I Meme, You Meme

President Obama’s awesome, in part self-congratualatory, announcement of bin Laden’s death has the unfounded ‘I he says; himself he loves’ meme flowing from the pens of conservative political pundits once again.

The fellows at the Language Log have debunked more first-person President claims than the Mythbusters have busted hourly chunks of my life, so when I read Victor Davis Hanson’s slapdash first-person pronoun count and accompanying amateur psychoanalysis I immediately headed their URL.

Sure enough they’d tackled a new occurrence, more accurately they’d highlighted another’s take down:

Using a modified Fox technique, meaning you ignore pronouns like “me” and “mine” but count assorted “I”-contractions, Obama’s late-night speech on Sunday was about 0.7% “I”: eight “I” and two “I’ve” in 1,388 words. He’s a little under Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech (May 1, 2003), which was right at 1%, though Bush was down around 0.5% for the beginning of the Afghan war (Oct. 7, 2001).

That’s exctly the data driven analysis I was looking for. Thanks for that really well argued blo…oh fuck:

At this stage, it’s pretty fair to conclude that huffing about Obama’s allegedinfatuation with first-person pronouns is the modern right-wing commentariat’s way of saying “Boy, you lookin’ at something?”

Wait, why is that fair? More importantly, what evidence is that conclusion based on?

If the focus of Headsup: The Blog‘s post was merely to demonstrate that Obama’s first-person pronoun use is below the political speech’s average, the aside would be far less objectionable. But a large portion of the post, and the Language Log post to follow, is spent explaining why first-person pronoun use itself, in the absence of data proving otherwise, is indactive of nothing, certainly not narcissism.

Wouldn’t it follow that unfounded claims of narcissism are not themselves, in the absence of data proving otherwise, indicative of anything, certainly not racism?

I would think so. Of course, I’m not generally guided to post by deeply held political beliefs, so rare is the post where I make unfounded political accusations while debunking another’s unfounded political accusations.

As they say: Pot, meet sandwich bag with the rest of the pot.

AN INTERESTING STUDY could be made of first person use in political speeches. I think, from Headsup’s example, Reagan’s high first-person pronoun use in his Iran-contra mea cupla provokes rather than pacifies the idea that underuse/use/overuse (if, that is, use if has an average baseline from which we can point to a deviation as being inordinately under/over) means something.

My first assumption is that while a speechwriter may take extra effort to claim success, they may also do so for blatant failure, believing the electorate to be more quick to put the issue behind them. How much extra time did we spend analyzing Bush’s mistakes after he, when asked, failed to account for any on his own? Had he just said, “Hmmm…I fucked that, that, that and that up. My bad.” would less time (as a result of that specific question and answer) have been devoted to chronicling what was omitted? Maybe.

Not being a scientist I can’t comment on the required methodology for such a study but I imagine it would include plenty of double-back-super-secret-randomize-blinding.

Beyond determining which pronouns to count and counting them, a study group would have to say whether the speech was concerning a subject that the electorate had negative/neutral/positive view of (i.e. Obama announcing death of bin Laden=positive, Regean Iran Contra =negative).

Rinse and repeat the study to account for possible bias.

Then analyze the % of first-person pronoun use in each type of speech.

Maybe a pattern develops.

The clincher would be if the study demonstrated that its results could predict future first-person pronoun use in a political speech.

If a white coat wearing, clipboard holding scientist reads this: You can take it and run. Free of charge.

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