I raced in from the mailbox with my latest Netflix delivery in hand, and eagerly tore it open like a greedy child on Christmas day. I was slightly let down to find The Sum of All Fears in the tantalizing red envelope, though I’m sure I have only myself to blame for its getting there. The plot is actually pretty good. From the back of the label: “Why are three missing Russian nuclear scientists holed up in the Ukraine, communicating with neo-Nazis? CIA agent Jack Ryan (Affleck) digs up more information than the U.S. government is willing to accept. As bombs kill thousands in Chechnya and the U.S., Ryan races against time to prevent all-out nuclear war.
Based on the novel by Tom Clancy, this high-intensity technothriller co-stars Morgan Freeman.” The reason for my let-down was that I’d already seen it, years ago, and it remains fresh in my mind because of the part where kindly old Farmer Hoggett (Babe) says the F-word. I just don’t like to watch the same thing over again. It’s like walking in circles. No progress.
Anyway, the first thing I wondered, even before whether to watch The Sum of All Fears or three episodes of Glee, was why everyone insists on calling it The Ukraine. They don’t even have the word “the” in Ukraine, I realized, as I thought back to the summer of 2002 when I found myself crossing the Urals on the Trans-Siberian Railway (the same summer that I watched The Sum of All Fears, in fact) and brushing up on my Russian so I could order a Schwarma from the Armenians when I got off the train.
Then I realized it must have been the Cold War. What better way to thumb our noses at the Reds than by calling their recently-annexed (1921) territory something they didn’t even have the vocabulary to say! How it must have chapped Krushchev’s hide to hear Ike repeating “the, the, the” about his dear breadbasket colony in those humorous diplomatic meetings!
We see this sort of thing all the time in business. In hostile negotiations, a great way to gain the upper hand is to use the other person’s name repeatedly, as we’re taught in business communications classes, but to get it slightly wrong. Like saying Jim for someone who frequently expresses his desire to be called James. Politicians do this to their opponents’ sound bites and catch phrases, like in the 2008 vice presidential debates when Joe Biden said “drill, drill, drill”, and Sarah Palin had to tell him that it was actually “drill, baby, drill!” and wound up completely losing her train of thought (though this theory, of course, doesn’t explain all the other times her train of thought was completely derailed…). You’ll recall how Jim Rome rose to fame by insisting on calling his guest “Chris Elliot” and wound up being assaulted in front of millions of amused viewers who responded by dousing him in advertising dollars! I recently got word from a friend in the industry that Pepsi is rolling out a new campaign where they “put a lid on that crappiness and crack open a Pepsi!”
Getting things just slightly wrong is a fun way to fluster your opponents, belittle their concepts and rally the mischievous rabble to your side. I hope we can all do more of it in the future. By “we”, of course, I mean we, and not those pesky Reds.