Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Redskins argument: who is involved in this discussion?


Since we recently discussed a similar topic, I thought I would post this article. However, it wasn't the argument that I found interesting here. Instead, I found it interesting who had a voice, especially in this article. You'll note that nothing referring to race occurs in the article until towards the end, and then it is through a quote. The quote is from John Banzhaf, the George Washington law professor, who filed the petition with FCC, claiming that the name Redskins violates federal rules that disallows "indecent content"--whatever that really means, the article doesn't define it for us. John Banzhaf is not really new to media attention apparently. I did some brief research, and apparently he is a big anti-smoking activist, as well as activism towards healthier eating (e.g., attacking fast food corporations). As far as I can tell he has not had a great interest in Native American activism before, nor does he seem to be a Native American. However, he is the predominant voice that is speaking for Native Americans in this situation.

The other players are the FCC, who are currently "reviewing the filing," and the Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who refuses to changes the name of the team.

The FCC seems to be playing a weird mediator, with Banzhaf and Synder on both sides of the argument. So where are the voices of the Native Americans that are being oppressed? This is all that the article says, "American Indians argue that the term is an ethnic slur and is deeply offensive." We aren't given any more information about who this group of American Indians are or what they think of Banzhaf's petition.

In other words, I find it very strange that there is only one sentence in this whole article that tells us what Native Americans supposedly think. Shouldn't they have more of a voice in this debate since they are the ones being oppressed by the name?

"Through" these hegemonic eyes...

I tried to italicize "through," so you'd all know I wasn't misquoting Kelly Clarkson. I mean, come on, we all know the song is "Behind These Hegemonic  Eyes."


As I was working on my index card at the Heorot last night (you know, in celebration of turning in that Classical Rhet paper), I was in deep conversation with a friend about both of our religious/spiritual upbringings. My friend recounted growing up mostly nonreligious, remembering how classmates in school would make her feel strange for being indifferent to matters of religion.

I told her I was a little bit envious of her ability to separate herself more easily from the religious constructs/discourse/beliefs that I--being raised in a conservative, religious environment--have such a difficult time separating from my academic identity.

What I was really meant was I wish I could more easily distinguish the hegemonic ideals that are so engrained in our political/academic/social discourse, but sometimes, when you are raised in a particular hegemony, it's hard to see (through my hazel eyes :) the forest for the forests, so to speak. Especially when everything seems like one big forest.

Crowley defines this well: "Hegemonic discourses construct and inform community experiences to such an extent that their assumptions seem natural, 'just the way things are.' The very inarticulateness of hegemonic belief is source of its power" (p. 12). 

I find Crowley's argument encouraging, especially when she recognizes that the very foundations upon which liberalism and apocalyptic Christianity rest don't actually jive with each other or value the similar ways/strategies to argue/contest ideas, which is largely why these two discourses don't seem to communicate with each other or move towards consensus on political/social topics.

While it seems so easy to buy into Crowley's idea about rhetoric (as well as Perelman and Olbrecht-Tyteca's New Rhetoric), how do we make these ideas accessible and mobile to the public? How do we effectively promote argument as a necessary facet of language (and democracy)?

Is Toulmin's method useful for only particular discourse communities, e.g. the academy?

Toulmin Method

I want to discuss the Toulmin method briefly here, as ever since I first encountered it (as an undergraduate), I have found it pretty technical and somewhat perplexing. While I understand that it can be useful to break arguments down into technical terms, I also feel this method erases some of the naturalness that can come from framing an argument in a social context. Claims seem simple enough (until they become complicated by other variables). The warrant and the backing can get tricky. From what I gather, the warrant is what would make the data valid.

For example, if I say that Bob is a graduate student, the data supporting this could be his enrollment in graduate courses, and the reason why that data would be valid (the warrant) is enrollment in graduate courses generally means that someone would be a graduate student. If I were to scrutinize that warrant, it could be that perhaps an undergraduate could be enrolled in a graduate course (which was occasionally the case at my previous college). Then I might change the data to, instead of being enrollment in graduate courses, to Bob having been accepted into a graduate program and consequently being enrolled in graduate courses. Even then it could get tricky, as there tend to be outliers that somehow could make a general claim invalid. Words like "always", "never", "without fail" can increase the odds that a claim will be invalidated by something.

