Long Live Rhetoric!

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We live in a world where communication rules. We cannot hide from it, we cannot escape it.  Everywhere, it stares us in the face on the TV, the Internet, the I phone, clearly it is inescapable. As Craig Smith argues, “communication is the attempt to elicit and/or transfer meaning and can be broken down into three major types: informative communication adds to our knowledge, entertaining communication holds our attention, and rhetorical communication goes beyond… to change actions, beliefs, attitudes, and/ or opinions” (Smith 2).

For the past few months, I have examined various rhetorical principles, through the blogs that I posted. For instance on Superbowl Sunday, I examined one of the famous advertisements that was aired entitled, Every Soldier deserves a Hero’s Welcome, through a rhetorical lens to demonstrate what Gorgias calls, “the art of persuading people to bring about the greatest good” (Smith 54). Every company in the world utilizes this rhetorical technique through advertising, and Superbowl ads are no exception, therefore they use this medium to engage their Sunday viewing audience.

For the 2013/2014 winter season, we experienced one of the coldest winters in over 50 years. People all over the East, Northeast, and Midwest got tired of all the shovelling, and scraping, so on Groundhog Day, Pennsylvania experienced one of its largest turnouts ever, to ascertain Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction. Unfortunately, he did not see his shadow, hence 6 more weeks of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Yes, no, perhaps! So what is truth? Cicero argues that, the “Ad antiquitam is the fallacy of claiming something is true or good simply because it is old” (Smith 114). Aristotle argues that, “probable truth, not certainty determines the answers to most questions” (Smith 69).

I also examined the rhetorical concepts that Chrysler Motors utilizes to market the Chrysler 300. Is it really a Chrysler, or the rebirth of the Bentley? In this particular post I argued that most companies gravitate to what Karl Marx calls a “false consciousness” to increase profitability Also, manipulation and control are at the top of the power spectrum.

Graffiti art has infiltrated certain parts of the City of New York to the extent that certain parts of the city can be equated to a large outdoor museum. Graffiti art appeals to its audience, both visually and linguistically. Each mural tells a story. In this particular post, I implied Kenneth Burke’s theory to ascertain that graffiti art can be viewed through a negative or “dyslogistic” lens, or through an “eulogistic” or positive/admirable lens. It all depends on the audience’s perception of the art form.

One other important concept that is used by salesmen in most industries such as the car industry, or even the Time Share industry, is the use of the rhetorical concept of “qualitative progression.” Burke defines this by saying that, “one quality is established in the mind of the audience so that another can be introduced” (Smith 315). Whereas in “syllogistic progression…the speaker starts with a premise and then develops arguments that move the audience step by step toward a conclusion” (Smith 315). Salesmen unconsciously employ this rhetorical principle on a daily basis. So Buyer Beware! before you sign on the dotted line for your next car, or Time Share.

It is my intention that these blogs reach a young adult audience, that are interested in rhetoric, and also to realize how it impacts all of us on a daily basis. The bright intertwining orange colors on my dashboard, symbolize rhetoric’s daily interaction.

So, in conclusion, rhetoric is everywhere. we cannot escape it! It is here to stay. Any concept in communication that has filtered down through the ages from since the time of Aristotle, is therefore of vital importance. We cannot escape or deny it, because it is here to stay. Long live Rhetoric!

 

 

 

 

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“Buyer Beware” Qualitative Progression in Action

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Just recently, a friend of mine shared some interesting insights that he garnered after attending a Time Share sales meeting in a popular southern city, this past winter. As we all are aware, the winter of 2013/2014 will go down on record as one of the most brutal in over 40 years. Thus marketing gurus, especially those in the time share business, took advantage of the recent balmy spring conditions, to host these high-pressure sales meetings to increase their revenue. According to my friend, some attendees experience tremendous pressure, even as they sit comfortably to witness what may be considered a seemingly harmless sales presentation, featuring a beautiful time share condo. However, at the conclusion of the presentation, scores of attendees can be seen filling up loan documents for a $40,000 or $50,000 condo which they probably can’t afford, doesn’t need, and may not even use enough during any given year to be considered a smart financial investment. Kenneth Burke, noted American twentieth-century author on literary criticism, calls this scenario, qualitative progression. His interpretation is that it “is more complex because one quality is established in the mind of the audience so that another can be introduced…In other words one quality is a prerequisite for another” (Smith 315).

