Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Using a sports analogy or metaphor well

In Out of the park: Is that where your metaphors land?, I shared a caution about using sports as a comparison tool, particularly for Americans who unthinkingly use, say, baseball metaphors with non-U.S. audiences, leaving them at best confused. But recently, I heard a well-placed sports metaphor that used the difference between European and American fans to drive its point home.

In an On the Media interview with sociologist David S. Meyer about political protests, Meyer used a sports metaphor at the end of the interview to make his point clear. Here are the question and full answer so you can see it in context:
OTM: We're talking about the nuts and bolts of protest, but did they really matter? Do they ultimately ever change our politics?

Meyer: Not by themselves, and not necessarily in the short run. It's quite likely that these large demonstrations in Washington DC and the airport protests are going to be followed in short order by political defeats. But in order to execute those policy gains that the movement views as defeats, the Trump administration is going to spend political capital. They're going to strain political relations with their own allies, and you often see the impact play out over long periods of time. 
For example, in 2009, the Tea Party focused on stopping Obamacare. There were big rallies, disruptive town hall meetings, and in the short run, they lost. Obamacare was passed. But the Tea Party actually grew afterwards, and we're seeing a President who is really the Frankenstein monster of the Tea Party now. So yeah, protest matters, but not as quickly as the story mass media like to tell. 
And if you go into a bar and watch people drinking and watching a soccer game, you will see them cheering and yelling about a run down the side of the field that didn't lead to a score. But it did tire out the opposition, it did reveal weaknesses in positioning, and it set up another score, maybe 40 minutes later. European viewers have some sense of how that game works. Americans don't.
Score! Sports metaphors are wonderful for describing forward action; winners and losers; waiting and overtime; competition. This one goes further, and uses the progression of a game to describe the progression of protests and what follows them; to describe the effect of an action now and later; and uses opposing teams to compare with opposing parties or stances. So the metaphor works on many levels and allows those levels to be explained easily. Go and do likewise, communicators.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Denisenfamily)

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