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Why Rhetoric Matters

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jimmy kendall

on 7 February 2013

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Transcript of Why Rhetoric Matters

Why Rhetoric Matters The basic definition of rhetoric is the ability to speak and write well. Many critical theorists argue that this is a limited definition by today's standards. During the election between Obama and Romney,
the term "rhetoric" was thrown around almost daily.
Rhetoric, in a political context, usually surrounds how
a politician can somehow say everything and nothing at once. They emit what we call "talk with no substance," which is precisely what we mean when we say "empty rhetoric." The theory goes like this: in today's world, image
is everything. The add we just saw had nothing to do
with jeans. It had to do with image, and the rhetorical appeal the add used was that of pathos. It's banking that our emotional senses will subliminally tell our brains that we need to buy Levis if we wish to associate ourselves with the figures in this add: youthful, resilient, subversive, countercultural- the future. Bullshit! A sound rhetorical analysis would immediately
call foul on this. Wearing Levis, which are made in sweatshops, hardly makes one subversive and/or defiant. An appeal to logic using basic information and critical analysis would find that this commercial carries a number of contradictions: one: it frames Levis as a product aligned with counterculture and anti-establishment. Levis is a
dominant corporate brand. They are sold at Target, at Wallmart, and a number of other corporate stores. This conflicts heavily with how Levis is attempting to market their product. Two: if Levis is marketing their product to defiant youth, their depending on their audience to be very uninformed about their product. This would mean that the add is targeted towards a naive audience. A 30 second Google search would quickly illustrate that Levis is not a brand commonly associated with defiance and counterculture. Quite the opposite actually. Three: Levis is depending on their brand to sell itself.
The add, in all respects, has absolutely nothing to do with jeans. It also uses a Charles Bukowski poem, who would no doubt roll in his grave were he to know that Levis purchased his words to sell pants. I'm not so sure that the poet had that intention. This is how the process of "co-opting" an image for the pursuit of capital works. They're not trying to market quality. They're marketing an idea of "cool." Rhetorically analyzing this add allows us to investigate a number of things: how advertisements function in a capitalist landscape. How adds rhetorically seek to influence consumers. How image rules over product. And how emotion attempts to replace logic and substance. So why does rhetoric matter? It allows us to discern fact from fiction and get at the heart of what's behind something. We call this critical thinking. Some call it anti-american, unpatriotic, conspiratorial, delusional, demonic, marxist...take your pic. Truth is, the common citizen has limited access in what we call a capitalist society. We don't choose what kinds of messages, symbols, narratives and images are shown to us, how they're framed, and where we see them because we're denied access. Granted we can change channels, cover our ears and avert our eyes, but we're never free from the constant bombardment of images that seek to dominantly construct and frame social norms, cultural norms, and political norms that attempt to govern our world views. Rhetorical analysis seeks, or should seek, to challenge and call to question certain kinds of "truths" that we tend to take for granted. Ideally, good rhetoric seeks to inform an audience of the greater realities behind what we're told. It has us step back and contemplate things that we supposedly never really took the time to think twice about: "Wow that is fucked up" or "that just blew my mind" is usually evidence that you've read or witnessed a good rhetorical analysis. Observe: As much as rhetoric may align itself with the ability to be persuasive, or the act of writing well, it also aligns itself with issues of power. How power functions, how it persuades, and how it informs. Writing is the citizens tool to speak back to power, to join the conversation. It is one of the strongest democratic practices we can engage in. Thus, what you write is important, so long as you seek to write about something important. Why should your reader care about what you give them? Let's start there.
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