Monday, October 14, 2013

Hands Tied: Politicians, the Public, and Energy Drinks

Many swear by them, while others swear that they’re no good. Energy drinks have been controversial since they hit the market. This article focuses on a letter, written by Richard Blumenthal, Richard Durbin, and Edward Markey, to Mark Emmert President of the NCAA, regarding the sale of Energy drinks at collegiate sporting events. The official style is clear in the letter, as the congressmen shields the fact that they are scolding Emmert by euphemizing his explanation of his reason for writing. The letter is also is very bureaucratic, passive, and verbose to further mask what is essentially a reprimand.
I accessed the article via Blumenthal’s government webpage where it is presented with a short introduction under “Press Release.” This press release section of the website is filled with accounts of the actions of Blumenthal’s actions as Senator. Whether this methodical documentation of actions and letters and announcements is required or by choice it certainly sheds light on the intentions behind elements of style which we see in letters like the one in question. Having your business as public as politician do certainly warrants caution regarding the tone of writing and how letters like this one are perceived not only by the recipient of the writing but also any constituents who read the piece. When the senators wrote the letter to Emmert they would have not only been concerned about offending the president of the NCAA but also hurting chance of re-election or prospects for other political opportunities.
The first four words of the letter set the tone for the entire message. “We write to inquire,” it begins, immediately setting a non-threatening tone. These four words not only make the senators’ message seem non-harmful; they also start the letter off in the proper and bureaucratic language you would expect to hear from senators. The letter continues to explain that the senators are inquiring as to what actions Emmert “is taking or contemplating to educate student-athletes and school athletic departments about the potential health risks posed by energy drinks for young people and to limit the presence of energy drinks at NCAA sponsored events.” This is where the senators essentially euphemize the intent of their letter. It is clear that their opinion is that energy drinks have no place being marketed at NCAA sporting events, however it is not clear whether or not this is Emmert’s opinion, and the fact that a nearly identical letter was sent to the Executive Director of National Federation of State High School Associations it can be assumed that this letter was not only sent to inquire as to what actions Emmert planned to take, but in fact to persuade him that there were indeed actions that needed to be taken.
The letter goes on to discuss the downfalls and health risks associated with energy drinks which would serve to persuade the reader, Emmert, to take actions to limit their availability at NCAA events, if of course that is what they are trying to do. The letter states that “according to a recent article in Pediatrics in Review, an official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, many of the claims made by energy drink companies lack sufficient scientific evidence.” This sentence takes a very long time to get to the point, is wordy and it maintains a certain amount of passivity. Although it is not structurally passive it allows the writers to essentially state that there is no evidence for the claims made by energy drink companies without sounding too argumentative. The letter even quotes a euphemistic phrase from the article that it is citing. It reads, “heavy caffeine use can be a significant source of morbidity in athletes,” Here it might be more effective to say death rather than morbidity for the sake of the argument, but then again, tone is very important.
“Other reports have pointed out that the ingredients found in these drinks can cause dehydration, irregular heartbeat, nausea, arrhythmia, and in some cases death,” is another sentence from the letter that although it is not structurally passive it is wordy and roundabout until the sentence feels passive. This sentence is also a very slow starting one. Instead of presenting the studies to support their argument they hide behind it. It is as if the senators are want to present the evidence that supports their argument without owning said argument.
The senators writing the letter also employed sentence combining techniques to make their letter even more official. “This targeted marketing of young people appears to be working, with estimates that 30 to 50 percent of adolescents reporting consumption of energy drinks” is a sentence containing a relative clause. Complex use of appositives is used to create, “Yet, according to a recent article in Pediatrics in Review, an official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, many of the claims made…” And noun substitute is heavily prevalent in the overly complex statement, “As a national leader in interscholastic sports and activities that help student-athletes, the NCAA can educate students, schools, and athletic departments about the potential health risks posed to young people by consuming energy drinks.”
The letter concludes reminding Emmert that the senators look forward to hearing about the actions he plans on taking and referring to the NCAA as a national leader in interscholastic sports and activities that help student-athletes. This euphemistic and bureaucratic buttering-up of Emmert closes the letter the same way that it opens.
It is entirely logical that the official style be utilized in this situation considering that senators need to present themselves in a way that will allow them to be re-elected. It seems like a shame, however, that the argument loses persuasive effect as a result. It is clear in this letter that the official style is being utilized to obscure the true intent of the letter. Perhaps, if the letter were written with a more direct agenda. “Health issues are being linked to energy drinks. We believe that, in light this, it is inappropriate for Energy drinks to be sold at NCAA sporting events,” is a possible opening which gets straight to the point and would likely be more conducive to a progressive discussion on the matter. The question becomes “What is more important?” Are we so sensitive to the language our politicians are using that we would be offended by a straight-forward intent? Are we sacrificing productivity for politeness? Can’t we have both?

Spencer A 

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