In the digital age, taking each other out of context has become alarmingly easy. Our devices can be divisive.
But we didn’t learn the habit overnight. The art of the “Contextomy” – that is, misquoting someone by shortening the quotation or leaving out surrounding words – has been rampant in the entertainment industry for decades. No doubt you’ve fallen prey to many deceptive contextomies, yourself.
A commercial for the 1995 thriller, Se7en, declared it to be “A small masterpiece!” In truth, the original Entertainment Weekly review stated that the movie’s “credit sequence, with its jumpy frames and near-subliminal flashes of psycho-paraphernalia, is a small masterpiece of dementia.” Like most cinematic masterpieces, the movie itself was given an overall grade of B-minus.
An ad for the 1997 crime drama, Hoodlum, proudly announced that the flick was “Irresistible!” But the Los Angeles Times review actually said: “Even Laurence Fishburne’s incendiary performance can’t ignite Hoodlum, a would-be gangster epic that generates less heat than a nickel cigar. Fishburne’s ‘Bumpy’ is fierce, magnetic, irresistible even… but even this actor can only do so much.”
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I’m happy to say that I, for one, have never performed unauthorized contextomies in the name of manipulating my own reputation for the better. Heck, ever since becoming a contributing columnist for the Charlotte Observer, I’ve received some glowing online reviews from you, the readership.
Take, for instance, Mark Ranier, who generously declared me to be a “Literary Talent!”
Just kidding. Mark actually wrote that “Mr. Olin needs to re-think his literary talents, badly.”
Sure, but that doesn’t diminish John Blakely’s review that he was “Riveted!” by one of my pieces.
OK, fine. What John really said was: “Sorry Matt, but I’m not riveted to this BS story. Obviously you are. It’s 98% fake news.”
But hey, it was a heartwarming day when one Seamus Sterchi publicly proclaimed that I’m “Hip and Clever!”
Well, not exactly. Seamus’ assessment was: “Personally, I think you are a self-absorbed DB with a stupid picture that is supposed to be hip and clever but really just reveals the attention seeker you are.”
It’s possible that today’s “trolls” are victims of self-contextomy, subconsciously blocking out passages that don’t play into their currently polarized worldview, thereby triggering them to inflame the comments section. But in giving and receiving communication, aren’t we all performing self-contextomies on some level – trimming the fat until we get the juicy piece we want? Sometimes it’s more harmless, like in the lobby after a bad play when I tell the cast “I’m so glad I saw it” and conveniently leave out “because now I know how bad it is.” Sometimes it’s more destructive, like when Trump tweets anti-Muslim videos with zero context, which is gravely misleading and perpetuates a stereotype.
So now I’m eager to sit down with Mark, John and Seamus for some actual conversation. In fact, I’ve extended invitations to them all – but so far, none has accepted. (Offer still stands, guys!)
I think it’ll be harder to take each other out of context when we’re speaking face-to-face versus commenting from behind our screens. In getting to know one another in person, from a place of mutual curiosity and respect, we may find that we have a lot more in common than we initially thought.
We might even … gasp … like each other. Well, maybe. It’s worth a shot.
Until then, I’ll bask in the warm glow of Andrew Belfi’s praise, who told the world after reading one of my columns: “You Need Some!”
Yeah, right. He asserted: “You need some meds.” Agreed, Andrew. And I’d love to try whatever you’re on. Maybe that’s a good enough excuse to meet up?