On Context

Context, the events setting; the circumstances in which an event occurs; the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage that determines its meaning (The Free Dictionary)

Context is an interesting word as it conveys the situation in which the text/statement occurred. I think of context as the setting where the content interacts with the observer.

I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I realize that many use its text out of context, thus aiding to a misinterpretation by many. Whether it’s the verses preceding and following, or the understanding of the writers intent and the situation at the time, all of this is part of context. I also imagine this is also true across texts of other religions besides Christianity.

In the image to the right, do you initially see the old lady or the young lady? Whichever, can you see the other? Would you have even considered the other if I didn’t mention it? Besides context, the observer’s perception influences their context of an event. A person sometimes is so influenced by what they initial observe, they fail to open their mind for other observations. Besides the surrounding context, the initial perception and subsequent interpretation influences a personal point of view.

The observer also brings their own experiences and biases to the interpretation table. The news media is simply one example. With all the talk about media bias, how many of us have a preferred media source based on their delivery of the information we want to hear? In other words, we tend to assemble information into a favorable and similar explanation (and presumably agreeable) over the complex, unfamiliar, and disagreeable.

All this brings me to the current election season. Politicians make statements, and each has a particular context. Good reporters will also set the context of that statement, yet with the proliferation in electronic media, I wonder how many fail to set the context or rely on their own perceptions and biases to set a context favoring their position?

So that leaves the observers – the ones who need to judge the statement based on the context – but can the observer make a judgment without (or at least limiting) their bias?

In the recent Florida primary, reports indicate that over 90% of the political ads were negative. Given the current political climate and role of Super PAC money, in the days ahead the parties, the candidates, and the supportive minions will inundate Americans with statements taken out of context and planted in the incorrect context, thus deliver false information in order to gain votes.

While the majority of voters will judge the information on their individual perceptions and biases, including their own sense of right and wrong, who will do the research to sort through the piles of crap? Better yet, if found, who will listen?

PS: Associated past posts applicable to this topic”

38 thoughts on “On Context

  1. Unfortunately, too many political people style their statements for the Sound Bite.
    As far as observers, many papers do a Fact Check column. The problem there is that I think many observers stick to media that parrot their point of view, limiting exposure to other viewpoints.


    • Guapo,
      Not only style for the sound bite, but also using the sound bite from others without context – thus probably out of context! Two FYIs for you.

      1) In the Categories > Resources in the sidebar, I list two Fact Checks.

      2) If you are interested, I just added (at the bottom) two of my 2009 posts dealing with this subject.

      Thanks for commenting .. and enjoy the concert.


  2. No one will do the research except maybe you. Some of us will listen, but not the whole bunch. In my time I have seen Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, W, and Obama all break their promises. I no longer know what either party stands for. I think they have left me behind in their smoke screens, and my eyes burn. Context is very important. I can see both in your picture, but it took a while.


  3. That’s where the news used to come in.. but news programs as we know them are GONE. People can say what they want.. but everyone has an agenda. I just want a news program that will state the facts, no BS, that’s it. It used to be that way back in Peter Jennings day (NYC programming news anchor). I just want facts. And other people should too. I get tired of seeing stupid people go along with rhetoric. They just look stupid.. I’m sorry frank.. I ranted. I digress


    • Kay,
      Wow … you have another side! 🙂 … LOL … I couldn’t resist because you are a very positive person. Yet, with all the information we have at our disposal today, sifting through it is both difficult and important. Meanwhile, the network news is a story in itself as they give a lot of short information, but not much depth. BTW, I’ve added two past posts for more information. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


      • Lol.. I am a very positive person, but I think we all get tired of BS once in a while. I like for someone to be straight up with me. I’m not a whimp. Tell me the truth and then let me decide. When you start lying.. I don’t want to hear anything out of your mouth.. politician or not. I just think some politicians, news companies, movie industries, etc. think the public is dumb. And some people out there are and then there’s the rest of us 🙂


  4. Good post. I think “fair and balanced” reporting is difficult. Just as you illustrated with the illusion photo, things can be seen two ways. An editor has to decide which vision is the “fair” one.
    Which brings us to using our brains to decipher what our reality is. You are one of the (hopefully) many who use his brain to analyze the media, listen to many sources and come up with the facts.


