The lobbying of the u.s english movement since 1983: a campaign via the media in quest of national unity
par Victoria Riposseau
Université de Nantes - Maitrise IRT Anglais 2010
First of all, the advertisements published by U.S ENGLISH can be considered as adverts of the problem-perspective category? because it provides a genuine concern with the worries and fears of public opinion (Vestergaard and Schroder 162). This technique is used to attract the viewer's attention: if the topic of the advertising affects the personal fears and desires of the audience, it is more likely that the receiver will feel involved and take the information presented in the document for granted. As we will see, more than just appealing to the fears of public opinion, U.S ENGLISH managed to create new ones through the use of media.
As we have seen previously, advertising plays on people's need for an identity and U.S ENGLISH has been using some of the symbols of the nation to reinforce their national identity. Another strategy used by U.S ENGLISH was to point at a supposed division within the American nation to show the unifying power of a national language and to gain support for their cause.
This strategy consisted in embezzling from its original use a symbol of the nation. As we have seen previously, U.S ENGLISH used the pledge of allegiance to the United States in two of their publications. In the monograph, they parodied it by adding a question mark at the end of a quotation of this pledge (Annex IV). This technique allowed them to question the indivisibility of the nation. By pointing at the potential disuniting of the nation due to the linguistic diversity, they manage to create fears of a national division. Similarly, when they choose to quote the pledge of allegiance in three different languages, they projected the image of a multilingual nation. As we have seen in part one, language tends to be associated with the commitment and the loyalty people feel for a country. By adding the rhetorical question Will it come to this?? underneath this picture, U.S ENGLISH tried to create fear in the viewer's mind (Annex XIX). They want their audience to believe that such a situation is possible. In the script of this advertisement, U.S ENGLISH answered their own question by saying we hope not. But it doesn't look good?. Projecting their audience in a hypothetical future allowed U.S ENGLISH to reinforce the idea that such a division was actually possible and on the verge of happening and that unity in the nation could only be achieved through national language legislation.
In those two documents, U.S ENGLISH choose to parody a symbol of national unity in order to create fears of a potential division. To a certain extent we can consider that they
have been revisiting this national symbol by embezzling it from its original symbolic function.
This analysis will now attempt to study the different publications published by the movement in the light of selected concepts of mass communication. First, it is necessary to consider how mass media works and how it exerts its influence. On this point, there are several theories but we will only consider two of them. The first theory that dates back from the beginning of the 1980s is called the silver bullet theory? (Devito 471). It holds that the mass media works like a bullet aiming at a target, the message sent being the bullet and the target penetrated by the bullet being the audience. It considers that receivers are passive and that whatever the message that is being sent, the receiver will absorb it. This concept has been strongly criticized as being inadequate and too simplistic. The second theory that needs to be explained is the multiple step theory?. This theory is more recent and involves a back-andforth process between public opinion and the media? (Devito 472-473). According to this theory, discussion with friends and family might lead to reconsidering our original beliefs about certain issues presented in the media, not the media itself. But it also holds that the media influences people's attitude towards certain issues by for instance emphasizing a certain aspect of an issue. So considered, one has to be cautious when accounting for the influence of those advertisements on public opinion.
In order to account for the potential effect advertisements could have on the receiver, one needs to explain the relationship between the media and reality. Some commentators like Joseph Devito considered that the media are not reality (Devito 467). For Devito, the media influences the social context and the social context influences the media. In other words, the media influences the personal reality of many people but it is also influenced by the reality it creates. So considered, U.S ENGLISH advertising campaign of late 1980s in which they have been projecting the United States as a crumbling nation can be interpreted as an attempt to convince people of the potential division that threatens the nation in the next few years (Annex VII). This advertisement is the perfect example of the hypothesis that advertising is not reality because it is unlikely that, at some point, some states like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida or California, could detach themselves from the rest of the country. In this advertisement, the social context clearly influenced the choice of the states that threaten to fall apart from the rest of the nation. They are the states with the highest percentage of non-English speakers. Similarly, those states all have a border with a foreign nation, except New York but it is the city where all the immigrants who traveled to the East coast have historically landed. One may expect this add to have an effect on the personal reality of the viewer. U.S
ENGLISH aimed at creating fears of a division based on both immigration and language-ability in the United States. It may also stimulate the desire the viewers have for a united nation and invite them to act before it is too late. The fact that this add is future-oriented tends to validate this hypothesis. To the question It can't happen here. (Or can it?)?, U.S ENGLISH answered: Yes, it can? (Annex VII). This advertisment is a good example of how the movement tried to creates division and fears while preaching unity.
Other commentators of communication studies claimed that advertisements are a true mirror of life, a sort of fossil history from which the future chronicler, if all other historical monuments were to be lost, might fully and graphically rewrite the history of our time?87. In other words, advertising would be a way to obtain clues about society at a given time. In the light of this concept of the relationship between the media and reality, their advertising campaign of 1989 can be analyzed as a picture? of its time (Annex IX). So considered, the use of a bilingual publication may attest to the linguistic diversity of the nation at that time. The choice of English and Spanish illustrates the linguistic situation of the country at that time as Spanish was and still is the second language spoken in the United States. Pointing to the real linguistic diversity of the country was a way to create division between English and Spanish speakers. In fact, as the aggressive title of this advertisement was written in English, it was almost impossible for the Spanish population to catch the meaning of this title: if you can't read this add, don't feel badly. Our children can't read this book?(Annex IX). Similarly, as the script of this advertisement was published in Spanish, it was impossible for the English speaking population to understand the topic of this advertisement. This technique was a way to both encourage the English-speaking viewer to preserve national unity through the enactment of official English legislation and to arouse his anger towards the foreign language speakers of the nation. If advertising pictures reality, the United States was portrayed as a bilingual country by the movement to make their audience realize the implications of bilingualism at a national level and encourage them to act against it by for instance rejecting foreign-language speakers. It is important to note that this add appeared as a neutral promotional material to Spanish speaking people and as a denunciation of the size of the Spanish-speaking community for English speakers. The division around the comprehension of this advertisement was another technique used by U.S ENGLISH to create division while preaching unity.
Another concept of the relationship the media has with reality can be found in The
87 POPE, Daniel. Making Sense of Advertisements?, from Making Sense of Evidence. History Matters: The U.S. Survey on the Web. Web. 7 Feb. 2010. p. 1.
Language of Advertising. It is explained that advertising is based on a subconscious desire for a better world?(Vestergaard and Schroder 124). For Verstergaard and Schroder, advertising implies dissatisfaction with the real world expressed through imaginary representations of the future as it might be. In this concept of the media, advertising is a way of picturing people as they may become, in a kind of reversed mirror, to show what people are not at the present? (Vestergaard and Schroder 127). This concept of the media is particularly true in their advertising campaign of the late 1980s studied previously. If we consider that U.S ENGLISH projected an image of a disunited nation as an imaginary projection of the future as it might become, we can consider that they point out at the fact that the nation is still united. This advertisement would then be the expression of their dissatisfaction with this situation. In fact, it is not to their advantage to present the nation as a unified body because they have been aiming at passing official language legislation on the grounds that only it was the only way to achieve national unity. Their strategy was to project a divided future in order to justify the enactment of the amendment they support as if the unity achieved without this official language legislation was fragile and needed to be strengthened.
Having explained the different communication strategies used by U.S ENGLISH to gain support for their cause, it is time to question the pro-immigration image of the organization.