Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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?


  1. Great questions, Kat.

    I think pulling the Ashley Treatment into a more public forum like the television show you mention would have caused a major outcry--larger than the one that happened. I mean, look at what happened with the Terri Schiavo case or the Karen Thompson/Sharon Kowalski controversy. I'm not sure if television would be as impartial as Jordan was in the article, either. Coverage would probably have swayed viewers in one way or the other and impacted the court case.

    As far as hooks and the Ashley Treatment, I feel like she would be against it because it would involve changing a body to make it more socially acceptable--by "socially acceptable," I mean it de-sexes a handicapped person. People are uncomfortable thinking about the sexuality and potential desire of the disabled. I think hooks would see that discomfort as a good thing.

  2. I like to think that I'm a realist, but in actuality I might just be a cynic. In answer to your first question (What expectation should we have of those participating in the public screen to employ Critical Literacy?), Kat, I'd have to say none. In Warnick's definition of Critical Literacy, she says that people have to have the "ability to stand back from text and view them critically as circulating within a larger social and textual context" (6). When it comes to television, especially the hyped-up, sensationalist type of stories that are always circulating today, people have a very difficult time stepping back from the story. The reports, the viewers, the producers almost always seem to personalize the situations and be drawn further into them. Yes, maybe a few would take the opportunity to connect the story to a larger societal concern, but for most, they are involved in the minute by minute details of the specific event that is being transmitted. And maybe that's the way that it's supposed to work, as DeLuca and Peeples said, "Communication as characterized by dissemination is the endless proliferation and scattering of emissions without the guarantee of productive exchanges" (130). The whole point of mass media could just be to get all the information they can out to as many people as possible and that's it. However I look at though, I don't expect to see a lot of Critical Literacy being employed. ,

  3. I think it is important to help students seem that the public screen (which to me seems to be a sort of metaphor for the way rhetoric plays out in the media) is not the final word on anything; the way things are presented there represents the perspectives of those who present the information.

    While writing a newspaper article as an undergrad, I interviewed someone who had worked near the Mexico-Texas border and told me about a particular incident that she had encountered there. I fact-checked the story, trying to figure out what had actually happened, and I found that different websites selected a range of details to report. I was forced to choose what to say about it myself as a writer. It is so hard to not convey perspective in reporting about anything.

    I think 60 minutes does try to present both sides of an issue and I also am not sure what they would have reported on this particular story, although I suspect there would be pathos used quite a lot as an appeal because at least for me there is a strong inclination to look at it that way, in addition to attempting logic.

  4. In response to your question about how the public screen could have affected the Ashley case:

    I believe the public screen would have increased the drama/hype created by the case due to the fact that television is mostly a visual experience. Perhaps when people learned information about Ashley's treatment, they learned about it from the blog and/or from doctors' reports, both of which would have publicized very few to no images of the actual surgery or aftermath.

    If the case had been televised, I can imagine missing persons-like images would have been produced--like the ones where they digitally progress a missing child's face into a 20-, 30- adult. I think the critics of her treatment would have used digital, "adult" photos to their advantage, saying that "this is what Ashley could grow up to look like," which of course would be digitally doctored to fit "normal" and "acceptable" ideas about beauty, which I view, as Jordan argues, as one more attempt at bodily identification, this time the viewers being the ones trying to find identification in her idealized adult face.

    I also think televised publicity and the use of photos--whether they're pre or post surgery--would have caused more people to be involved because of the power of visual rhetoric. Explanations of surgeries and descriptions about the appearance of a person can be imagined in the mind to a certain extent, but a photo makes descriptions and explanations vivid and more real, staying in our minds and informing our future experiences with similar situations. The think photographs of Ashely's treatment--whether real or imagined, grotesque or endearing--could have had the power to shape the meaning of what surgery is and does for disabled people: makes them "better," because we can "see" it.