So, in “The Avengers,” there’s a scene where Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are having 12% of a moment when they’re interrupted by Agent Phil Coulson. Pepper addresses him as, “Phil,” and Tony says, “…His first name is ‘Agent’.” This is funny because that’s not his name, and it points out how narcissistic Tony is, that he doesn’t even care about another human being enough to learn his name.
Some time ago, I enjoyed supermarket tabloids, and the part I enjoyed most was the part where they didn’t pretend to be anything other than entertainment and heavy-handed satire. Because I was a young idiot and I liked the feeling of being in on the joke. Anyway. One of the tactics there was to attach a signifying tag to a person’s name. Maybe to tell us how we’re supposed to feel about them, or maybe just to remind us why we’re nominally supposed to be interested in a story about them. Whatever, the tag always appears next to the name, so the tag becomes part of the name.
So now, I’m thinking that isn’t funny, it’s just disrespectful and manipulative, and it’s appropriating someone’s identity. It’s kind of violent, really, and gross. Anyway, I stopped being entertained by the tabloids several years before The Weekly World News went under. Occasionally, I think about Ed Anger or Bat Boy with a little nostalgia, but I also suspect that if I were to go back and read any of those articles I’d be less entertained than I remember.
And the only reason I’m thinking about all this right now, today, is that I’m suddenly struck by a pattern in the headlines of nominally serious news outlets. From yesterday’s Washington Post: “Brazil’s Bolsonaro hospitalized with abdominal pain, floats possibility of surgery.” Prefixing the president’s name not with his title but with his country seems a little strange, but maybe, if he hasn’t been in the news lately, people don’t know what country he’s from? But why would we care especially if some otherwise unremarkable Brazilian were hospitalized and possibly going to have surgery? I’m sure there are thousands of people in exactly that situation. Oh, it’s because the Washington Post has tagged Mr. Bolsonaro with “Brazil’s” and not with “President”.
Sort of like how the American news media en masse decided that it would be, “President Bush,” “Chancellor Merkel,” and, “Saddam.” You know, high school sucked, and not least because it was full of unsophisticated teenagers. But it turns out that that is actually excellent practice for American society at large. No wonder I just want to stay in my room and not talk to anyone.