Emily Litella America


The incomparable Gilda Radner played a character, Emily Litella (1975-1979), on Saturday Night Live back in the day when it was funny. The character would provide commentary on the news of the day as she heard it. The problem was that she was hard of hearing. Thus she would rant on and on about something for awhile until the news anchor corrected her over what the story was actually about. Having been corrected, Emily would invariably say, “Oh…that’s different. Never mind.”

Here is a sample of the various topics she misheard:

Busting schoolchildren instead of busing schoolchildren

Firing the handicapped instead of hiring the handicapped;

Saving Soviet jewelry instead of saving Soviet Jewry;

Deaf penalty instead of death penalty;

and finally, endangered feces instead of endangered species.

Sadly, one bit involving “Presidential erections” turned out to be prescient.

Scrolling through my newsfeed on X.com I get a sense of deja vu. It’s as if Emily Litella is posting everywhere. Sadly, too many people are transmitting, not receiving. To have a conversation you need a “transceiver” — a device capable both of sending and receiving messages. Our brains, eyes, ears, tongues, teeth, jaws, and vocal cords (and now fingers on keypads) are transceivers if we will use them. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis — that is the process of learning and understanding.

Mrs. Rodin prevailed upon me this year to get hearing aids. They are useful in amplifying sound while screening out noise that can distract from the signal you are listening for. But they continue to require attention and focus. Amplification is insufficient.

Social media is an amplifier. It does not promote understanding unless a process of understanding is employed. Recalling law school (now decades ago) the professor would engage students individually, in the presence of the class, in a dialogue over a case under study and interrogate individual students on different aspects of the case for import and meaning. This is called the Socratic method. Merely being in the audience, as all class members were, conveyed understanding to all as they heard the questions, silently anticipated the answers to be given by the student, compared the responses to their own thinking, heard the professor’s follow-on question which either challenged or asked the student to expand and clarify. And on and on it went, and in such a manner that the class members would master the lessons to be learned.

Social media has the capability of being a mass Socratic device. But the participants have to accept the discipline of a process to make it so. I suspect that is why podcasts are so popular. You get to watch a dialogue and learn from it without the distraction of people throwing in commentary that distracts from the dialogue. Live streams often feature a way for people to comment in text as the conversation goes along, but you need not be distracted by the comments if you so choose.

I can only conclude that a lot of people are only interested in the clown show. We are not all committed to understanding one another, of using a process for mass education in any way other than for propaganda, and simply bringing our own virtual tomatoes and rotten vegetables to the 24-hour melodrama.


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  1. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda

    And when someone reads a juicy bit of gossip online that paints an opponent in a negative light, too few people ask if it is really true before repeating it, no matter how absurd it is.  What, that politician I already hate is the Zodiac Killer, and his dad helped assassinate JFK?  I believe it!

    • #1
  2. Jeff Ditzler Member
    Jeff Ditzler

    If I remember right (I am of a younger generation, but know about this thanks to the combination of my parents and YouTube), there was also making Puerto Rico a steak (not a state) and restricting violins (as opposed to violence) on television.

    • #2
  3. Stad Coolidge

    Jeff Ditzler (View Comment):
    restricting violins (as opposed to violence) on television.

    One of my favorites . . .

    • #3
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