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Tannen`s Assertion

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Deborah Tannen (1998) in her essay is expressing her doubts about the usefulness of the argumentative approach favored in America. In her view, “the ritual nature of much of the opposition that pervades our public dialogue” can be disruptive, turning any public dialogue into a vehement crash instead of search for compromise and conciliation.

Indeed, a simple search through mass media returns a host of materials that speak of public debates in terms of “battles” and “duels”. Thus, Peter Slevin (2006) in the same newspaper in which Mrs. Tannen so disparagingly talked about the trend to fight, mentioning “a battle … intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life”. The Atlantic Online carries a feature about battle over the bilingual education at www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/bilingual.htm. speaking of duels, Denver Post uses the word to describe the public controversy over the destiny of the teacher who compared George Bush to Adolf Hilter in one of his classroom speeches (Sanchez, Nicholson, 2005).

These are certainly no joking matters, but it appears as if the media themselves are fuelling the fire, trying to ignite the public opinion even further. It may be true that “fights” of all kinds make a more exciting story to the public than descriptions of various conciliatory procedures. However, Tannen may have a point when she insists that such one-sidedness in exposure creates an ineffective approach to problems.

The same can be applied to talk shows on TV and perhaps even radio debates. The most notorious example is Jerry Springer Show where guests, whether real or fake, are instigated into heated debate that often ends with violence. Fights, often quite literal in this case, serve distinctly the purpose of amusing the audience. The trend is the same as mentioned in Tannen’s article – confronting individuals head-on to solve their problems in relationships in the form of an open conflict instead of pacification and counselling.

Thus, Deborah Tannen has effectively spotted a pervasive trend in modern media. This tendency to overstate the conflict and downplay consensus contributes to the public’s inclination to solve matters through heated debates in which two sides attack each other liker boxers.

Review of the Argument:

In my belief, the thesis in the first paragraph can be strengthened. Thus, one can connect it more effectively with mass media as cause of the tendency to attack each other in arguments. The range of examples can be broader. Accidentally, most of my examples focus on schools. This is a pure accident, but perhaps adding examples on other topics can indicate the trend more clearly.

Finally, the example of Jerry Springer’s show in the last paragraph can also be complemented with another example from radio/TV shows. One can use a more recent example or one that relates to the political or social sphere where people really debate on topical issues.


Sanchez, S. & Nicholson, K. (2006, March 16). Bennish to teach again: Punishment not revealed; teacher returns Monday. Denver Post. Retrieved March 16, 2006, from http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_3589992

Slevin, P. (2006, March 10). “Battle on Teaching Evolution Sharpens.” Washington Post, A01.  Retrieved March 16, 2006, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A32444-2005Mar13.html

Tannen, D. (1998, March 15). For Argument’s Sake; Why Do We Feel Compelled to Fight About Everything? The Washington Post.  Retrieved March 16, 2006, from http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/argsake.htm

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