The two texts we are going to look at here are Can violence be curbed by T. Morganthau from ‘Newsweek’ and A medium of no importance by I. McEwan from the ‘Observer’. Both articles deal with the problem of negative influence that TV is said to exert upon the society. It is plain at the very first glance that the opinions presented by the two authors are altogether unlike, so let us briefly see what do they actually say.
The Newsweek text is concerned with how television and movies promote violence, and what, if anything, government should do about it, in the context of recent (in November 1993, when the article was published) events. It reports several cases of apparently tragic impact of TV programmes on people, like the cases of young men who acted out a dangerous scene... seen in a film and were killed in result. However, it does not resolve the issue, wondering if there is a connection between crime-rate and violence in TV/movies, and asserting in a somehow cloudy way that ‘the link between entertainment and behavior (NB. American form is used) is as complex as the human mind’ in the conclusion. This is certainly a statement of author’s opinion, however not supported with any balanced evidence.
On the other hand, the measures taken or planned by the U.S. government (1-5, 100-106 etc.) and the entertainment industry (65-87, 106-107) to limit the negative impact of TV and movies upon people, and especially adolescents are reported, as well as particular possible solutions, such as the V-chip or legislation. On the whole, the article concludes that the Congress should rather try harder to protect society from the dangers of drugs and guns than concern itself with TV violence. However, this conclusion is, again, not well substantiated, but rather a statement of author’s opinion.
Meanwhile, the other article is devoted wholly to arguing that TV/video does not have an actually significant impact on the society. It offers a series of arguments that try to convince the reader to such an opinion, remaining on the level of general facts about TV and society rather than discussing particular events. The arguments show that TV turns out to be no great transformer of minds of society, because it does not actually reach the mind: our morals... remain intact. TV imparts nothing but itself, remains... ineffectual. The author concludes (104-123) with praising the qualities of books as contrasted to the little value he claims TV has.
Even from this concise browse through the texts one can see that the ways, in which the authors appeal to their readers are quite different. The first article is clearly intended to be an objective account of state of affairs, as it relates certain facts (e.g. the real-world tragedies, as Morganthau puts it, or Senate hearings) and data (e.g. on V-chip, 108-111, or statistics, 116) and quotes opinions of authorities, e.g. an attorney general, president of CBS and so forth. Meanwhile, the other article does not pretend to be objective, but is an open presentation of McEwan’s opinions. The arguments are not supported by scientific or statistical data, but rather appeal to common sense, or simply personal judgement (e.g. 63-74, the argument appealing to common-sense assumption that if one watches a lot, he tends not to concentrate on it, hence is not influenced: seems sensible, but is not based on psychological research). This can be seen in the language as well: while Can violence... is written in a balanced way, A medium... often refrains to extreme adjectives, qualifying issues with strong, subjective evaluation, e.g. television will never have impact..., only those..., television does not affect much at all... etc., or the use of numerous adjectives in the final paragraph. Generally, it can be said that the first text uses language in an informative, and the second in a phatic function.
However, apparently there is one exception from this, as Morganthau does express a subjective opinion on the issue – when he suggests what the Congress should do in the concluding paragraph, which does not follow as a conclusion from the objective information ha gave above. This non sequitur is a subjective phatic element, as is irony in the initial paragraph (So what if the committee chairman... haplessly converted ‘Beavis and Butt-head’... etc.). If one wanted to explain this, one might say it is a typical expression of political attitude that remains disjoined from whatever the facts say.
From this it can be seen that the language of both texts is not formal. However, they do keep with general standards of sophisticated language and cannot be described as entirely informal, which is proven by the very structure of the articles (introductory paragraph, arguments/information, conclusion) and sophisticated expressions (entertainment industry, contention, networks are conspicuously in retreat etc. in the first, or transformer of minds, meaningful states, further neutralised, impact on civilisation in the other article). Yet the ‘Observer’ text seems more sophisticated in terms of style, exhibiting excellent variety and volubility of vocabulary, which the author clearly introduces as an instrument of increasing the impressiveness of the text, e.g.: the book – this little hinged thing – is cheap, portable, virtually unbreakable, endlessly reusable... can be stored indefinitely without much deterioration, is less amenable to censorship and centralised control... or: vicious, shallow, acquisitive, less responsible and generally sloppy... The latter instance illustrates how he uses colloquial phrases as well as sophisticated ones to make the text more readable, while keeping the message concise; this technique can be seen especially in examples concerning children, e.g.: grown-ups are monstrous hypocrites..., telly-addiction, playground violence.
Therefore, it can be said that the style given by McEwans is more fluent and impressive, this being appropriate to the subjective and phatic nature of the text; meanwhile, Morganthau is rather plain (though he does use some irony, as shown above, and a positively sophisticated language), and pretends to be objective, as the main body of his article is informative and as such indeed objective, yet he does give a subjective (and perhaps not impartial) conclusion. Thus the first text can be treated as a presentation of certain information, accompanied by a subjective claim (on what Senate should do), while the second one is a subjective interpretation of the issue, accompanied by personal remarks (e.g. on supremacy of books).