Of Lemmings, Pedants, And Dem’s Inability To Message Well

When I was a kid, there was a very famous The Far Side comic that featured a bunch of lemmings diving off the cliff to their doom, but one of ‘em was wearing a life preserver. It is easy to find on the web, but the copyright belongs to someone and I don’t want to steal their work.

You probably know the one I mean, it was that famous.

I mention this because of a quip we included in our post wrapping up the recent State of the Union address from a Republican pundit who was telling us about how President Handsome Joe Biden boxed in the Republicans on one of their signature issues of getting rid of Social Security and Medicare:

I’ve never seen anything like it in a State of the Union speech – they ran at him like a pack of lemmings and, with a wink and a grin, he politely directed them to the cliff.

It’s a wonderful example of good messaging: it tells a story, it is memorable, and the metaphor of leaping lemmings is a cultural touchstone. (You already pictured The Far Side comic, now didn’t you?) It has the quality of Truthiness. Sure, it’s a cliché and a trope, but it is deeply embedded in the culture. The message is reinforced because the story hits upon a familiar image. It is also quick and to the point, and eminently repeatable.

I bring this up because over at another blog that I admire very much (no link for obvious reasons), a commenter went into full pedant-mode and focused on how lemmings don’t actually do this, that it was a cruel and deadly stunt that Disney pulled in the 1950s, blah-blah-blah. They missed the point entirely that Joe Biden got the Republicans to run off a rhetorical cliff; the pedant only wanted everyone else to know that they are the smartest person in the comments for knowing the history of the Disney stunt. No one benefited from this, you know, other than the pedant. Much to the blog owner’s credit, they said to the pedant to lighten up.

And this is why we on the left have such a hard time messaging. We miss taking an easy rhetorical win because we are so concerned with being 100% correct about even the most unimportant details. Is it important to know lemmings don’t actually do this behavior? Sure, if you are writing a report on lemmings. But it is like arguing that the Wolf could never realistically impersonate Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother.

When the Left take the pedant’s route (and we nearly always do), we lose out on the majesty of the metaphor and the larger societal truths they tell us; while the Right tells memorable stories that ring true to the minds of Possum Hollar, we present graphs and charts that instantly put us to sleep. No one outside of Academics ever got compliments on the quality of their footnotes, and to my certain knowledge no one got compliments on Powerpoint slide #97’s Gantt chart.

You want better messaging, then tell better stories. Don’t attack our own side because lemmings don’t run off cliffs.

This entry was posted in blogging, Great Messaging. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Of Lemmings, Pedants, And Dem’s Inability To Message Well

  1. heydave says:

    No shit!

    Sing it !!!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. vertalio says:

    It’s a magazine, not a cliff.


  3. E.A. Blair says:

    Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story that explained the lemming migrations. I do not remember the title, but it involved alien intelligences that visited Earth in the distant past (I think it was shortly after the giant meteor dinosaur extinction) and got stranded. They infused their consciousness into the most advanced creatures avaiable and instilled upon them a drive to rendezvous at a location where their ship crashed for a retrieval that never came. After eons of evolution, these critters became lemmings, and they still had that compulsion to return to that pickup point, even though it was somewhere off the end of a cliff…

    I guess Mr. Clarke was taken in by that Disney trope as well.


    • Redhand says:

      I’m old enough that I saw the lemmings scene in the Disney movie when it came out. I guess it was a measure of our 1950s societal naivete that America was shocked Walt would pull such shit.

      The thing that really disillusioned me was one of the TV promos on “Wonderful World of Disney” (or whatever the Sunday evening show was called back then) talking up the movie and boasting about how the “naturalists” on Disney’s staff were going all out to show us how it really was in the wild. Science! Nature! coming soon, right to our local theater!


  4. gruaud says:



  5. Spocko says:

    Check out how AOC tells the story of what the RW did to get the Hunter Biden laptop injected into Twitter. And how they are doing it again.
    This is how you use a story AGAINST THEM.



  6. Spocko says:

    You know those “weaponize governmentc hearings? AOC and Jamie Raskin are using them to tell stories of how Trump & his WH were the ones weaponizing the DOJ. Good stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Dave G says:

    “But it is like arguing that the Wolf could never realistically impersonate Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother.”

    Or that he could huff and puff and blow a house, regardless of the building materials.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. MDavis says:

    I have seen a memorable instance of complimentary footnotes. Even that was a mixed bag – some people hated them.
    The book?
    The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
    (I got the letter)
    I think the only other person who could pull off readable footnotes was Sir Terry Pratchett.
    All others should just learn to tell the story. It’s difficult at first, but it can be done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ten Bears says:

    I don’t exactly remember the context, but I’ve long found the teevee commercial with a bunch of Buckaroos (cowboys) a’horseback herding cats the more appropriate metaphor but, yeah, lemmings (and The Far Side) are a cultural touchstone that spans not just populations but generations.

    I want to be the one who turns it back in their faces, but if they turn it back in their own faces I’m cool with that. It’s back in their faces …

    Liked by 2 people

  10. To steal from another current social media trope: “This is the way”

    (And to be ‘that pedant’ because I am incurable that way 8-P no lemmings are jumping off a cliff in that Far Side cartoon –shameful admission, despite probably having the entire Far Side run in book form, I didn’t remember this one, and so had to look it up–

    They’re running down a hill into the water. )


    • tengrain says:

      I looked it up, too. I attended a talk given by Gary Larson back when he was still drawing the comic, and he is actually quite an accomplished herpetologist, and I think would be loath to promote the myth that they actually did commit suicide, so it’s an even more clever comic than I thought.

      We regret the error.




    • MDavis says:

      Hubby had a jobs counselor named Gary Larson who had a framed Gary Larson cartoon of that kid pushing with all his might on the genius school door – with PULL prominently posted.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.