Cliche and Boilerplate in Election 2016

This post was not going to be about the election. I went to the website “Elite Daily”, thinking there has to be some good cliches in there, based on the posts I find on my Facebook from that website. What I found, though, is an article that directed me to this picture of a Starbucks ad in the Wall Street Journal:

This Starbucks ad, confusingly, was a call to people’s morals regarding the upcoming presidential election with a GOTV plug tacked on at the end. Additionally, it was teeming with cliche. It referred to America as a “nation, lost” and requested that we remember the “common bonds that hold us together.” Then, an entire paragraph (this ad was a short novel) was devoted to remind us of the people in the cliched personas that should give us hope in America: the teacher fighting for students’ potential, the volunteer who mentors the youth, the nurse who respects the elderly…

I do not think cliches always obscure meaning necessarily–they are just old, tired, and boring to read. Nothing that has been read hundreds of times is going to be fresh to the reader and draw them in. It is a lazy way to convey meaning. On the other hand, boiler plate is more boring. It is sometimes necessary, as we discussed in class.

However, one place that the amount of boilerplate used is not necessary is the elections. Hannah referred to the use of boiler plate in the platform descriptions for CSG election candidates. This problem is true for candidates for the President of the United States as well. When I look at Hillary Clinton’s web page on the “Issues,” I see things like “Our democracy should work for everyone” and “end the era of mass incarceration.” However, when I try to investigate how she intends to do these things, the action plan is vague and the policies are obscured.

Words about writing that conceal and reveal

We use words in our day-to-day life–especially young people–that mean absolutely nothing, or absolutely not what we mean. Absolutely, for example is one of them. (These words mean something.) This obscuring of words also occurs when we talk about writing. One example of a descriptive word is “passionate.” Passionate can really mean passionate–showing strong feelings or strong belief–but it often means much more than passionate. A piece of writing is described as passionate when what is really meant is: “this piece totally alienated me and didn’t give any room for an opinion that was not the writer’s, but the writer sure was passionate.” It is an interesting word, because typically people want to be passionate about something. Also, it seems like we want to be passionate in our writing. However, when someone reads something and thinks “that writer is passionate,” it often means something very negative. That is, unless the writer gets lucky and finds the small portion of readers that agree absolutely with their piece.

Remediation Ideas

Ideas to turn my health disparities paper into a interactive, media-based platform:

1. Turn the paper into a blog post with pictures, videos, songs. I reference many movie scenes and songs in my writing, and I could add those clips into the actual paper on a web-based forum
2. Make a collage-esque video with clips from many different movies, songs, etc. to show the history of the problem, and the outcomes
3. Create a blog where other people can post their own experiences in health care, racism, low-income situations, etc. with different tabs for different types of writing (poetry, prose, short story, memoir, …)

My Boring Internet Experience

If you judged my by my browser history, you would think I was the dullest human on the planet. My top hit is a sweeping win for Canvas. My second most popular is Google and Facebook (obviously). A close third is (they have the most beautifully photographed food of all time). Then, there are about a dozen websites that I went to often this weekend for my summer internship search. So there were a lot of non-profits, think tanks, USAjobs, and job search engines. The Umich Career Center website was popular as well. Finally, my last group of boring websites I visited were about 8 different academic journals, where I read economic papers for a problem set in an economics class. I went to a total of 4 sites for fun, which included a Detroit Free Press article, an art blog, and a bathing suit shopping site. Clearly, I need to expand my internet use to include websites to expose me to culture, art, music, news, and things that outside the strictly academic world. I do think this weekend was a bit of an outlier, because I was just very busy with internships and school work. However, in general I could use the internet better.

Venue: Twitter Conversations

Twitter is a venue that I still find fascinating, years after its popularity spiked. I love that it is 140 characters, forcing the writer to either write something insightful and concise, or write something boring that will drown in a sea of bad jokes and comments about the Bachelor. Writers know that their tweet could be received by anyone on the platform, but they tailor it to a very specific audience based on the content of the tweet. However, what is most interesting about Twitter is the conversations about current issues that are made possible. As soon as a breaking political event occurs, I pull up Twitter and can immediately see the most recent updates, and exactly what people are talking about regarding the event. Twitter enables users to see directly the competing sides of a debate, and the overall sentiment toward a recent event. Also, it enables normal, non-famous people to engage in a debate with renowned authors and politicians (and even sometimes receive a response). The conversations that occur, while not always direct dialogue, form their own niches through the use of hashtags. For example, as scenes of fire-covered streets covered the news during protest in Ferguson last year, I was able to type in #FergusonProtests and join in a national dialogue about the event, as the nation grieved together. This type of dialogue is one that is very controlled, deeply limiting in the length of each comment, and connects niche groups of people all over the world. I think this is incredibly unique, and when used as a tool, Twitter can be really amazing. Of course, this is only an aspect of Twitter. I described Twitter this way to my grandma one day, and she nearly created an account. (She would have been disappointed.)

Policy Briefs: Academic Papers for the Highly Distractable

Every good policy brief begins with two or three bolded, boxed, italicized, or differently colored summaries of the content of the brief. This way, congressmen or politicians don’t actually have to read on past the first five sentences. This is the key: a simple-text abstract to hold the reader’s attention for approximately ten seconds. Then, for the ambitious readers who want to fact-check the content in their chosen summary, oftentimes key statistics are placed in short bullet points which can be skimmed over in about ten seconds. If the reader is hooked, he or she may flip to the last page to see the again, often bullet-pointed list of policy recommendations. The format of a policy brief is broken up into sections with clear headers, with several options to stop reading and read the bolded gist throughout the short paper. If it succeeds, a busy person may read the brief and understand the key points within 60 seconds. In my experience, policy briefs seem to be an academic paper which is stripped to the bare minimum, dumbed down in terms of language, and shortened by about 8-15 pages. They follow a very similar structure of summary/abstract, background, data & methods, and implications/conclusion. However, while an academic paper may be 20 pages long, a policy brief tends to be around 3-8. They are written for people who likely have background knowledge and are educated, but do not know specifics and will not spend a long time reading. For this reason, they are very succinct, short, and highly readable.