Thursday, April 10, 2014

A critique of Plain Style in daily life

A critique of plain style in daily life

            The plain style has just as much practical use as the official style, owning to the ease of its communication method.  Whereas the official style labors to obscure details through complex sentence structure and syntax, the plain style by contrast works to provide as much information as possible using almost the complete opposite structure.  In doing so, it becomes the perfect medium to report and comment on current events and pop culture phenomena.

            In scrutinizing an example of plain style, I selected an article on a completely frivolous topic; the “controversy” surrounding the decision of Vogue magazine to place Kanye West, a music entrepreneur and performer, and his fiancĂ©e Kim Kardashian of reality television fame on its cover.  The article, entitled “Will Kim and Kanye kill Vogue?”  was written by Keli Goff and published on the Daily Beast website under the heading of Entertainment. The Daily Beast is a website founded in 2008 with the goal of providing “breaking news and sharp commentary” and attracts nearly 15 million unique visitors each month, according to the website.

            The author, Keli Goff, writes for a number of different web forums, including The Washington Post, The Root and the Huffington Post.  By contributing to a variety of news sources, the author must be conscious of writing to appease the varieties in audiences for each website.  At the same time, articles published on the internet have spectators that cannot be foreseen by the author. While this may not be a conscious factor in using elements of the plain style, the wideness of the article’s potential readership make it imperative that the language used be both descriptive and plain to paint the best picture and entice reader to peruse this particular article rather than a dozen others on the same topic.  In using the plain style, the author is expanding the audience by allowing people of all educational backgrounds to participate in the communication process by reading the article.

            As an activity system the article sets and achieves strange goals.  The goal of the article is to express criticism of a rival publication, Vogue Magazine. The Daily Beast website is not only seeking to inform its loyal readership of a story that is being discussed at large in pop culture, but to provide a commentary on the situation.  By mentioning Vogue, Kanye and Kim, the article also draws in fans of Vogue magazine, fans or detractors of either Kim or Kanye, and those who don’t understand the issue or who the players in the situation are but are drawn to the level of discourse the state of affairs has created in the larger societal discussion.  This allows the Daily Beast as well as Goff to expand their audience to those that would not normally be inclined to frequent the writings of either. Because the placement of Kim and Kanye is a contentious issue, the article additionally draws in both devotees and detractors who would not have had exposure to the site or the author in any other manner.

            The writing of the piece is over-all simple.  The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test provided as score of 66.3 which means it is best understood by students between the ages of 13 and 15.  Predictably, the article also received a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 7.4, with the average grade level achieved only eighth grade when factoring in all of the various measures.  This is yet again a reflection of the extent to which the article must strive to appeal to the greatest number of readers.  In addition, this is neither a scholarly article nor topic so the plain style is the best manner to convey the ideas of the article.

            One of the key ideas expressed by the piece is the far reaching lack of popularity of this cover decision, and the number of people who feel compelled to say so in a public forum. Most of these opinions are direct quotes from Twitter so they are by their nature plain language owning the character limit. The use of Twitter also incorporates an additional activity system; the newly relevant social media site. Without Twitter, there would be no opportunity create and fan the flames of this hullabaloo.  The 140 character limit enforced by Twitter creates an almost obvious need to use plain style as is a waste of the limited space to communicate in anything other than plain style.  

            While this article highlights what may be considered a shallow topic, it does address interesting concerns in the entertainment world.  It is highlighting a caste system when viewing various celebrities and their place in providing entertainment. Kim Kardashian, as a reality star hungry for fame, is not considered a fashion icon.  Vogue magazine is a holy relic to many who view fashion as a serious enterprise. By placing her on the cover this magazine, and the additional gossip that exists regarding how the decision was made, those who regularly participate in the activity system that is Vogue magazine feel both insulted and betrayed. This also accounts for the level of vehemence associated with the Twitter rants against the cover.

            When looking at the plain style in everyday life, it lends itself most readily to the story of the day type of reporting: an informative piece of writing that chronicles either facts or opinions that are presented as facts.  In our fast past culture, the plain style provides the important job of proving information without commentary and allows news and opinions to be presented in an easy to understand manner that is quick and accessible for the largest possible audience.

Vanessa Kocar

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