I find it easier to use "common sense" than to get hung up on warrants and backing, and to think about how most valid claims can be thought of as generally true, in most scenarios. True, there might be an outlier, but it's safe to say that A or B is often the case, with some exceptions. Thinking about what is "generally true" in a social context can be helpful. As in, "Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is generally healthy." The data: they contain vitamins, minerals, and little processed or no processed food.

Could it be argued that maybe eating fruits and vegetables is not healthy in all cases?  A discussion on pesticides, allergies, and excessive consumption of fruits and vegetables could complicate my claim. Still--it's generally healthy to eat fruits and vegetables, and in American culture, this is an important claim to make, as it's better to promote these foods than other options. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca state, "All language is the language of a community, be this a community bound by biological ties, or by the practice of a common discipline or technique" (513). When I think about claims and warrants and backing existing in community, it becomes slightly more straightforward to think about what generally works as a claim than to get halted by considering all possible exceptions to the claim.

Church, State, & Crowley

I saw these articles not too long ago, and the Crowley reading reminded me of them.
Those pushing for religion in state matters forget that the US has no official religion.

Scalia Law Backfires!
Satanic Coloring Books at FL Schools

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Social Media's Critique of Mainstream Media Tactics

In Chapter 3, Silberstein cites Charlotte Linde's theories on storytelling: storytelling "'create[s] group membership for [the speaker] and solidarity for [a] group.' Stories, by their nature, locate our very personal experiences within larger cultural norms and expectations" (61). Recently, we saw reflections of this in Ferguson, MO, and in the social media memes that sprung from that event. Coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown presented him in two lights: a promising college-bound student or a crime-committing thug. As a result, people took to Facebook and Twitter to tell their own stories and show their own contrasting depictions of self-identity with the #iftheygunnedmedown posts. Here are two examples:

By using rhetoric and personal stories, these two examples of #iftheygunnedmedown clearly urge audiences to sympathize with Michael Brown and doubt the role of the media in reporting his shooting. These images also tie in to Silberstein's "assumptions" about identity--she says, "Identities are neither singular nor stable; that is, people have multiple identities, including, for example, being family members, professionals, religious (non)believers, (non)citizens. And these identities are not necessarily stable. Individuals can be seen as competent professionals at one moment and lose that identity in the next...Identities are displayed, and thereby (re)constructed through interactions with others" (61).  The #iftheygunnedmedown meme complicates identity for viewers because they display two different conceptions of identity simultaneously, and viewers are inclined to identify with the people in the memes because they are depciting personal identities and evoking a group identity. This subversive tactic helps problematize media coverage of the Michael Brown shooting.

These memes create a group identity and solidarity, contributing to a larger skepticism of both the media and the police. In the future, perhaps more people will turn to social media like Facebook and/or Twitter for "real" news that is "free" from media bias.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Reuters say 1 in 4 Americans wants their state to secede.... ?

I stumbled across this article today that I just had to share with you guys. I found it to be an interesting example of how the media constructs conversations. For example, the article is framed, so that it seems concerned with 25% of Americans who are unhappy with the current going-ons in the government; however, you'll notice it was Reuters that conducted the survey in order to write the story. What I am getting at is those who were queried for the survey may have never considered secession before they were asked about it? In that sense, is the article really about them?

A bigger question that the article doesn't dare tackle is: Is secession in the United States even possible now?


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A link

We mentioned this briefly in class tonight. Here' the link if you want to watch.
21 absurd things lesbians say to straight people

Rhetoric of the body and media

This week's readings introduced several themes, but I’m interested in two that I saw connecting across several of the readings: the rhetoric surrounding the physical body and the rhetoric surrounding media. First, Jordan presents an analysis surrounding controversial procedures called “Ashley Treatment” and the rhetoric used to promote and protest this intervention. The parents claim to know what was best for their daughter, Ashley, because they were with her the most, but others argued that, “As neither parent’s bodies aligns with their daughter’s, their rhetoric is suspect because it cannot speak from bodily identification; they can impose their own understanding onto Ashley’s body but cannot claim sympathy with it” (Jordan 34). Yet, in Condit’s article, Jack’s pro-life rhetoric and response to the Cadney and Lacey episode is not called into questions, because of he “cannot speak from bodily identification” (Jordan 34) with the character seeking an abortion or any of the female characters.

