Reacting to what is not there

Over and over again, you see people reacting to a title or a cartoon, and getting it wrong because they have not read the article under the title or that the cartoon illustrates. I've done it myself on occasion, to my chagrin, and am seeing it fairly often at Friend Feed, where only the title of an article is shown and a discussion develops underneath it – not, it has to be said, in the book-associated rooms I am in, but in some of the others. I assume one is meant to read the linked article before commenting, but others don't share my assumption and get het up about an article that is itself getting het up about exactly the same thing, and so on. The Internet is not exactly renowned for self-control and reflection before expounding.

Michael Hann at the Guardian makes fun of himself in this regard, in an article about how surprised he was to find that Clint Eastwood's latest film, Gran Torino, is not in fact a mature, reflective elegy about a grandmother in Turin, but instead tells of a crotchety old racist and a car. He goes on to describe some other films that weren't what he expected based on their titles, for example Kiss of the Spider Woman, and invites readers to nominate their own choices. There are quite a few funny responses which don't answer the question asked, but of the on-topic ones my favourites are the person disappointed that Miami Vice wasn't about woodworking and those who thought Wizard of Oz was a biopic of Don Bradman. (Tell that to Sean Connery.)

This topic isn't always amusing, of course. In the past couple of days I have seen several prominent blogs attack a cartoon in the New York Post that appeared to be a racist, violent attack on Barack Obama. (I won't reproduce or link to the cartoon here, but it should not be hard to find if you haven't seen it and are inclined to do so.) It has taken Scott Adams, veteran of more Dilbert cartoons than you and I have had Fried Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, to explain the difference between what is really there, and what it "remindsmeof".