This post originally appeared on JoeyStrawn.com, but when writing it I knew it had implications for the For Bloggers, By Bloggers audience as well. So, I have adjusted the content and reposted an updated version here specifically for you guys. Enjoy!
This is a story about miscommunication. It’s also a story about the importance of good, clear writing in your blogging.
Last week, my wife stumbled upon an article in an old issue of Smithsonian Magazine. The article was titled “Green Eggs and Salmonella?” and was about the “hidden hazards lurking within popular children’s books.” She was furious about the content of the article because of the writer’s position on children’s books for two reasons:
- My wife loves children’s books and would eventually love to illustrate them, and…
- The position the article took was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read in my life.
In case you aren’t sure what I mean by point number 2, here’s a few samples:
Reading these stories today is like sitting through a Quentin Tarantino movie. Have you ever added up the body count? One poor girl is transformed into a block of wood and thrown into a fire.
…and when talking about Goodnight Moon…
The tale is a veritable hotbed of child safety hazards. First of all, the child’s great green bedroom contains an open fireplace filled with dangerous tools.
I wonder what she thinks about the classic Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss can’t be taken seriously, right?
Health concerns abound. Sam-I-am pushes discolored pork products on the protagonist, encouraging him to eat them with a mouse and a goat. There’s no hand sanitizer in sight; I guess salmonella and swine flu are on the menu as well.
And possibly my favorite…
Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Catepillar binges on junk food, then starves himself to turn into a beautiful butterfly. As if our kids don’t already have enough problems with body image. Safety hazards, parental negligence, eating disorders…It almost makes me nostalgic for the attempted cannibalism in Hansel and Gretel.
Neither my wife, nor myself, could believe the post was anything but satire. No one could really feel that way, right? Apparently the readers of the article were just as confused as we were because, of the 56 comments, 30% of them thought the writer was an idiot and the remaining 60% were convinced it was satire because “no one can seriously feel this way.”
I was so bothered by it that I tracked the blogger down on her personal site. Since she never responds to the comments on the article to clarify her position and makes not even the slightest hint at satire meaning within the post, I had to see how she approached other topics.
After an hour of searching, reading through hundreds of comments and tracking down more writings samples and the submission guidelines for the Smithsonian section she wrote to, I came to the conclusion it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, but in all honesty I’m still not sure, especially considering things she says on her blog about like:
I have to admit, I had my reservations about bringing [my children] to a movie (she’s referring to The Lorax movie, mind you). They can be hypersensitive to certain themes in movies, which may have something to do with the fact that [their] mother was traumatized by “Cinderella” at a young age. It wasn’t the evil stepsisters that upset me, but the meanness towards the weight-challenged mouse, Gus.
The Importance of Clarity
If the post was meant to be taken seriously, I have a whole other post titled “Green Eggs and Shut the Hell Up” and I post, which will make use of this video from YouTube, but considering I HAVE to believe she was going for satire, so let me approach the issue of clarity.
I don’t care if you’re going for satire, spoof, editorial, free-form or haiku, if your readers can’t figure out what you’re trying to get across, you’ve failed. Nowhere in Mrs. Green’s post does she even hint at satire, nor does her other writing hint that she is capable of it, nor does the channel she chooses to write in support it. The simple fact that the article appeared in a “write whatever you feel” category in a magazine that doesn’t seem to use much humor is the only indication that she’s not serious.
In your writing, make sure the point you’re trying to get across gets across. You run the risk of pissing off a lot of people when 75% of your readers on average misunderstand you. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to land on the issue of clarity:
- Ask a friend to proofread your article with no warning or summary from you.
- Let posts sit for a day or two and revisit them to see if your meanings still come through.
- Understand the channels you write in and the audiences of each. If the medium isn’t used to or designed for humor and satire, it may not be best to submit or post an Onion-style satirical piece.
There’s a very good chance I’ll go to my grave not fully understanding if Mrs. Green was being serious and truly hated Wilhelm Grimm and his stories or was trying to make a point about…..well…..I’m not exactly sure.
In all honesty, most of the venom here should be directed at The Smithsonian magazine for agreeing to publish and distribute a story that was possibly meant as satire through a channel where most people wouldn’t get it, but Mrs. Green did submit her article knowing the channel and never again attempts satire. You have to know your audience and to whom you’re writing in order to know what content to send their way.
What do you do to make sure your strategies and content are clear to your readers? Do you just assume everyone knows how you feel? You know what they say about assuming, don’t you?