Also interesting to me in the Jordan article, was that the author didn’t clearly state (or I didn’t catch) how the conversation about the Ashley Treatment was reported, except that her doctors reported it and her mother blogged about it. I’m interested to know how this conversation would have changed if it were broadcast on a television news magazine, like CBS' 60 Minutes or Sunday Morning, or even via social media. What impact or “new perceptions” would the “public screen” as (Deluca and Peoples 131) have on this conversation?

What expectation should we have of those participating in the public screen to employ Critical Literacy?

What would hooks say to the Ashley Treatment discussion?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Kenneth Burke ate my homework

I'd like to start off with my ability right now to identify with the frazzled ENG 103/104 student. I have been reminded of how tantalizing plagiarism looks when you must synthesize and respond to information that has not yet taken root in your mind's crevices. (Yet, you will know this is not plagiarized because the post will be largely incoherent.)

One particular thought/question I had while reading this week is this: why is Burke insistent on replacing the--during the time of his writing--traditional view of rhetoric as persuasion with his own view of rhetoric as identification?

It seems that, by promoting the idea of identification, he his describing a facet, a shade, a particular complexity of rhetoric, but I don't think his idea IS the definition of rhetoric. Maybe I'm misunderstanding him.

I do agree, however, with his idea of symbolic action--that humans respond to symbols, that we are symbol constructing and symbol manipulating agents who employ symbols in order to spark action from/in something or someone.

His idea of symbolic action jives nicely with I. A. Richards' beliefs about language and thought being separate, and that words don't have inherent meanings; instead, we as symbol making/manipulating agents impose meaning onto words and images so that they mean what we want them to mean.

I would probably, then, meld these two writers' ideas about rhetoric to produce my own, intertextual definition: rhetoric is understanding/studying/employing a particular set of symbols that are used to effect a particular behavior/movement/thought/act.

And as a quick-like-a-bunny conclusion, and in the words of that kid jacked up on dentist's anesthesia: IS THIS REAL LIFE?!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sorting out the concept of Image and Idea

In this week's readings, we are presented with two different perspectives regarding image and idea. In his lecture, I.A. Richards states very clearly, "Language and Thought are not-- need I say?-- one and the same" (13). In fact, a good portion of this lecture is dedicated to clarify upon this point. Basically, Richards does not think studying the relationship between images and ideas of a word can answer his question of "How does a word mean?" Richards then says that the question the becomes, "How does an idea (or an image) mean what it does?" Which brings us back to Richards original statement--language and thought are not one in the same.

Kenneth Burke also examines a similar concept in Part II of A Rhetoric of Motives. However, Burke's examination is much different. He begins with a review of the concept of the "imagination" and then moves onto an examination of the "image and idea." It is in the "image and idea" section where Burke's stance really takes shape. For instance, he states, "Seen from this angle, the antithetical relation between image and idea is replaced by partial stress upon the bond of kinship between them. Add the fact that all abstractions themselves are necessarily expressed in terms of weakened and confused images, a consideration which doubtless explains why Aristotle said that we cannot think without images" (90).

From the above quote, I've tried to demonstrate that Burke does not take the same position as Richards. And although I understand both positions, I am jumbled about my thinking of them. Let me explain: From Richards, it makes sense to me that language and thought are not one in the same. Language needs thought to exists, but not vice versa. I'll amend this by saying thought without language may take a different form than with it, but that may be veering off topic.

With Burke, the concept of imagery needed for thinking is interesting as well, especially when you consider it in terms of a persuasive rhetorical device.

I suppose I am still trying to exactly sort out how images relate to ideas and then how those image-ideas relate to meaning...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Instant Media

While reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death I kept comparing all of the examples he gave with today's media culture. In Part I of the book Postman describes the audience of oratory events by stating that "its attention span would obviously have been extraordinary by current standards...[and] these audiences must have had an equally extraordinary capacity to comprehend lengthy and complex sentences aurally" (45). If the audiences attention span would have been extraordinary in the '80s then I imagine it would seem damn near impossible now. Seven hours of talking? Most students in school today can't go a single class period without checking to see if they have a new text or if someone 'liked' their latest facebook post. Television today has evolved so that we can skip through the commercials or, if you're watching something like Netflix, avoid the commercials all together. People today can no longer sit through a ninety second commercial. Our media has been made so instantaneous that if we become bored within a few seconds of a commercial on television we can transfer out attention to something that will bring our entertainment to us even faster, like Pinterest.

