“Ditto,” said Tweedledum.
“Ditto, ditto!” cried Tweedledee.
– Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking-Glass
Sometimes a trifling contretemps can open a window onto significant issues.
As a case in point, The New York Times, a newspaper that regularly publishes U.S. propaganda without a bit of shame or remorse, recently reported on a controversy involving Simon & Schuster and Bob Dylan’s new book, The Philosophy of Modern Song. The report with the same information was repeated across the media.
The publishing company had offered limited-edition, authenticated, hand-signed copies of the book for $600 each. Nine Hundred collectors and die-hard fans bought a copy, many, no doubt, caught in hero worship and the thought that a Dylan-penned signature would grant them a bit of his fame through the touch of his hand upon their lives.
The quest for immortality takes many forms, and the laying on of hands, even when done remotely through a signature, has long been a popular form of sleight-of-hand.
I once shook hands with an Elvis hologram impersonator and the thrill vibrated for days.
But these Dylan aficionados noticed something strange about the signatures: They didn’t seem to be actual signatures individually written with a pen by Dylan. As anyone knows from their own handwriting, no two signatures are the same, since the human hand is not a copy machine. These signatures were identical.
It turned out that those who smelled a deception were right. Under pressure from astute purchasers, Simon & Schuster had to come clean – sort of. They offered to refund all purchasers for the deception. They released the following statement:
To those who purchased The Philosophy of Modern Song limited edition, we want to apologize. As it turns out, the limited editions books do contain Bob’s original signature, but in a penned replica form. We are addressing this immediately by providing each purchaser with an immediate refund.
This statement is a perfect example of double-talk, and more.
Then Dylan also apologized, saying that he used an auto-pen since he was suffering from vertigo and “during the pandemic, it was impossible to sign anything and the vertigo didn’t help.” His apology seems sincere compared to the publisher’s double-talk, but then again, so did his signatures. And the controversy has spread to the limited edition prints of his artwork.
“Limited edition prints” – a deception in itself, as if limiting the number of copies of an original painting makes them more original. Ten dittos instead of eleven.
However, I am not primarily concerned with the nuances of this tempest in a teapot, which might disappear as fast as yesterday’s bluster, or it may forever tarnish Dylan’s reputation, which would be a shame if it also damaged the genuine greatness of his songs.
I would like to focus on the following matters that I have seen through its window: language usage, a society of copies, reading texts closely, and the degradation of literacy, all of which are tangled together with non-stop government propaganda disseminated by the corporate mass media to form a major social issue.
First, language. Note in the Simon & Schuster apology the words: “As it turns out, the limited editions books do contain Bob’s original signature, but in a penned replica form.” This is a clear deception twice over. The books do not contain original signatures; they contain machine copies of it. Phrasing it that way allows the company to plead innocent while also apologizing for its innocence as if they consider themselves guilty. What exactly are they saying they are apologizing for? Deceptions dittoed?
And the phrase “As it turns out,” implies that Simon & Schuster was surprised that the signatures were machine generated, which is highly improbable. It also suggests they are not responsible; such verbiage approximates the common, passive introductory phrase “it so happens” or the equally non-literate “hopefully” to begin a sentence.
“It so happens” that I am writing these words and “it so happens” that you are reading them…as if we are victims of our own free choices. Passive language for victims of fate who have learned to write and talk this way to avoid responsibility even for their own hope, as in: “I hope.” Or maybe the widespread copycat use of “hopefully” is an unconscious attempt to deny pervasive hopelessness. No matter how many times you repeat something doesn’t make it true….