Monday, November 3, 2008

Dr 90210: Selective Perception

Selective Perception used to be a thing that got a lot of classroom discussion time in advertising classes. I don't know if it still does, and other than sending people off to the dictionary to look up the term itself, as well as its components separately, if needed, I don't really know a good way to explain it other than by giving an example, so Robert Rey's fans will please forgive me if - and note that I stress the if - they feel that it could be interpreted as casting him in a less positive light. It is only coincidence that the anecdote has anything to do with him at all.

He frequently makes a point of talking about the terrible poverty of his early life in Brazil, and if anyone has been to Brazil, you will know that there is indeed extreme poverty there, in fact Brazil is often cited as an object lesson in why some people are not enthusiastic about the transition of certain other countries to the "two-class" system.

Anyway, Rey has spoken extensively about the horrific conditions in which he lived, being obliged to sleep on a table, belonging to a "gang" of child thieves who stole candy to keep themselves alive, the squalid dump of a school, until one day when he is about eleven or so, his father gave him away to some missionaries from Utah, and they brought him back to Utah, where he went to school, learned English, etc.

So one day we have this episode where he goes back to Brazil, he's going to reconcile with his father, who is now old and sick, and supposedly filled with remorse for his part in making Rey's early life such a living hell, and Rey feels sorry for him, old and sick in all that terrible squalor and poverty, it's his father, after all.

Well, I'm sitting there, watching. I'm expecting Rey to take us to a lean-to in a favela, you know?

So imagine my surprise when we see the school, and it is pretty basic, but far from squalid, and then we get to the house - and it is not a favela shack, but a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and then - his dad speaks English with the accent of the Northeastern US! Dad was either born, or raised for most of his life in the US, or he is some kind of linguistic savant.

Now obviously, none of this means that his father did not do all kinds of awful things, maybe he did not provide for his children, maybe he did give little Rey away to "missionaries."

I always thought it was a little odd that Rey does not pronounce Portuguese words or phrases (the few we ever hear him utter) like someone whose first language was Portuguese. Usually, even if kids don't ever hear that first language, they will still retain some pronunciation basics, even if they are removed from that language long before eleven.

But the way people learn and remember languages is all over the place, and you could certainly argue that if his dad didn't take care of him, he probably didn't speak English to him either, so I guess that it would be theoretically possible for him to have had an English-speaking father, even a native speaker, who never used it, and that his own language skills might be so sketchy that even though he spoke only Portuguese until he was eleven, since he would have heard little if any of it in Utah, that his neural pathways could have paved over so hard that even his vowel sounds in that language today - oh, well.

What cannot be argued away is that neither the school nor Rey, Sr's home were squalid nor poverty-stricken. I have seen FAR "worse" homes - and worse schools in other places, including the US. In fact, in the US, the home where we found Rey, Sr would be considered at worst, solidly middle class. And again, those familiar with Latin America will recognize that people there who live in terrible poverty do not typically do so in homes that would be considered middle class in the US.

Now what you would expect from the fans of Rey, at least what I expected, were arguments that maybe Dad had made good during the intervening years, maybe there was some mix-up and that wasn't the favela shack, maybe the school had received some major remodeling and renovation grants.

But what really impressed me about the whole Rey back to Brazil episode was that Rey stood in the basic but clean little school and waved his arms and talked about how awful it was!

He made similar comments about the nice quiet street, etc.

And lo and behold, all over the internets the next day were people going on about how difficult it must have been for Rey to have to see his father living in such terrible squalid poverty!

Now I did not say all that out of a desire to start up a storm of Rey-bashing. It would be impolite to his fans, who have very strong and very real feelings about him, and I would certainly not want the Reyista vigilantes to come over here and bother Our Serene Management, who are also our Serene Benefactors and our hosts.

My point is not really even Rey-related, although the anecdote I am using to illustrate it does involve him.

My point is that if someone holds up a picture of a girl with messy hair, and says "What a neat, pulled-together hairstyle!" or even holds up a picture of a blue car and says "What a bright red car!" not everyone who sees the pictures will agree whether the hairstyle was messy.

And not everyone who saw the pictures will agree about what color the car was.

Just one of those Funny Things We Humans Do, that can sometimes make some people go "Hmmm."

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