A Skewed Semiotic: When a Picture Speaks the Wrong Thousand Words

Nicholas Kristof wrote a fascinating couple of opinion articles for the NYTimes over the last two weeks, and the reason for some reader dissent and confusion in the first story appears to stem from a core misunderstanding — purposeful or not — about the image.

Here’s what Kristof wrote on February 22, 2014:

As an infant, Johnny was deaf but no one noticed or got him the timely medical care he needed to restore his hearing. He lives in a trailer here in the hills of rural Appalachia with a mom who loves him and tries to support him but is also juggling bills, frozen pipes and a broken car that she can’t afford to fix.

The first error Kristof makes — but has yet to apologize for, or clarify — is labeling Johnny “Deaf.”  Deafness is a cultural condition from which one does not get “healed” so the proper term should have been “hearing loss” since the “Deafness” was not actual, but imagined, by Kristof.

The real outrage aimed at Kristof was not over his inappropriate use of “Deaf” — but rather the way some of his readers felt he was celebrating a degenerate lifestyle of poverty in this image:

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Finding Inspiration in the Formerly Poor

When I was a child my mother told me that it was very easy to look up and see all of the people who were doing better than us but that it was important to look down, so to speak, and to see the people who were worse off. When we make our way through this often harsh and does not let us settle for just trying our best we sometimes do well to find role models — people who have managed to accomplish what we hope to one day accomplish and emulate them or find hope for ourselves. If that person could make it, I can make it as well.

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Smart Students Crushed by Dumb Debt

We have created at least two generations of highly educated people who are unwillingly being crushed by student loan debt.  The housing crisis will look like nothing compared to the massive hit our economy will take if these student loans are ever called in or forced into default.

The dirty little secret that is keeping these loans in play — and always ready to tip on the borrowers with the slightest nudge — is the ability to “forbear” and “defer” in a vicious circle where you don’t have to pay what you owe, but what you owe gets compounded and pummeled and jacked back into what you already owe.  Every day you live, you dig your financial grave just a little bit deeper until you know what you’ve always known: There’s no way out; so give in to that punishing reality and live with your ruined financial debt, but never give up.

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Black Children in Poverty

Statistics from the latest census were released a week ago, and the news is pretty terrible for all children across the United States and the warnings are especially grim for Black children living in poverty in Washington, D.C.

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Mississippi John Hurt Sings the Delta Blues

The story of original Delta Blues guitarist Mississippi John Hurt is one of mystery and heartbreak.  In 1928 he made a groundbreaking record of many Delta Blues tunes and then the Great Depression struck and all the music stopped and he disappeared. 

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Two Million Dollar Babies

People are always doing strange things to get attention. At the same time, people are always finding new and creative ways to earn money or win fancy prizes – perhaps this is more true now that the price of gas has nearly doubled in the last couple of years. When the two meet, you can often get a startling perspective on the kinds of people there really are out there.

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Born Poor and Condemned to Lifelong Poverty

There’s an old saying about the crisis of being born: “You can’t pick your parents.” There’s another unspoken — yet harder and uncrackable — chestnut that rings truer and harsher: “You can’t pick your income level.” For children across the world, that reality means millions are condemned to lifelong suffering because they were born into poverty without any sort of clear economic path for breaking free of that chain.

Continue reading → Born Poor and Condemned to Lifelong Poverty