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To whom it may concern

(April 6, 2000, Gazette)

By Kelley Power

“All men should be shot.”

How’s that for inflammatory?

What about this: a memo circulating around the office of a modelling agency states, “On Tuesday, a group of 25 men will be arriving for a photo session – although we will be using only five faces for the campaign, all men should be shot.”

A little better?

Interesting what a bit of contextual manipulation can do, isn’t it?
Ever since the last issue of the Gazette came out, I have found myself giving much consideration to this concept – that is, how very easy it is to manipulate the written word to suit one’s own agenda while sacrificing the true meaning of those words in the process.

Of course, at a place like Memorial – an institution of higher learning where the pursuit of knowledge and truth are of the utmost importance – we don’t have to worry about this problem, right?

So I thought until a particular letter to the editor appeared in the March 23 issue of this paper. To those of you who missed it, the letter made reference to the Student View of the March 9 Gazette, a column which dealt with violence in this province.

Normally I don’t feel the need to respond to letters that appear in the paper regarding the Student View; the purpose of the column is to get people thinking and, if they feel so inclined, to share their thoughts with the rest of us by writing in. I’m not petty enough to begrudge someone an honest counter argument.

However, when the structural and conceptual integrity of the column is not respected, i.e. when someone takes my words out of context and embodies them with a completely different meaning from the original, I feel I must step in and pick up the pieces, supply the facts.

As luck would have it, the aforementioned letter of March 23 written by Dr. Joan Scott affords me an ideal opportunity to illustrate how I deal with the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of my words.

First of all, Dr. Scott’s suggestion that I do not find the senseless death of a 13 year old child appalling is ridiculous. In writing in the column that the details of the crime were not shocking, I was stating that the exact method by which the girl was killed – strangulation – holds little shock value since we read and hear about much more graphic and disturbing methods of killing everyday. One example of this would be the crimes committed by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

In this way, then, I submit to you that the details are not what drive the crime home for us; it’s the fact that it upsets the way of life we traditionally enjoy in this province.

As for Dr. Scott’s suggestion that the column “...urges women to ‘ride out’ this and other such crimes...,” dealing with them by clutching wallets close to their chests, I think first and foremost I need to clarify that I never, at any point in the column, identified women as a group separate and distinct from the general population of Newfoundland. Any suggestions I make are meant for the benefit of both sexes, as I do not believe that men are any less entitled to take measures to preserve their safety and security.

The whole statement about wallet-clutching was taken out of context, as any casual perusal of the column will show, so I don’t feel that I have to defend myself in the face of Dr. Scott’s misuse of it.

Finally, as for Dr. Scott’s theory that I’m essentially telling everyone to stick their heads in the sand and accept any and all negative changes in our society, I’m left wondering if she took the time to read the column in its entirety or simply focussed on those statements which could taken from their contexts and shaped to support her point.

The column clearly states that events such as the death of Samantha Walsh are telling us that we need to identify the potential for negative change that exists in this society and, so that we are not caught unawares, exercise more caution even if it conflicts with our current lifestyle. Think of this: if I’m driving down the road and see another car careening toward me, I can “register” my anger and “attempt to understand” why the driver may have swerved into my lane (quoting from Dr. Scott’s letter), but my immediate problem is avoiding the collision. It wouldn’t seem prudent to involve myself in the accident while I contemplated the reasons it came about, now would it? Protecting myself from danger does not reflect any acceptance on my part of the negligence of the other driver, nor would it sanction any casual disregard of the incident.

I regret that I had to dedicate this column entirely to such a personal topic, but I couldn’t live with the idea that anyone reading only Dr. Scott’s letter – and not the original column she refers to – would come away with a distorted view of the ideas I had presented.

I don’t expect that my opinion is shared by everyone who reads the Student View, but I would at least like for my beliefs to be preserved in their intended form; readers are entitled to challenge my point of view without thinking that they are responding to a middle-man’s (or woman’s, if you like) misinterpretation or misrepresentation of it.

So, don’t let me scare you off; write a letter if you feel so inclined. Just make sure you play by the rules.