Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Critical rhetoric

Raymie McKerrow, in discussing six principles of critical rhetoric, names two that I particularly find interesting. Principle four centers on the fact that naming things is a way of interpreting them (105). There is some truth to this. I usually try to find humble words to say what I'm discussing. I could call a college a school, a university, or an institution, and I choose to call it a school more often than not. There is some degree of interpretation in the word I choose. If I call it a university, then I am differentiating it from primary schools, secondary schools, and other types of colleges. I decide on "school" because I prefer to connect college education to education in general. I was learning before I came to college and will continue to do so after graduation. "School" implies that continuity for me. This principle can be extended to countless other matters where interpreting a word implies what that concept means to the speaker.

Principle six concerns how "absence is as important as presence in understanding and evaluation symbolic action" (107, emphasis in original). McKerrow relates this to the fact the prime TV is missing a variety of body types and races. This is problematic for countless reasons, the main one being that the U.S. population is diverse, and mainly featuring white people of average height and a specific type of physical appearance is not acknowledging the true reality of the range of individuals in this country. McKerrow implies that rhetoric can consist of what is not shown or not discussed, not just what is presented. I'm thinking of our previous discussion of women being excluded from the rhetorical canon. While I still think the present is more important than what's in the canon, I consider how in that case, what is absent is communicating something. And thus my hope for future discourse is that women and men would both be represented strongly. 


  1. I am also interested in principle six. I think this is one of the ideas I try to stress to my students. They not only have to analyze what's presented to them, but what's not presented (maybe that should be). Students struggle with this, especially. I struggled with this for a long time in graduate school. It seems unnatural compared to what's been asked of them prior to my class. Yet, it often the elements that are missing that make the biggest statement.

  2. I like your application of principle six to T.V.'s representation of people. I think this connects to one of hook's pieces that we read earlier about how black people are represented on T.V., in that they are typically seen as additions to the main cast or, if a black person is made a hero, it's most likely the doing of a white person, which undermines the heroic actions of the black person.

    Not that I'm comparing this next example to the mis- and under representation of people of color on T.V., but I have noticed, and maybe some of you have,too, that redheaded people seem to be making a noticeable comeback into T.V. shows. Borrowing on the tokenism term, I see this as ginger tokenism, or the featuring of a redheaded person in a commercial or T.V. show to imply that redheaded people, too, can be included in the splay of "pretty" people on T.V.

    Lately, I've noticed this in a couple of shows I'm watching on Netflix--particularly in shows where there are two guys, i.e. one being "handsome" and the other being redheaded and not so "handsome. Redheaded female actors are typically very sexualized, however. I came across this problem when costume hunting.

    Poison Ivy, Daphne from Scooby Doo, Wilma from Flintstones, Jessica Rabbit, the Black Widow, Ariel, Kim Possible, Mystique. What do all of these characters have in common? They're all very sexy and/or scantily clad.

    I'm not implying that this isn't a problem for other kinds of characters or demographics, but I just thought it was interesting to see how redheaded men and women are represented on T.V.

  3. I agree with your comments regarding McKerrow's sixth principle, and how easily it can be used to analyze concepts of race and gender. However, I find bell hook's concept that racism and sexism are interlocking systems of oppression to give a fuller perspective. In other words, while Wilma was a character written to fulfill a certain female role in the Scooby-Doo show; however, think about the few times there were African Americans on the show? What roles did they play?

    I find that when we analyze these systems of oppression together, not only do we get a fuller vision of how the groups/actors interact within the system, but also, as bell hooks suggests, benefits those who seek to work against the oppressors.