Thursday, October 14, 2010

A "Gooder" Look at Language in the Media

Watching late-night television, a certain ridiculous commercial caught my attention. The commercial itself was really mediocre advertising at best (I don't even remember the product it was promoting), but as someone interested in concepts of Englishes, grammars, signs and signifiers, and audiences, I couldn't help be struck by one simple word-- "gooder." Hearing that word, my head bobbed up from my laptop to catch the last 10 seconds of the clip.

In the commercial, a woman named Jane and a female friend are talking about (I think) a weight loss product, which her friend says is "gooder." Jane's initial reaction is to say, "gooder isn't a word."

Following shortly after Jane's remark, her friend notes enthusiastically, "Jane, you look gooder!" This time, Jane ignores the grammar trespass and agrees. Jane, of course, comes to accept "gooder" as a real word, when it conveniently describes her weight loss and makes it better than just plain "good" progress.

I think this commercial, as simple and silly as it is, acts as a metaphor for hierarchies of rhetoric. Jane, the current traditionalist grammar critic, is unable to accept "gooder" as a word, until it becomes a term that enhances her own authoritative position. It also makes clear that the thin woman (the social norm) is in a higher position of authority than her friend who has not yet tried the weight loss product. Thus, the silly, seemingly benign interaction between two gal pals evokes power structures and mainstream ideologies hidden in language.

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