Media on media, and the history of emotion 

Here at the Independent, we spend most of our time working in a wan Macintosh glow, our fingers numb and shaking from exhaustion and too much Costco brand coffee.

But occasionally, some of us tool around the Internet, which is where we found Salon magazine. This swank online publication is, its editor says, intended to remind readers of “great dinner parties,” where one has met a virtual busload of intriguing people and participated in a dizzying array of stimulating conversations.

And as we’ve mentioned before, Salon also tracks and comments on stories printed in the nation’s alternative weeklies. The Independent first appeared on writer Jenn Shreve’s radar in July, when she plugged our cover story on Ernest Hemingway’s son Patrick, calling it “fascinating” and “titillating for book nerds.” This time around, her sights fell on Sarah Schmid’s article on Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection, published in our Sept. 16-Sept. 23 issue.

“If the GOP hadn’t abandoned environmental preservation in favor of corporate autonomy, there would be nothing interesting about Marks,” Shreve writes. “But she is not the norm among her right-wing ilk. Hence this no-frills profile, illustrating as clearly as any legislative act, and with more panache, that Republicans as a whole favor money in their coffers over trees.”

Wow. That almost makes up for the profanity-laced phone calls and street-side hand gestures that the Indy editorial staff usually experiences.

•••

There once was a Byzantian emperor named Basil—better known to historians as Basil II Bulgaroctonus, or “Basil the Bulgar-Slayer.” After crushing the forces of Bulgarian tsar Samuel in 1014, Basil divided 15,000 enemy prisoners into columns of 100 and blinded 99 of them, leaving the hundredth man with one eye to lead each column back home. Upon seeing his mutilated army stagger through the gates of the city, Tsar Samuel collapsed with grief and died two days later.

Now, that wasn’t a very nice thing for Basil to do, was it? How might history have turned out differently if he had taken a few minutes to control his emotions? In her new book, Communicating Emotion: Social, Moral and Cultural Processes, UM communication studies professor Sally Planalp suggests that emotions are neither amoral nor morally correct in themselves; instead, they often serve as indicators of what we feel are moral violations. Something was obviously bothering Basil for him to act out so severely, so let’s ask Professor Planalp what Basil should have done differently.

“That was back when people used to rely more on direct revenge,” Planalp says. “Now we appeal to the law, because revenge is such a nasty business.”

Planalp explains that, when angry emotions like Basil’s aren’t properly communicated, a vicious cycle can develop. “People who are offended and want to take revenge tend to overestimate how badly they’ve been hurt. And the people who do the hurting tend to underestimate the damage.”

Basil II Bulgaroctonus could not be reached for comment.

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