In the above scenario, the sales pitch, combined with state-of -the -art visuals of several properties along with their amenities, are subtly packaged as only the tip of the iceberg. Then, the financial benefits to be acquired from owning one of these properties,  generates a desire of want in the audience. According to Burke, this desire is really the prerequisite or the forerunner of  another desire, which in this case is the subtle accumulation of debt, or, an irrational financial decision. The sales presentation is so strong, so convincing and enticing, that some simple-minded attendees rarely have time to question in their minds, “Do I really need this?” or “Should I let this pass?”

My friend also mentioned that when a “customer” signs on the magical “dotted line,” the atmosphere is temporarily transformed into one that is celebratory, because one of the lead presenters ring a golden bell, and then smilingly encourages other attendees to quickly make a decision , because this may be a “once-in -a-lifetime opportunity to actually own a piece of property that can be considered as paradise.”

Another rhetorical concept that Burke identifies, is syllogistic progression, “where the speaker starts with a premise and then develops arguments that move the audience step by step toward a conclusion” (315). The sales meeting according to my friend, begins innocently, then becomes more convincing, as the presenter subtly argues about the financial benefits that can be “accrued now by owning a timeshare.”

The reason that so much emphasis is placed on the “financial benefits to be gained,” when an attendee buys one of these properties, is that the salesperson who closes the transaction is paid a huge commission. Therefore, the next time someone invites you to a timeshare presentation, remember to fully activate your “buyer beware” alarms, so that you will be empowered without fear or favor to say “NO,” and thus walk away from the snares of the dotted line,– the symbol of debt-accumulation.

The Dyslogistic versus the Eulogistic uses of Graffiti in the City of New York

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New York City, one of the most famous melting pots in the entire world, is also famous for an American art form that expresses the vast diversity of its people. The irony of this art form is that it is not locked away in distinguished museums all across the city, where patrons must pay an enormous fee to gain admittance beyond its hallowed walls, but it can be viewed twenty- four hours per day, seven days per week, free of cost. From a rhetorical standpoint, Kenneth Burke, one of America’s most prolific educators in this discipline, argues that an artifact can be viewed through a dyslogistic or negative lens, or through one that is eulogistic or admirable.

A few years ago, a friend of mine after visiting New York city for the first time, expressed his utter dismay at the larger than life art forms that decorated subways, apartment buildings, and storefronts in the Bronx. In his own words, he stated that criminals, more so gangs, “are defacing the city with all sorts of graffiti that idolizes hip hop.” From this young man’s perspective, Burke will argue that he has dyslogized this noble art form, even though it has glamorized hip hop, by placing it in a shroud of negativity.

When the graffiti movement first took root in all the boroughs of the city during the 1970’s and 1980’s, many people viewed it in a negative manner, mainly because at that time the city was overwhelmed by a massive drug and crime epidemic, thus even an art form that expressed the diverse ideas and cultural tonalities of its citizens were assessed dyslogistically. Many opponents also proposed that most of the murals which they consider to be visually offensive, be torn down, but ventures of this sort will further trim the city’s budget.

But hopefully, times has changed, and therefore, as Burke argues, graffiti art has now been eulogized or placed in a cloak of admiration. On August 29, 2013, Randy Kennedy of the New York Times wrote an interesting article entitled, A Feast of Street Art, Luminous and Legal-Graffiti Art of the City, from the Bronx to Brooklyn. He states at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/30/arts/design/graffiti-art-of-the-city-, that “graffiti has sunk deeply into the DNA of 21st century visual culture… Alongside the unauthorized street art are commissioned murals, memorial murals and permission walls, in which more free-form work goes up with few objections.”

It now seems therefore, that graffiti art instead of being viewed dyslogistically  are thus now viewed eulogistically . Lovers of art will be enthralled by the myriads of murals that decorate the city’s five boroughs. Thus after many years, this controversial art form has now been placed on a wall of great admiration.

The Chrysler 300 or the Rebirth of the Bentley?

benchrysler

A friend of mine recently related a story that occurred in 2008 in the city of Winter Park Florida. While employed at a reputable company, one of his co-workers purchased a brand new Chrysler 300 C. On his arrival at work early the next day, before he can properly park his newly acquired pride and joy, about eleven of his co-workers, young men and women in their late twenties, scurried unto the parking lot and encircled this piece of American ingenuity with avid admiration. Complimentary oohs, aahs, and the nodding of heads in affirmation, soon give way to “I have to buy one of these babies,” and “I’m gonna get one because it looks just like a Bentley… and it will obviously give me the feel of a Bentley.” The latter remark is of extreme importance, thus it surrounds the crux of my argument. Chrysler Motors creates what Karl Marx calls a “false consciousness” in the psyche of the automobile consumer, by designing a luxury sedan that stylistically duplicates the English Bentley to boost profitability.

