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What A Riot!

You want to know why the media is just falling all over themselves to cover the "Pussy Riot" trial in Russia?

No, it's not the free speech issues.  No, it's not the opportunity to point out Russia's own short-comings on the fascist front.  No, it's not the jabs at Putin.

The whole and singular reason that the media is all over this story is that editors can let the word "pussy" go into headlines and get away with it.  Seriously.  That's it.  No other reason whatsoever.

You see, the media thrives on what they can slip past censors.  All media everywhere are controlled in some way or another, even here on the Far Side.  I don't publish things I think will incite riots or get me killed, though certainly I have the articles to achieve both goals.  I like living.  I, like any good sniper, take the shots I can get away with.  Such is the nature of the Pussy Riot reports.

Editors are beholden to publishers, who answer to shareholders, who obey authoritarian censors.  It's all a game of what we can let slip and what we have to hold back.  In other words, we are all subject to "corporate voicing".

By way of disclosure, I am guilty of corporate voicing.  In fact, I'm pretty damn good at it, and I've been paid well over the eons to do it.  So, when I launch into the upcoming rant, I am doing so at the risk of criticizing my own bread and butter.  That said...

The concept behind corporate voicing is to create a single 'voice' for a corporation, simply put.  Corporations are hives of humans who act in single-minded purpose to achieve a goal - usually profit - to benefit some group - usually shareholders.

Corporations act as single living beings.  The Executive is the brain, HR is the liver and heart, labor is the stomach, marketing is the tongue, legal is the conscience, and on it goes.  Corporations are monolithic entities that act as single units despite having hundreds, even thousands of individual parts.  To society, corporations want to present a unified face, as if they collectively act as one being.

Thus, corporate voicing.

It all has to do with the study of communications and languages.  We all have unique and identifying 'voices'.  Writers, like me, spend a lot of time developing our 'voices'.  Public figures go through hours of 'voice' training.  All of this is to the goal of sounding like we are a particular thing.

Jeff Foxworthy likes to sound like a hick.  Geoge Carlin enjoyed his Nieu Yawk voice.  Peter Jennings has tried desperately NOT to sound Canadian.  Actors want to sound Shakespearean.  It's all to project a certain image and sound that is uniquely theirs.

In the same way, corporations work hard to develop a syntax and vocabulary that defines the group as a whole.  It doesn't matter who you plug into the CEO seat, the corporation still has the same 'voice'.  In the individual, the conscience and reason control the 'voice'.  In a corporation, legal and risk management control that function.  This function censors the 'voice' to create a certain public persona.  When McDonald's or Sony or Apple put out press releases, you know by reading them which company issued it by the certain 'voice' it uses.

In the same way, you can read an essay and know whether Mark Twain or Woody Allen or Edgar Allan Poe wrote it.  The 'voice' makes it unique and identifiable.

If you are aware of this, then you know that ANY media outlet has its own 'voice'.  It has certain stories, issues and means of delivery that are unique to it.  Even though BBC and ZRD cover the same story, they each have a special take on the story that matches their 'voice'.

To say that some media is not censored is ignorant.  Even if there is no outside influence, such as government oversight, they still develop their own 'voice' as a way of making themselves unique.  It's almost a natural function of groups of people acting in concert.  Even the 'Occupy' movement developed their own voice, which was further modified by the media outlets covering them, which edited their 'voice' to match the outlet's 'voice'.  Thus Fox's coverage was different from RT's coverage, despite having more or less the same pictures and sound bites.

So, I see by that look on your face that you're wanting to know what all this rubbish about corporate voicing and censorship has to do with Pussy Riot.  Well...I'm glad you asked.

You see, folks who work in the kind of world where every word, phrase and idiom has been carefully chosen and parsed by Legal and Risk Management departments crave being able to step outside the bounds.  So when a story comes along like this one, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

In the button-down world of corporate communications, the word 'pussy' would most likely be banned from all vocabulary lists, unless it was part of a formal name, say like 'pussywillow'.  Even the colloquial regerence to felines would be banned because of the chance it could be misinterpreted and lead to sanctions or lawsuits.

When a band in Russia gets in trouble and ends up in court, and the band's name is Pussy Riot, these poor souls jump all over the story because they can use a banned word, in it's banned connotation, and get away with it.

Oh sure, they dress it all up in Free Speech moralizing and Human Rights preachifying.  They even use it to point out that other countries are just as totalitarian and fascist as America, so get over your whining.  But the fact is, if the band's name had been, say, Wooden Dolls, there wouldn't have been half the coverage.  Pussy Riot is just too good to pass up, and you can slide it past all the censors, Legal, Risk Management, and editors.  What could be more fun?

I guarantee you, that's the only reason this story got legs.

So the next time you see Pussy Riot, Inglorious Basterds and Dick Head's Bar and Grill in the news, you can bet your bottom dollar that all the writers and publishers cared about was being able to use banned words and get away with it.

Kinda takes the mystery out of the news rooms, doesn't it?