The context of context.

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by kavika411, Mar 25, 2008.

  1. kavika411 macrumors 6502a


    Jan 8, 2006
    I will end this post the same way I will start it, by saying I am not being argumentative; I am trying to start a calm, objective conversation with anyone who is interested.

    I like words. I like to believe words have meaning.

    For that reason, I both like and dislike the word "context.," I like the word context because it's meaning is essentially this: "Hey everybody; let's calm down and see what this really means."

    I don't like the word context because it can be used as a tool to change the meaning of spoken words later regretted. For example, in August 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." With time, it became increasingly evident that Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. However, rather than state we/they were wrong about the weapons of mass destruction, many in the Right (and some in the Left) said, "You must look at what Cheney said - in context. He was talking about how the capability was there..."

    Here are some other examples (perhaps good, perhaps bad) of the word context being used in popular media. (These are simply cut-and-pasted from Google searches.)

    1. Bono's on-air use of the F-word.

    “The FCC, using the F-word more often to explain its decision than Bono did on the air, said the word ‘may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual or excretory organs or activities.’”

    2. Geraldine Ferraro's comment regarding race/gender in politics.

    “Stop and think about the entire context of what Geraldine Ferraro said.”

    3. Trent Lott's comment that the world would be better had Strom Thurmond won.

    “Lott's comments drew condemnation from some Democrats, but others felt his statement was taken out of context.”

    4. D.C. mayor's staffer's use of the word "niggardly." [adj - meaning "miserly]

    The Howard incident led to a national debate in the U.S., in the context of racial sensitivity and political correctness, on whether use of the word niggardly should be avoided.

    With that background, I don't recall seeing "context" used more in popular media than in recent days. I am of course talking about Obama's pastor Reverend Wright. I have listened to the whole sermon, and read other sermons of his as well. (In a separate thread in this same forum, someone copied one of Rev. Wright's entire speeches. I highly recommend reading it.) There is a seemingly unending line of articles asking us to look at Rev. Wright’s sermon in context:

    Let's put the Obama/Wright flap in context
    Atlanta Journal Constitution, USA - 23 hours ago
    Soundbites from You Tube about Reverend Wright’s comments has been the center of media attention lately. What’s lost in the comments is the context under ...

    Longer Versions of Problematic Rev. Wright’s Sermons Reveal ...
    Black America Web, Tx - 12 hours ago
    But when you hear only sound bites strung together, you don’t get the full context. Rev. Wright still is loved and respected, and maybe even more so now. ...

    Barack Obama Pt. II: Can We Transcend Race?
    BVI News Online, British Virgin Islands - 7 hours ago
    Anyone who is truly honest will examine the statements made by Reverend Wright in the context of his entire sermon and find them to have legitimacy. ...

    Why the double standard on clergy?
    Chicago Daily Herald, IL - 14 hours ago
    Jeremiah Wright has been soundly criticized by those taking out of context quotes from sermons throughout his career. Barack Obama has been forced to ...

    My question is NOT:
    Were Rev. Wright's comments taken out of context?

    My question is:
    Does popular media apply the "you-must-put-it-in-context" rule consistently to public figures who say something severely controversial?

    If not, why?

    I'm not asking rhetorically; I am interested in other people's thoughts. I am not trying to instigate a useless argument. I have tried to frame this question calmly, objectively with the hope that we can have a good conversation.

    Thanks for reading.
  2. Stampyhead macrumors 68020


    Sep 3, 2004
    London, UK
    Ha ha ha, people seriously started a racial debate after someone used the word "niggardly"? I think someone should have spent less time on his African American Studies homework and more time on his vocabulary homework. Morons...

    As to your questions, I have no idea. I don't watch the news so I don't know anything about the comments in question.
  3. MrSmith macrumors 68040


    Nov 27, 2003
    The question of context and an incomplete transcript should not be confused.
  4. solvs macrumors 603


    Jun 25, 2002
    LaLaLand, CA
    1. The F word is not acceptable on TV. Doesn't matter the context. Not saying it's right, we've all heard it, but it's a rule, even if it's kinda stupid. It's one of those things that's made worse by banning it, but there it is.

    2. Even in context, what Ford said was stupid. Hillary condemned it, but it took her a long time to do so. I don't believe in guilt by association unless the association is part of a pattern, if the person seems to believe them. I'm not saying Hillary is a racist, or even that Ford is, but it was still a stupid thing to say, and yes, part of a larger problem that proves some of the stereotypes about Hillary and the Clinton's correct. Hillary didn't handle it well, and continues to say and do things, and allow them from her staff. Some of which still work for her. Same with McCain. He condemned his, but it took longer than it should have, and they're still part of his campaign. Some he's even defended, or worse, just not said anything. Obama came out with a good speech that should have been unifying. It of course wasn't for everyone, but at least he got press on it, whereas McCain and Hillary barely have for theirs. For better or worse.

    3. I don't like Lott much, and couldn't stand Thurmond, but it was obvious what he was saying, and it wasn't that bad. Wasn't why he was kicked around though. They made a small deal out of it the way they did about Cheney shooting his friend in the face, but there were other legitimate reasons to dislike him. Lott actually got dinged for his numerous ethics violations. They blame the stupid comment to defend him, but that wasn't it.

    4. Niggardly is not a bad word, but people are stupid and it sounds bad.

    Context is important. It's very important. It can be misused though too. But ignoring that Kerry was calling Bush stupid, not the troops (of which he was one), is just as bad as making it seem like Lott was saying he liked racism, when he was just wishing an old man who was a friend a happy birthday and trying to compliment him. It's also bad to defend Rush for what he said about phony troops, because in context it was right after saying his previous caller wasn't a real Republican and that another calling couldn't have been in the military, and only later did he bring up the real fake troop (note the lack of the s), possibly realizing he said something stupid. Or to defend O'Reilly saying there weren't as many homeless troops as Edwards said there were (there were BTW) then backtracking to say something else, which was actually, in context, even worse. Or to be fair, defending Clinton for his "what is is" thing. Dude, you got caught, then you got caught lying. Fess up.

    That's why I liked what Obama did. He took responsibility for it, disassociated himself from it, and brought up both sides of the issue in a way that was refreshingly honest and spot on. Something no one wanted to talk about in a way no one wanted to. I felt the same way about it and what Wright said. In context, he's not what the media is trying to make him out to be. But even in context, the words were inflammatory and divisive, even if some of it had been said by others before and some (some) of it was true, or at least understandable. Wasn't perfect, but it was a good speech and a good reaction to something completely overblown to attempt to paint Obama as believing the same things while ignoring McCain going out of his way to court the people he still has on staff who've said such things, that even in context aren't great, even if partially true.

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