Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Battle over the word "Genocide"

This morning Belen Fernandez submitted a fascinating opinion piece to Al Jazeera English entitled "The Kardashian factor and the G-word." The "G-word" is, of course, "genocide;" and it has been attracting a lot of attention in the weeks leading up to the 100th anniversary of the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. To call the word sensitive is the height of understatement. Switzerland convicted a Turkish politician for denying that the noun was appropriate, while Turkey itself will only allow the word if it is quarantined by scare quotes.

Fernandez, however, is not interested in the roots of this controversy. Rather, she felt obliged to write about how it had been overtaken by public relations interests, particularly pertaining to member of the Kardashian and Clooney families. (Amal Clooney represented the Armenians in a case argued before the European Court of Human Rights.) She feels that all this emphasis on public relations, much of which spins off into marketing, has reduced a major issue to inanity.

Is she correct? There is a Gedankenexperiment that might warrant or refute her hypothesis. Simply find an appropriate sample space of subjects, each of whom will be shown Fernandez' headline. Ask them all what the article is about; and, if we want to have some fun, ask the question twice, before and after they have read the article. If, indeed, the substance of Fernandez' message has been obscured by a "Kardashian halo," then she has made her point.

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