Friday, October 19, 2012

Sleep Paralysis


     In preparation for his TV spot on BBC1’s The One Show, Professor Chris French wrote an article for The Guardian, both covering what the heck Sleep Paralysis is (by the way it’s a sleep disorder that causes the sufferer to become conscious before the brain has fully awakened) as well as giving an overview of his latest research in that area. Being that it is in preparation for (and an advertisement of) his TV spot, it seems natural that the article should be written in a conversational or at least entertaining tone, but most of French’s article is written in the same dry and complicated language that you would expect to find not on a website for a newspaper, but in a psychology textbook.
      By far, the most out of place term within the entire article is “holographic dollhouse” which is from a quote that French uses from a fellow scholar and sufferer of sleep paralysis named Jeremy Deane. In this quote, Deane says, “The environment tends to feel like a holographic dollhouse, the experience peaks and then the hallucinations mysteriously vanish when I regain control of my body.” And that’s all that’s given. Instead of going back and explaining clearly and concretely what it is that Deane means when he says this, French simply moves on to his next point, leaving this odd “holographic dollhouse” hanging in the air (excuse the pun) without explanation.
      Of course, it could be argued (and I hope that this is true) that this term may be something he covers in his TV appearance, and so he leaves it hanging to pique curiosity, but I found that the odd arrangement didn’t so much make me interested in his TV spot, as it did the opposite. I don’t find myself wanting to tune in at a later date; I wanted it explained immediately, because the whole idea of the sentence runs behind this term. This feeling was only increased by the fact that the phrase didn’t seem odd or out of place at first glance. At first, it was simply an odd idea that this man had come up with to explain his condition. Then, as I focused on it individually, I found that I couldn’t explain what it actually meant, and finally, I got to the point that I wasn’t sure if I actually knew what was meant by it.
      This isn’t the only time that French stumbles in his article. Later, French quotes a woman named Lori Ball, who, like Deane, is a sufferer of sleep paralysis. Unlike Deane though, Ball is not a student at a prestigious school. The account we get from her is plain English, spoken exactly as she experiences it, without any fluffing to make it sound more scientific. Her account is not what I find fault in. It is instead, the little that French adds before her account begins, that I see as ill-fitting of the voice of the article. He says,

“This strongly suggests that the fear is not a consequence of the experience but an integral part of it, possibly caused by over-activation of the amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for fear.
This is illustrated by an account from Lori Ball, a healthy 53-year-old woman from Ohio who is not only well-informed about sleep paralysis but is actually cognisant of what is happening to her while it's happening . . .”
     Phrases like “fear is not a consequence of the experience but an integral part of it,” or “over-activation of the amygdala,” disrupt the flow and the feeling of the overall article, which, up until this point had not pushed it’s jargon to the extreme. Now, French seems to be attempting to over-compensate for the scholarly background that Ball doesn’t have, as if her own personal account is not enough. As a sufferer of the disorder, Ball really needs no justification in her words, and yet, because she isn’t a scientist like French and Deane, she has these titles thrust upon her.
      It is in paragraphs such as this that French alienates a majority of his audience — for his audience is not that of doctors and scientists, but rather the readers of The Guardian and viewers of The One Show. French seems to be talking down to the very audience that he wants to watch his spot on TV. And, this example with Ball isn’t the only time that he does it. It can be found at large in one other area of the article:

“During normal sleep, the brain and body pass through four stages of sleep during which physiological indices such as brain activity, heart rate and breathing rate gradually slow down.
This process then reverses and the sleeper enters a period of REM-stage sleep, so-called because of the characteristic rapid eye movements that are associated with it.
The full cycle, which takes about 90-100 minutes, is then repeated and, as the night progresses, each cycle becomes progressively less dominated by stage 3 and stage 4 sleep and increasingly dominated by REM sleep.
Dreams can occur during all sleep stages but the most vivid dreams tend to be reported when people are awoken from REM sleep.”
      Here, the article takes on an air of a psychology textbook. French seems to lose site of the fact that he is supposed to be entertaining, as he begins droning through the process of sleep, and the explanations of what is actually happening. And, as he goes on, the interest of the audience drops.
      Throughout the entirety of this article, there seems to be disagreement in who French thinks he’s writing to. Half of the article, is written very plainly, as if for the general audience that would be reading it, and the other half is written with elevated language — more for his colleagues that might read his work. And the problem isn’t so much that he slips into an elevated style of language, but that he fails to keep to either a more official language or a plainer language. For an article such as this, it is a better idea to use plain language that all can relate to, if you really want people to tune into your TV show, but, even if you decide against such tactics, you only alienate your audience more by constantly switching between the two styles. And, as if that isn’t enough, when French does slip into his doctorate voice, he provides only the bare minimum of information, so any interest he does actually inspire with his words, is lost when he suddenly switches topics again three sentences later.
      On a whole, does this article make me want to watch his spot on The One Show? No. It makes me want to learn more about Sleep Paralysis, but not from him specifically. I only want to have the questions he inspires answered, but he doesn’t nothing to convince me or his general audience to get it from him. The activity systems of this article would ideally be expert speaking to the general population, but he writes it as if he is an expert speaking to other experts. And, as I have demonstrated, it didn’t work.


--Lauren Ihrke

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