“The Argument Culture” is a persuasive essay written by Professor Deborah Tannen. As a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, Tannen experience in language leads her to write many books in this field. Tannen uses “The Argument Culture” essay to persuade her audience that this society’s way of looking at debate encourages an “adversarial frame of mind” (Tannen, 305). Three of Tannen’s main points include; polarized views in the news, the use of “war metaphors’ by media to catch the readers eye, and even in the language mankind uses in everyday life. Tannen’s essay also includes different ways to look at these each of these situations that may help reduce the debate language that this society uses every day.
The first example Tannen shares is how this society assumes the best way to solve anything is through debate. Tannen explains, this society believes “the best way to cover news is to find spokespeople who express the most extreme, polarized views and present them as ‘both sides’ [of the story]’ (305). In some circumstances these interviews turn into very heated debates with both sides yelling over the other to make their point heard. These heated debates only divides the audience into ‘sides’ and closes minds to the facts on the other side of the debate.
Most Americans do not have these strong opposing viewpoints on an issue until they are influenced by the debates in the news. Instead, Tannen encourages newscasters to ask “What are the other ‘sides’?” (308) Asking this question will get them thinking about all of the different points of view they can report on. Then the newscasters can invite guests from multiple differing viewpoints to discuss the issue. Having a group discussion with differing less extreme viewpoints can help defuse opposition, encouraging a discussion format instead of debating the issues at hand. The audience can then develop their own opinion on the issues at hand. The next example Tannen shares is how the media uses war metaphors to “shape our thinking.” A few of these war metaphors are: “the war on drugs, the war on cancer, the battle of the sexes” (305). These metaphors are used to catch the attention of the reader and to get the reader to pick a side.
This is not always a good thing. Sometimes these metaphors are a great way to get support; such as “the war on cancer,” because the more people that help fight this war the better chance cancer can be defeated. The media needs to decide to use war metaphors where it will encourage support insteadof encouraging debate. An example of a war metaphor that encourages debate is “the battle of the sexes,” because this metaphor only pits the sexes against each other. There is enough struggle for equality between the sexes without the so called ‘battle.’ Men and women should be working together to reach their goals instead of competing against each other to reach their own goal. .
A walk down the magazine isle at any store will prove Tannen’s point that “nearly everything is framed as a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern” (305). Another important point Tannen brings up is “the power of words to shape perception” (306). It is amazing how easy it is to change how things are perceived by just changing one word in a sentence. The example she shares to prove this point is from an experiment Psychologists Elisabeth Loftus and John Palmer performed. In the experiment two groups of people watch the same movie of a car accident. The two groups are asked essentially the same question except one sentence uses the word “bumped” and the other uses “smashed” to describe the collision.
Tannen explains “those who read the question with ‘smashed’ tended to remember that the cars were going faster” (306). Americans need to be aware and on the lookout for these circumstances because that one word can mean the difference between dialogue and debate. Everyone needs to understand how easily language can change a person’s perception of a situation because, as Tannen shares, “[language] invisibly molds our way of thinking about people, actions and the world around us” (306). In “The Argument Culture” essay Tannen tries to open eyes to the “American tradition” of debate. This is very important because “the argument culture pervades every aspect of [American’s] lives today” (305).
As Tannen’s first main point informs the reader, the argument culture is especially evident when watching the nightly news and being bombarded by debate. Through Tannen’s examples of war metaphors she proves that the media uses these metaphors to encourage disputes. War metaphors can also be found in American’s everyday conversations; it is particularly used to emphasis or even exaggerate a point in a conversation. This also shows how the language that is used in describing a situation changes one’s perception of the said situation. Tannen’s essay should be read by everyone living in this argument culture so their eyes will be open to the “adversarial frame of mind” (305) that can be found in this society. Then maybe this “argument culture” can find creative
“ways of resolving disputes and differences” (305) without debate.
Tannen, Deborah. “The Argument Culture.” The Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers. Ed. Stephen Reid. 10th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 305-09. Print.