Oftentimes, the best way to make an argument, teach a lesson, entertain a reader, or convince an audience of the rightness of your idea is to bring together two things that are dissimilar in content but integrally linked in theme, message, or meaning.
I call this “speaking with adjacency.”
The strategy is predicated on the power of surprise. I make my audience believe that I’m talking about one thing, but then I show them how I was actually talking about something entirely different and yet also exactly the same.
That cognitive snap from one subject to another is powerful. The surprise is wonderfully jarring, and the effect is to allow your audience to see an idea in an entirely new and profound way.
I often do the same thing when telling a story. I convince my audience that I’m telling an amusing or hilarious tale, then, just when their guard is completely down and their hearts are wide open, I snap them into the true, tragic reality that I was planning all along.
Elysha calls this my “laugh, laugh, cry” formula. Like speaking with adjacency, it’s predicated on the power of surprise.
Like speaking with adjacency, it’s a highly impactful way to tell a story.
This example, from Walk Hickey’s newsletter NumLock News, is a brilliant example of speaking with adjacency:
Every civilization, every culture, has the myth of the revenant, the dead thing that returns by one means or another to a state resembling the living. In ancient Norway they called them gjengangers, in China a jiāngshī, and a hajduk in Serbia would have called this undead thing a vampir. On every continent and in every history, mankind has had to muster a word for a thing that should be dead, must be dead, was in fact dead, but in violation of the laws that govern our human mortality returns to conclude unfinished business by whatever savage means they think necessary.
This, plainly, should terrify us.
No matter where you lived or where you came from, the idea of an animated corpse wearing the flesh of a loved one and undermining the social order and peace that we have built? These things exist, and they will greet you with the face of an old friend, and every nugget of folklore we know says that is what you must fear most.
That being said, yesterday MoviePass — a subscription service that collapsed totally after offering unsustainable unlimited movie screenings for $9.95 per month — announced it will return on September 5, with three subscription price tiers of $10, $20 and $30 per month.
See what Hickey does?
He teaches you something kind of astounding about zombies, only to then use that knowledge to poke fun at a company with a ridiculous business model that’s trying to revive itself yet again.
The sudden, cognitive snap from zombie to Movie Pass is fantastic. Surprising, memorable, and hilarious. The shift is tonal, temporal, content specific, and fantastic.
Bravo, Walt Hickey. A perfect example of speaking with adjacency.