    • Les,
      Oh how I enjoy the “fair and balanced” phrase, but I won’t go there. 🙂 Although many complain about media bias, I wonder if that’s more due to the listener not getting the information they want to hear/see. Actually, the candidates using sound bites in their ads that are actually out of context is what sparked this post. Meanwhile, if you are interested, I just added (at the bottom) two of my 2009 posts dealing with this subject. Thanks for commenting.


  5. It’s odd isn’t it? On the one hand our access to information is easier than ever, and we have access to a wide variety of sources. At the same time, we (as a nation) appear content with superficial, shallow media coverage for news and political events. And it is true for Biblical interpretation also.
    But it is too late at night to be so cynical. So I’ll be grateful for blogs like this one- and the commentors- who are willing to think and civilly discuss. NIce to find oases of thoughtfulness and civility.


    • Nancy,
      Very odd indeed. Interestingly, the using of context in political ads is what sparked this post … (and oh how your state and mine are being subject to at the moment). BTW, if you are interested, I just added (at the bottom) two of my 2009 posts dealing with this subject. Nonetheless, thanks for the kind words and for commenting.


  6. Hi,
    Our media here in OZ isn’t much better. Some papers just print what the Government has said word for word, no questions asked. I read the article and within minutes have a whole range of questions. I like to read newspapers from both sides of the road so to speak, but Journalism is not what it used to be that is for sure.


    • Mags,
      Yesterday I heard an interesting interview where several interesting points were made as the following:
      – Today’s media is about being fast
      – Investigative reporting isn’t done very much
      – Many media in metro areas no longer have regional reporters
      – Many media in metro areas no longer cover local representatives in Washington
      – Many media no longer cover state government

      Yet, here were are in the information age having to shift through mounds of materials in an attempt to find answers to questions as you mentioned. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  7. Your entry asks the question of where one can go on TV news these days to “just get the facts” without “out of context” distortions. The NBC, ABC, and CBS evening news shows have long been branded by the right wing as pushing a left wing agenda, with cable news networks MSNBC and CNN more so. The PBS NewsHour is my favorite, but the rap against them is that they push a “world view” which deemphasizes U.S. leadership. I read the other day where some Tea Party folks are upset with right leaning Fox News because of a perceived shift toward the center, demonstrated by their firing of Glenn Beck, and a recent rash of more open-minded opinions by Bill O’Reilly. My answer is to keep in touch with all the TV sources (to see what they’re up to), but depend on my reading (which includes your blog) to define both the facts and the context.


    • Tim,
      Thanks for your tips on following the news. I also know you read a variety of sources to stay informed. Regarding Fox News, they get very little of my time. Meanwhile, candidates in their commercials and speakers continually use out-of-context quotes – thus part of the problem. Oh well … live goes on. Thanks for sharing.


  8. When running for office, they only tell you what you want to hear, but not the true thing(s) they really should be saying: we should be working out the problems together, not bashing, and cooked up lies…

    If he/she is a great BS artist, then they will make great politicians…


    • Don,
      Not only telling us want we want to hear, but also purposely misrepresenting the opponent to meet the same need – all for the sake of having power and representing a party, which to me is quite sad. Thanks for commenting.


  9. fox news calling themselves “fair and balanced” should have a copyright trademark symbol after it. that label is no more genuine than michael jackson calling himself “the king of pop” or the rolling stones calling themselves “the world’s greatest rock n roll band.”

    as for context: headline two weeks ago was, “romney doesn’t care about the poor.” a closer examination showed that what he actually said was that he wasn’t as worried about the lower and upper classes as we was about the middle class. he said that the upper class can obviously take care of themselves and the lower class has a “safety net” in unemployment and welfare. so the middle class was his main concern. whether or not he really feels that way is a separate debate, but it was annoying how the press pounced on the chance to say “romney doesn’t care about the poor.”

    also, about that picture, it’s kind of unfair. the “pretty” face is facing away. you really can only see the back of her jaw and one cheekbone. i’ve never liked that example. also, the white head covering is so dominant in the picture that it commands your eye away from that prettier face.