Today's media has also made content much more concise. It takes a little effort to try to convey a complex message in 160 characters or less. A constant complaint I get from students is that they can't possibly write about a topic for five, whole pages. Which is why I have all of my classes participate in Smith Magazine's Six Word Memoir activity. I give the students an allotted amount of time to write about several different experiences in their lives that have made them you they are today. Then I show them the Smith Magazine challenge and ask them to explain each event or the meaning of each event in six words. In all of the classes I've used this activity the students have agreed that it is much harder to get their point across in six words than in several paragraphs. It would follow that the same struggle can be found for public figures in the 21st century. Lincoln and Douglas had hours apiece to explain their ideologies. Public debates today could never dream of lasting that long if they actually wanted to keep the attention of the majority of their audience. Now they have to cram everything they want to say about their position and ideologies into soundbites that the public can consume in small doses. If not they risk people forgetting or ignoring what they are trying to convey. Instant media may seem to make communication easier by making faster, but faster isn't necessarily easier.   

Changing Paradigms

In Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, he makes the point, in chapter 10, that television shows like Sesame Street place an emphasis on entertainment and not learning, despite its claim to be an educational show. He says, “If the classroom now begins to seems a stale and flat environment for learning, the inventors of television itself are to blame, not the Children’s Television Network” (143). While Postman’s argument was written in 1985, it reminds me of the “Changing Paradigms” TED talk by Ken Robinson. In his Ted talk, Robinson argues that kids today are raised in the most stimulating environment in the history of the world, but adults become frustrated when they can’t sit through a school day without paying attention. “School is boring,” he says. So, to correct the problem many parents drug their kids with ADHD medicine. He continues on this line for a good minute. While both the arguments, Postman’s and Robinson’s, make assumptions (as Margo points out) and are written 25 years a part, I find it interesting how similar they are. Here’s the link to the “Changing Paradigms” TED talk, if you are interested. I use it in my Eng. 103 class.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Television and Education

In the introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman’s son, Andrew Postman, makes a case for how relevant the book is today, although it was published in 1985. I agree that it definitely is applicable in 2014. One major thing that has changed is that the Internet has become a major force alongside and at times competing with television for people’s “screen time.”

The book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains kept coming to my mind while I read Amusing. Nicholas Carr argues that the Internet has contributed to humans thinking in fragmented, shallow ways and that it has influenced how they read—their eyes jump around on the screen versus reading linearly. Postman notes that he is not claiming that media changes affect changes in people’s “cognitive capacities,” although he thinks that people arguing as much are probably right (27).  In a sense, though, both Postman and Carr are asserting that the media (TV in Postman’s case and the Internet in Carr’s) has altered how people think.

Postman argues that television is a medium of communication that makes people perceive serious matters as entertainment and not be required to think about any particular news clip or program for any extended length of time; Carr asserts that the Internet has lowered people’s capacity to concentrate on one topic and reflect deeply.
I kept thinking about this in terms of education. According to Postman, television has perpetuated the belief that education should be entertaining, and he describes “the refashioning of the classroom into a place where teaching and learning are intended to be vastly amusing activities” (148). I think many teachers do hope that their classes will somehow be entertaining as well as educational, and I think that creating interesting lesson plans is important to keep students’ attention.

However, the phenomenon of making education entertaining that Postman describes was not a big force in either of the two public schools I attended during K-12. He seems to be in some ways writing about the future in the chapter “Teaching as an Amusing Activity,” yet I wonder if schools really have made “edutainment” as much of a priority as Postman suggests. Without knowing how the K-12 schools in 2014 are operating on the inside, I am not sure, but I sense they are still making reading and writing a priority, and in many cases this involves—at least I hope—being trained to still think in depth and reflectively. 

One major thing I take from Postman’s book is that teaching students to think about the medium itself and what kind of messages or thinking processes it is perpetuating can be a useful practice. Rather than judging television or Internet as negative, it is more important to consider what students are using them for and whether they can think analytically about how they affect their lives.