Ever since the American auto industry suffered a remarkable decline in sales, when domestic manufacturing plants were closed down a few years ago in favor of cheaper labor markets overseas, General Motors has struggled to maintain an image of unquestionable reliability as far as many of their vehicles are concerned. Therefore, in order to repair this tainted image, GM engineers and marketing personnel have produced a luxury sedan that resembles its European counterpart, yet comes with a remarkably lower price tag.

This strategy breathes a life of profitability into a once dying industry, because Consumer Reports carries an article at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2012/10/29/chrysler, that Chrysler has been receiving better profit margins based on “what it sells” especially to its overseas market.

On the other hand, with the steady increase in gas prices, most Americans are in favor of smaller fuel economy and energy-efficient cars. Although the latter scenario may be plausible, scores of young men and women across the nation are still enticed to purchase the Chrysler 300, because of its Bentley-like image- an image that generates a “false consciousness” of luxury and celebrity status in the mind of a potential buyer.

Marx expands on this “false consciousness” ideology by arguing that advertising is so pervasive, that the consumer is actually manipulated by its glitz and glam. He or she now becomes powerless to resist the temptation to purchase, because they are already overwhelmed by its subtle messages. This is exactly what Chrysler wants- the unsuspecting consumer to purchase a $35,000 luxury sedan and run themselves into debt, just to create a false image of European luxury.

Marx further argues that because manupulation and control are the key components of those at the top of the power spectrum, it becomes difficult for the consumer at the bottom to fully interpret what is being said through the facet of advertising. The real rhetorical message is that Chrysler is at the top, so they control the stakes. They control what is being said and portrayed through pricely advertising, so that the unsuspecting car buyer is manipulated into purchasing an American luxury sedan that looks like its $200,000 European counterpart. Insight generates profit, doesn’t it?

 

Bring On Spring

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Winter 2013-2014 has turned out so far to be the most brutal since the 1970’s. It is not surprising that the Artic Vortex travelled from the Midwest to the East/ Northeast then hammered the South, leaving thousands without power, and causing tragic chain-reaction traffic accidents in its wake. Even Georgia- the Peach state had its share of unpeachlike weather. I am amazed this year at the names given to each storm system by the National Weather Chanel,-Ion, Pax, Gemini, Orion, and the latest one, Rex. The names themselves probably correlates with their intensity, however, their effects can be deadly, as can be seen by the many white-out chain-reaction accidents that occurred this year. So the main question that lingers in the mind of every winter-weary commuter is, “When will it all end?” or “When will the mountains of snow ever melt?”

This question can be partially answered by Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania’s famed groundhog. Even though his predictions are only right 39% of the time, yet he is a respected member of an elite team of furry meteorologists. There are other respected groundhogs in other states such as Staten Island’s Chuck of New York, and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee. Tradition has it that if Punxsutawney sees his shadow on Groundhog day, which was February 2nd, winter is on the verge of ending, conversely, if he doesn’t see his shadow, then winter unfortunately will linger on for another frigid 6 weeks. It’s like the ad numeram of the winter season. This idea of believability goes back all the way to the ancient time of Cicero, who argued that the Ad numeram “asserts that something is true simply because many people believe it is true” (Smith 115).  This past Groundhog day, 40,000 plus spectators assembled in Punxsutawney for this special ceremony. Though brief in duration, it’s the occasion that brings an aura of popularity to Groundhog day. Since thousands of people rely on Punxsutawney Phil for an accurate prediction of spring, then it must be correct, in spite of his low percentage of accuracy. But then, one can also argue, that because Groundhog Day has been around since the latter 1800’s, then there must be some good in it because it is basically old. Cicero calls this fallacy The Ad antiquitam, which he defines as “claiming something is true or good simply because it is old” (Smith 114).

So, is spring just around the corner? No one knows for sure, because a crippling ice and snow storm struck Atlanta last week, but fortunately their temperature is back in the upper fifties today. New England is not as lucky because their snowstorm a few days ago, brought several inches of the powdery stuff in its wake with near white- out conditions.

