,” he would not be one to applaud the discourtesy often shown by the callers and, very often, by the hosts themselves.

Yet I must admit I listen to talk radio on a regular basis, becausebeing a bit of an editorial-page junkieI’m intrigued by what’s on people’s minds. Even when I disagree with the views expressed, I respect those who feel strongly enough to vocalize their opinion and I’m grateful for the advent of talk radio so I can eavesdrop from the comfort of my car.

It only becomes frustrating when neither side listens to the other and the dialogue devolves into a total failure to communicate. What could have been a meeting of the minds ends with insults, and neither side comes out looking good.

And yet I keep listening, as do millions of others. Why? Because conflict is interesting.

Daytime TV knows this very well, and capitalizes on the audience’s appetite for arguments. You’ll find no deficiency of disharmony on courtroom shows, nor shortness of shouting matches on tabloid TV. Reality shows in general can’t stop themselves from creating fake complications as the cameras roll on what we’re supposed to believe is real life, because real life apparently isn’t all that riveting.

I personally am not a fan of any of these TV shows because of all the manufactured drama, which I find very manipulative and annoying. Somehow an authentic disagreement between people on the radio is more compelling to me than watching a Real Atlanta Housewife fight with her daughter because a bracelet was borrowed without asking.

Somewhere between the spontaneity of talk radio and the manipulation of reality TV is the very weird hybrid of the internet known as the comment section of news articles. While some people’s responses to every subject under the sun can be genuinely thought-provoking, a distressing number represent the most inane, grammatically-challenged drivel around. The anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in some people, who seemingly live to agitate. Reading their mini-tirades makes one wonder where all their aggression comes from. Perhaps they watched too much reality TV.

But, as we’ve established, conflict is interesting, so we read it, watch it, listen to it and try to inject the right amount into the stories we write. 

Much like the ebb and flow of a good plot, however, it can’t all be nonstop conflict. We need to take a timeout. That’s when a little cooperation is a welcome relief, and it can even accomplish some good. One of the most inspiring examples of positive collaboration is chronicled by Doyne Phillips in the current holiday issue of Southern Writers Magazine. Doyne’s inspiring feature on Charitable Writing tells how a writers’ group in West Tennessee published their first book of short stories and has been donating the proceeds to the Literacy Council. In CCWriters Shorts, the stories themselves are presented according to their Flesch-Kincaid readability score, another nod to the very people the Council helps learn to read.

When you come right down to it, we can eavesdrop on the lives of others or we can make a difference in people’s lives. During this holiday season, let’s consider the impact good writing can have, and how we might use our gift in ways that benefit others. If nothing immediately comes to mind, don’t worry; an idea will eventually present itself. We just have to listen for it.

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