Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Proof by repeated assertion

So I'm watching TV, some American show, and they bring in a guy that apparently sings cowboy songs. Here's the peculiar part: all through the show they keep referring to him as "Country Western star John Doe!". And yes, they actually enunciate the exclamation mark.

This is what Joel Spolsky calls proof by repeated assertion. The absolute majority of people around the world - in fact the absolute majority of people in America - do not follow Country Western music, and have no idea who the guy is; so the presenters are forced to keep reminding everyone that he's a big star. (Incidentally I've seen this happen before with cowboy singers in particular.)

My best guess as to what causes this is the fact that Country Western seems to be a field of amateurs by definition. To be big, you need to look like the guy or gal next door, and you don't need exceptional musical talent either.

It's an interesting phenomenon for me as a linguist, and a person with at least some basic training in semiotics. Normally singers are sold on image (who cares if Robbie Williams has anything profound to say?) or exceptional talent. Looks are more useful than talent though. Despite the fact that this is an area where people listen a lot - and portable music players have been a major blow to all-show-no-go MTV darlings - we still receive the most information through visuals. But Country Western can't make itself too polished, and the music is only good if it sounds like your best friend strumming his guitar by the fire on a nice camping trip. Unfortunately you still need to promote the artists, to make them into big names. And how do you do that?

Proof by repeated assertion, that's how.

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