Triumph of the Yell

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In her essay, Triumph of the Yell, written in 1994, Deborah Tannen details the truths about public discourse in a well organized and factual manner. She makes a forceful claim that public discourse has degenerated into verbal fist-fights which are not effective in problem solving. She exemplifies her statements with facts and personal experiences. She also applies the universal intellectual standards of clarity, depth, accuracy, logic and fairness. With this thought provoking essay, Tannen exposes the dangers of continuing this confrontational style of public discourse and suggests a more thoughtful and compromising approach to solve problems. Although Tannen's article was written in 1994, her argument is just as pertinent today. She bemoans that public discourse has devolved into a theater filled with name-calling, labeling opponents and focusing on trivial or sometimes made up claims in order to score points. She states that this problem is perpetuated by journalists, academics and politicians who have turned serious public discourse into fights where theatrics are more important than the gist and solution because they make for better ratings. Her observation of the quarrelsome nature of public discourse is correct because we witness it daily but fail to recognize its futility. A glaring example is the way the budget crisis is being handled in Washington. Politicians and commentators are resorting to lying, fear mongering and misrepresentation and they are adopting untenable positions with no serious effort at compromise. Furthermore, complex matters relating to war, the economy, religion and public policy are reduced to sound bites, devoid of critical thinking and collective intellectual exertion. This fact can be easily demonstrated – one has to merely tune in to Fox News or MSNBC and see the vitriol and abrasive nature of the treatment of issues. According to Tannen, the pervasive culture of critique incites one to claim victory by scoring points and...
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