On June 10, 2009 Senator Voinovich (R-Ohio) gave a presentation to the Senate about our fiscal budget problem. To underscore just how much money the government is spending he used pacman as a visual metaphor. Below is a snippet pulled from Politico.com (at the end of this article is the full speech pulled from cspan’s site)
While the deficit is a serious issue, this choice of visual metaphor is funny on so many levels.
- We have an older and respected senator relying on younger (oriented) and comical video imagery
- The metaphor is mixed up. Eating the dots is a GOOD thing, yet he’s using it as a bad thing.
- More mixed up: Pacman is used as a pie-chart… the more the mouth is closed the bigger he is yet the less he eats. And the less threatening he looks.
- Pie can’t grow beyond 100%. This is a chart showing debt as a fraction of GDP. It is entirely possible for this to grow beyond 100%, yet pac-man’s mouth can’t get any more closed than 100%. (a problem Voinovich stumbles across in an earlier presentation using the same charts.)
Why do our congressional representatives rely on such goofy imagery? I believe deep down inside they are very uncomfortable with math. Most senators are lawyers, not engineers or scientists. Senator Voinovich himself is an attorney. I believe they are very uncomfortable in communicating numerical information to the public. That may explain why they do it poorly, but why pacman? Well, perhaps if you can’t convey useful information about numbers you can at least convey the emotion you want your viewers to feel. Get the sense of dread that your budget eating pacman is about to be eaten by the ghosts? In the video game it always caused my heart to race as the ghosts got close to me, but in this context? What part of the deficit do the ghosts represent again?
For those interested inVoinovich’s full speech, here it is courtesy of Cspan’s site:
(Note he switches to a different topic at the very end of this clip.)