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Home » Archives » September 2007 » An Open Letter to the Media
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09/12/2007: An Open Letter to the Media

All right. I wasn't going to do this, but I have to weigh in on the Britney Spears thing. Namely, I'm very upset about the way the media has covered what happened at the Video Music Awards. I think you know what I'm referring to. Consistently, almost every source I've seen has flagrantly mispunctuated Sarah Silverman's joke. Mispunctuation! Here in America! Here's how E! online reported it:

She is amazing. She is 25 years old and she's already accomplished everything she's going to accomplish in her life.

I haven't seen a clip that included audio of Silverman, but I promise you, I promise you that she said:

She is amazing. She is 25 years old and she's already accomplished. (BEAT) ...everything she's going to accomplish in her life.

See? Now it's not a random savage shot. It's a random savage shot with a JOKE IN IT!

And it gets worse. Get this! Some news sources have even changed the wording so that the joke can't be made to work even with repunctuation. Here's how the Washington Post's online article put it:

"She is amazing," Silverman said. "She is 25 years old and has already accomplished everything she is going to accomplish in her life."

See that? By making "she's already accomplished" into "has already accomplished," they've taken away the possibility for the syntactic reanalysis that makes this joke possible! You can't end a sentence with "has already accomplished," and thus the joke doesn't work. You need the apostrophe-s in that sentence so that the listener doesn't know if it's a contraction of "she is" or "she has." That's what makes the reanalysis possible!

There's no way for a reader of the Washington Post's article to even discern that there was intended humor in what Silverman said!

This kind of joke that requires a syntactic reanalysis can be very funny and it's a personal favorite of mine. The joke I wrote for Buffy in which the spray-painted graffito "KISS ROCKS!!" was misinterpreted as an exhortation to go out and kiss rocks, requires this kind of reanalysis. And I talked with all of you, not too long ago, about the popular joke about Mickey and Minnie Mouse's divorce with the punchline, "I didn't say she was crazy, I said she was fucking Goofy." Syntactic reanalysis! It's wonderful! But it's also fragile and it requires scrupulous protection, since the change in even one small word can destroy the necessary syntactic ambiguity. If you told the Mickey Mouse joke and ended it with "...she was screwing Goofy," you've messed it up irredeemably.

So, American Media, be careful! If you're reprinting a joke, make sure you GET THE JOKE! Huff.

Lunch: veggie sandwich with extra avocado. Why doesn't it just come with extra avocado in the first place?


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