If the pen is mightier than the sword and a picture is worth a thousand words, does that mean a picture will always trump weaponry in the world of cliche? Sounds like a scene out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where King Arthur, marching forth with a Renoir (faulty time line duly noted), single-handedly slaughters the oncoming enemy hordes.
No matter. Words and pictures, rhetoric and semiotics can be equally powerful in influencing how societies at large and segments of those cultures perceive the world.
Stylized language is embraced by groups diverse as lawyers, academics, business people, artists and street gangs to set them apart form the mainstream. Talking the talk is often the first step to walking the walk. I still think that there are secret courses in law schools dedicated to teaching students how to mangle the English language: “Introduction To The Law: How to transform simple to twisted beyond recognition so no one but us can understand anything, or, how we get them to pay us $500 an hour to translate.”
My friend Ben Jackendoff and I were enjoying the all you can eat menu at our favorite neighborhood sushi bar recently when he spontaneously volunteered that the word “Transmedia” made him queasy. Briefly an inside word for edgy media types that quickly made its way to the mainstream, the term is just what it seems to be: A property that crosses media. For example, a graphic novel that is developed into a film and a video game.
Ben, a graphic novel guru, video game expert and founder of the influential and ever-expanding “Comic Book Sunday,” could have been an early adapter of the word to impress his peers back when ComiCon was a relatively small, nerd-only gathering. But something about it never sat right with him.
Is this a new word that we really need? Did we need this word to describe what “Gone With the Wind” or “Superman” were 75 years ago? Or was it that the word evoked cross-dressing for both of us? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I don’t know about Ben, but I’m no longer cringing when I hear this supercilious word, and it took a visit to see my parents to get there.
Just as my grandmother used to call the refrigerator “the Frigidaire” (a brand name that became a generic term for those of you too young to remember), my parents also cling to a good deal of obsolete terminology. They say “sun tan lotion,” not sunscreen. My mom goes to the “beauty parlor,” not the salon. She carries her “pocketbook,” not a purse.
This has gnawed at me since I was, well, Ben’s age or younger. My parents are smart, well read, vibrant and current. So why can’t they call things what they’re supposed to be called?
And then it hit me. Maybe my just turned 30 year-old friend, still a teenager at heart, is getting old. A new generation of media professionals has adopted a new word in the cause of self-definition and differentiation and he’s been left in the dust.
I cringe when my dad says he’s left the “sun tan lotion” out for me before we play golf, and he grows irritated, rightly so, if I correct him. “You mean the sunscreen?” The 23 year old up and coming media superstar probably cringes when Ben and I say “cross-media platform” or “integrated marketing.” “Excuse me, Sir, don’t you mean “transmedia?”
We all need to embrace change, along with the rhetoric that inevitably precedes or accompanies it. We need to stay on top of trends and language to be successful marketers, and this constant process of discovery is actually a lot of fun. We of a certain age (over 25) will never be “cool” again, but we need to go out of our way to make sure we don’t lose touch.
Actually, I take that back. The part about being “cool,” that is.
Attending a wedding or some other gala affair a few years ago, I got into a conversation with a recent college grad. We were talking about generational differences and the nature of “cool,” among other things, when she suddenly and offensively blurted out that I was so not cool because I used the word cool.
She was totally unprepared when I pointed out how wrong she was. I told her, “Dude, the fact that I can freely use the slang of my generation, words like “hip,” “groovy” and “cool” with complete self-awareness, comfort and confidence makes me “cool” by definition. (Actually, I didn’t say, “dude.” It’s a stupid word that young people use.) She reluctantly acknowledged the irony and agreed. Or maybe she was just blowing off the arrogant old guy she was stuck next to at the table.