“Community” versus “Group” (Critique of Media Use of Language)
I realize some will accuse me of picking on a minor issue that might only be a pet peeve. In reality, I’m using this issue as one example of what I notice in American culture these days—a sometimes subtle ideological use (or abuse) of language.
I watch these evening national news reports daily: NBC, CBS, and ABC. I am not always able to watch all three, so I rotate my viewing. One day, NBC, the next day CBS, the next day ABC (not necessarily in that order). I also read a lot of news reports and watch many interviews on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc.
I have finally come to the conclusion that the news writers for the major media news outlets are subtly using the word “community” to manipulate viewers.
Whenever I hear “community” or read it in a major American news source, it refers to something positive, some group, however informal and loosely organized (if organized at all) that THEY like. When they refer to a group of people they DON’T LIKE or disapprove of (I’m talking about the writers), they say “group,” not “community.”
I don’t think I have ever heard from these sources evangelicals described as a “community.” However, of course, the LGBTQ people, altogether as a collective, are a “community.” That’s just one example. Last evening on our local evening news which is affiliated with NBC, I heard a talking head refer to women who resist vaccinating their children or themselves during pregnancy as a “group.” The context of the interview, however, made clear that these women network with each other especially on social media. So why are they a “group” and not a “community?”
I believe this is just one example of how influential people attempt to manipulate us, the listeners and readers, using words. Eventually, when we hear or read “community” we think “a good group of people with a good cause” and when we hear “group” we think “a questionable group of people with a dubious cause.”
Is this intentional on the parts of writers of news and commentaries? I don’t know. What I do know from years of working in the academic world is that many academics believe and promote the idea that uses of words have a key role in ideological warfare. And the “right” is as guilty as the “left” in this. Think “Patriot Act.”
But I wonder how many people, right or left, have become suspicious of these subtle differences in describing groups of people, people who may not even know each other but have a common interest? If their common interest is neutral of good, they constitute a “community.” If their common interest is bad, they are a “group” (at best).
I happen to know that mothers who resist vaccinating their children (and fathers too, sometimes) network with each other online, attend conferences together, read the same articles and discuss them using social media, support one another, etc. I respect their intentions even if I disagree with their actions. But whether they are right or not is irrelevant to my point here.
My point here is that the news media and academics, journalists, etc., usually now use “community” very broadly and loosely but ONLY for groups they approve of, sympathize with, want to promote. When they don’t approve of them, they call them “a group.” Is that necessarily bad? Well, yes, insofar as (!) it’s part of an attempt to manipulate viewers and listeners, readers, etc., to agree with the ideological stance of the supposedly neutral news media that is supposed to just deliver facts.
Why am I saying this here? It may seem like a peccadillo on my part, but I have become increasingly suspicious of the writers behind the talking heads at the news desks and in the press.
I have observed over the years how language is increasingly being used to manipulate people to incline toward a certain point of view. I could give scores if not hundreds of examples.
I want to encourage you, my readers, to listen and read with suspicion, looking for ideological abuses of language such as “community” versus “group.” The former is almost ALWAYS used of a group of people with an approved cause while the latter “steps in” to replace “community” when the news writers (or the powers that be looking over their shoulders) don’t approve.
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