In a text of great interest to the authors of this blog, George Orwell offered a rule for prose enthusiasts: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
Both O. and I have cautioned readers that Mr. Orwell could not have meant what he wrote in “Politics and the English Language” literally. [I let the adverb “literally” do double duty because I enjoy such ambiguities. I read “literally” as acceptable modifying either “wrote” or “meant” or both verbs. Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!]
However, Mr. Orwell’s rule, scaled back to an admonition, should be heeded. In this morning’s The New York Times Book Review [15 November 2009, p. 14], I read [ambiguous tense, too, makes me Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!]
Sir Harold Evans knows his way around a story, having served as the editor of The Sunday Times of London, The Times of London, and all manner of publications up and down the food chain.
I have recoiled occasionally when hierarchies of mass media and other orderings have been designated “food chains.” What does the author intend such a trope to mean? Which newspapers, for example, would be autotrophs, the producers at the bottom of the food chain who turn inorganic materials into food? Are wire services autotrophs? Or are those who create news for wire-service reporters the initial producers? In “Wag the Dog,” are Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro playing producers? [Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!]
Maybe spinners and planners “produce” news by shaping opportunities for reporters to report and photographers to photograph. [Another text of great interest to the owners of this blog is Daniel Boorstin’s The Image, which told all about “pseudo-events,” events created to be reported in mass media.] If so, exactly how far “up and down” any food chain might Sir Harold have ranged? If we take The Times of London to be a primary consumer of photo opportunities and story opportunities [however produced from “raw materials”], do we salvage the “food chain” metaphor by treating reporters as primary consumers who are then selectively eaten by secondary consumers [editors and publishers?]?
The metaphor might work to an extent in modern America, where some autotroph producers events or occasions to induce coverage, which in turn becomes reportage, and that secondary consumption is then chewed up and spit out in broadcasts. Am I the only one who finds this chain of foolishness unrevealing?
However, the “food chain” metaphor may work for the title and subtitle of Sir Harold’s book: My Paper Chase puns on newspapering and recycles the title of an American movie and an American television series; the subtitle — True Stories of Vanished Times — is droll as well, recycling the styles of two newspapers Sir Harold edited.
Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!
|Very Like a Whale by Ogden Nash
One thing that literature would be greatly the better for