Then , unfortunately, winter is here to stay. The big thaw is probably more than 6 weeks away. This is indeed a very busy year for the Department of Transportation. Overworked snowplows can be seen from Michigan to Indiana, to Chicago, Maine, Boston and New York, – all in an effort to keep our freeways safe and drivable.

Winter also drains the economy. Freeways are constantly salted, planes are de-iced before they mount the skies, then there are thousands of delays and cancellations all over the country, creating a travel nightmare.

Therefore, is Punxsutawney Phil right, or is he wrong? He has maintained a track record  of accuracy over the years, so we are basically dependent on him. There is a certain percentage of truth in his predictions, or maybe not, because it’s simply the fallacy of the Ad antiquitam. We need an early spring- so Punxsutawney must be right! Got it?

 

The Purpose of Super Bowl Ads

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The Super Bowl, America’s most watched annual sporting event , has become an icon in the advertising industry. If it were to be placed alongside other major sporting spectaculars such as the Indy 500, or even foreign super sports such as World Cup Soccer, the European Cup, or even the great Ashes Test Series between England and Australia, the Super Bowl emerges a clear winner, with the most decorated multi- million dollar advertisements to entertain each viewer. An intense game such as football, needs ads that are direct, pointed, and intermingled with applicable humor, primarily to maintain interest levels, as well as to decrease viewer stress. It is interesting to note, that some viewers who are not even football enthusiasts, , are drawn to their television sets on Super Bowl Sunday, not necessarily because they are rooting for a particular team, but more so because of the well- orchestrated advertisements that add color and popularity to the game. It is therefore amazing, if someone were to take a peek behind the scenes to observe the level of marketing psychology involved, the audience being targeted, and the levels of persuasion enacted, through a myriad of visual images. Applying a rhetorical concept  to the Superbowl scenario, theorist Lloyd Bitzer states, that “rhetoric exists to produce some action… because many of the strategies used in persuasive situations … are based on appeals to an audience” (Smith 7). The over-riding purpose then of each advertisement, is to reach their target audience, market their product, and thus increase sales and profitability.

Companies exist to make profits. That’s the bottom line. This is the over-arching purpose of free enterprise. The more a company advertises its product through various media outlets, its chances of profitability through stocks and sales are greatly increased. Therefore, many companies spend millions of dollars for a 110 second commercial spot on the biggest sporting event of the year. Arguably, the Super Bowl has a mammoth viewership both local and overseas in the millions. Thus a lot of planning which includes, enlistment of the right actors for specific themes, as well as supporting cast, location of filming, scenery and finally appropriate graphics are used to successfully sell the product.

Since products need to be marketed and sold, they need a target audience. There is no gender-bias implied here, but since football is primarily a man’s game, it is of popular belief that a large percentage of the viewership on Super Bowl Sunday comprise males. Bitzer also argue, that “notions of audience are crucial to rhetorical studies… and that rhetoric works to constitute audiences” (Smith 7). Can we therefore conclude then, that companies only desire the masculine gender to purchase their products, since the Superbowl audience comprise mostly men? Of course not. Paradoxically, most of the advertisements are not labeled “For Men Only”. Instead they are family-oriented, for example, the Budweiser’s “Hero’s Welcome.” A careful in-depth analysis of this advertisement shows, not so much why Budweiser may be the best beer on the market, but the reason why we should support our troops. The persuasive images of a smiling soldier as he embraces his spouse, the positive signs from family, friends, well-wishers, an elderly veteran- along with Martin Luther King’s most famous line- “Let Freedom Ring”- all these images bring a sense of community and inclusiveness. I therefore support the theme, “Every Soldier Deserves a Hero’s Welcome”. We have no other choice, it’s the American thing to do. And of course, Budweiser must be an integral part of the “Hero’s Welcome” party, because Budweiser always appeal to an audience.

Finally, rhetorically speaking, the purpose of Super Bowl advertisements is to initiate a longing for the product shown. Powerful, persuasive images leave a lasting effect, because as Bitzer points out, audience plays a pivotal role in rhetorical studies. When these images are combined with persuasive speech, the right music, and appropriate graphics, then, its viewers are motivated to action, because of the lingering effect of a 100 second advertisement, that’s geared to a worldwide audience.