I went to the launch party of a friend’s vintage couture boutique the other evening. Whilst enthusiastically knocking back the bubbles in Clerkenwell I met a woman who said she used to work for the New York Times. Apparently there were, or possibly are, seven words banned to anyone writing for the New York Times. The list includes ‘spin’. This woman was extraordinarily vociferous in her dislike of the word spin.
“Why?” I asked.
Was it, I wondered to myself, the choice and arrangement of the four letters she had difficulty with? Was it the perceived meaning of the word in its abstract sense? Or was it the implementation in relative terms of the notion of spin?
“It’s lying,” she responded rather tartly. “I don’t like people trying to manipulate me and pull the wool over my eyes. I’ve been taught to question, question, question.”
This whole interchange I found utterly baffling. Firstly, the notion that if one doesn’t like something one should ban the word that speaks of it from ones vocabulary seems a little despotic to say the least. It also seems naïve. Does making class A drugs illegal automatically rid the country of heroine? Errr, no. Will banning the word ‘spin’ from her vocabulary, or even from the vocabulary of the entire New York Times, instantly rid the country of politicians more generously endowed with the talents of recounting a good yarn than of running the country wisely? Equally not I’m afraid. In fact, pretending that something doesn’t exist by means of not openly referencing it, in my experience, usually serves to give it only greater power. Drawing attention away from it, one is effectively protecting it. It becomes the elephant in the room.
Secondly the notion of teaching someone to question is a misnomer. Or rather, if understood effectively, such a teaching will lead, ultimately, to the teaching itself being called into question. As the Buddha said: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own common sense.” So, in the New York Times scenario, if one really were to question, question, question, one would end up questioning the ban itself; probably sticking to the ban, if one values one’s job, but nonetheless questioning it. To internalise the ban and then perceive the internalising process as coming from one’s tendency to question life’s apparent truths is deluded.
And thirdly, I can’t agree that spin is the same as lying. For me there’s a complication with the notion of lying from the kick off because it assumes the notion of an absolute truth and there is almost never an absolute truth to anything. There are myriad different, simultaneous and often conflicting truths, that, when taken in combination, might be understood as some sort of truth. Every person witnessing a car crash, for example, will see something different as a result of their individual physical (and mental, and emotional) perspectives. They will all be right in one way or another. It’s physics.
However, above and beyond this definitive difficulty, to put spin on something cannot be understood in the same way as lying, even in the conventional sense of the word. To lie is to invent a perspective that is not the speaker’s own and that they believe to bear little or no resemblance to any version of the truth as they understand it, as in: “No, I did not eat the last chocolate biscuit,” munch, gulp. To put spin on something is to pick out the element of it that best suits the narrator’s purpose, to recount a story from a favoured perspective, even though one might be aware that other equally valid perspectives do concurrently exist and go unmentioned, as in: “I’m afraid I probably did eat the last chocolate biscuit, darling. They were those rather ropey bourbons you’re not keen on. I’m just nipping out now to get your favourite yummy Gǘ ones. Wait till you get your chops around those, my angel!” That’s not lying. That’s privileging one side of the story over another. We all do that ever time we open our mouths. It’s impossible not to, through the medium of speech at any rate. The only way to be absolutely truthful is to stay schtum. Which I have no intention of doing because pointless pontification is far more fun.
So, now I’ve brought everyone up to speed on the term spin, I thought I might engage in a bit on behalf of the aforementioned vintage couture boutique: www.junosayshello.com - check out that Chloe mini-dress. I want. I want. I want. Ah, now… is that spin or is that a plug? Who cares? I want that Chloe mini-dress.