Friday, March 27, 2009

The Death of the Newspaper and the Power of Words

No, the New York Times isn't dead yet, but other newspapers are failing—victims of declining ad sales in these economic hard times. While one could argue that journalists have, of late, failed us in their duty to provide unbiased accounts of major news stories—or even failed to provide coverage of major news stories—I think we all lose when daily newspapers die.

I can't think of newspapers without remembering an incident involving my mother. When I was growing up in Orlando, Mom always used to love to get the Sunday edition of The Miami Herald; stopping after church at a downtown newsstand to pick up this paper was a weekly ritual for our family. The first thing Mom read was "Peanuts," on the comics page; the second was a column by a writer she really liked, Larry Thompson.

Small digression: I just Googled Larry Thompson and found out that he was a park enthusiast and that there is now a park named for him, near Miami Metrozoo; you can read about it at:

There were a couple of columnists Mom did not like, however. One of these people really got her dander up, so she wrote him what she called a "nasty letter."

Now, a nasty letter from my mom was probably unpleasant, but I know for a fact that it wasn't actually what we would call "nasty" in this day and age—just critical.

Pretty soon after she mailed the letter, that columnist dropped dead.

A little while later, the second unpopular columnist got Mom's dander up, so she composed another "nasty letter."

Pretty soon after she mailed that letter, the second columnist dropped dead.

This was the last of Mom's nasty letters, as far as I know. I think she was a bit taken aback with the results of her efforts.

I can't remember the name of either of the dead columnists, but I'll bet they were either Republicans or had Republican leanings. Mom was a die-hard Democrat.

This whole episode of the nasty letters reminds me of the power of words. Not that I think Mom's letters really caused the demise of either columnist; but, really, how can I say I know this?

I am reminded of some of the old Celtic legends about bards and the power of words.

John Matthews in The Bardic Source Book (Blandford Press, 1998) points out that the Celtic bards were well known for their abilities to smite or even curse people with their poetry. Matthews refers to "...'The Dark Speech,' meaning the speech of initiates. For such indeed the bards were. One has only to listen to some of the names and titles they have borne to realize this: the Cauldron-Born, the Carpenters of Song, Ceridwen's Children, the Bright Lords of Wisdom.

When we hear these names we see at once that the bards are more than simply poets—at least as we understand that term today and not that there is anything simple about being a poet. They are also seers, visionaries and shamans, who know the true power of words and how to make bridges between the worlds with them, who can open magical doors with a poem or, like the great Welsh bard Taliesin, make chains fall off the wrists and ankles of a prisoner by the uttering of a single phrase." (p. 12)

I love this idea of "the true power of words" coupled with the ability to open magical doors and break the shackles of prisoners.

And so I wonder: Who are our Bright Lords of Wisdom? Who fulfills the role of the bard today? What doors do they open? What chains do they break?

No comments:

Post a Comment