    • RMV,
      Good example regarding Romney – although I heard it live, and went “huh?”, but also tried to work in the context of is entire statement. Nonetheless, if he gets the nomination, I wonder how many times we will see/hear the key portion of that sound bite – which is my point – because candidates will use sound bites of opponents totally out of context.

      In terms of the picture, let’s not forget that some people see the young lady first AND have trouble see the older lady – thus no only does the initial perspective matter, but also the other – especially once realized.Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.


  10. In my opinion people most people are unwilling to be open minded switch around to other TV NEWS sources (regardless if you are left winger or right winger or moderate) They judge the content before ever having watched the NEWS channels for any amount of time. They make assumptions about the content. Not very smart….


  11. Hi Frank,

    First, I saw the old first and only with concentration can I see the young.

    Great posts…all three.

    For me, the context dilemma of political jargon is a lot like the infinity of two mirrors facing each other. Where a sound bite begins in context is impossible to establish when it is used against the speaker. Clever negative campaigns make me look at the television with a cocked head, like a dog hearing an odd sound for the first time. When I quickly establish that I can make no sense of it, I turn tail and run and justify my unwillingness to participate. Like a previous comment indicated, I simply want facts. Unfortunately, it seems many people don’t care about facts as much as finding someone to agree with them, like Fox or any other network. Yes bias in inherent in the speaker and the listener. Using deception as a tool creates and builds on existing bias. I’d rather watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island…it makes more sense to me.
    (Not to say it isn’t fun to use media “facts” to ruffle the feathers of some right-wing poker players I know-thanks for the ammo! They do get riled up!)



    • John,
      Glad you saw this, after all, I try to give you some thoughts for those gatherings (but I’m not saying that you need my help!). Love your dad with the cocked head description because I can relate. Thanks for visiting and for sharing. … and good luck at the next game.


  12. I work as a Political Advocacy (basically a hired gun) currently working for a local campaign here in Texas. I spend a great deal of time talking with, polling, interviewing voters concerning which issues are, in their opinion, most important. During these interviews I’m amazed by some of what I hear. People, in general, are uniformed, worried about losing their jobs, and too concerned with making their home and car payments and sending their kids to a good school to care about much else. A lot admit that when they get to the polls they will vote on name recognition. The more press time someone gets, be it good or bad, the more likely the name will stick in their heads. They don’t have the time to investigate any further than the nightly news. Of course, this is generalized statement …and a local election so things could be very different on the national level. I think we all have these preconceived notions of politicians in our minds….and we go out seeking news which will reconfirm what we’re thinking.


    • Alex,
      With that in mind, if the nightly news is there only source, well, that is better than no source. Then again, they are also prime bait (and unfortunately so) for the out-of-context ads used against opponents. Nonetheless, good info here – Thanks for sharing your experiences with people regarding this topic!!!


  13. In today’s minute-by-minute world, I don’t feel you CAN find a neutral TV site. Heck, I don’t even trust BBC’s reporting about our politics, and they’re my main news source.
    The key, in my opinion, is to read – a lost art these days. That’s why I keep the BBC, ABC (Australia’s, not ours), CBC, Deutsche-Welle, and about a dozen others bookmarked, so I can cross-check the news – or BS. Especially the sites that aren’t that friendly with us, like the Buenos Aires Herald (a great source for breaking news – don’t ask me why) and Russia Today.
    And of course, as has been repeatedly stated, you have to know your own biases. That’s where the schizophrenia helps – one voice keeps track of the next one, and so on around the horn. At least I think it does – I lost count of the self fact-checkers around 200 or so…..


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