You’ll chuckle, you’ll chortle, and you’ll awkward as we examine the benefits of going off-script. Pour yourself a martini if you need to take the awkward edge off, and enjoy.
You’ll chuckle, you’ll chortle, and you’ll awkward as we examine the benefits of going off-script. Pour yourself a martini if you need to take the awkward edge off, and enjoy.
If you don’t not think too deeply about being unshallow, it’ opaquely clear. And as long as you follow Jedi recommendations to “Feel. Don’t think,” you won’t force this idea beyond transparency: Star Wars’ Force is a form of social media.
And I like imagining the Force as social media. Using the Force as a trope helps me appreciate the cool of digital social media. It helps me see some of the ways the Force really sucks.
In more, other, and our words, Jedi, it’s time to “Think. Don’t feel.” Forget the Force. May the #kairos be with you.
This is an excerpt from an article I’m writing with @CateBlouke.
Just got back from two cool conferences: Rhetoric Society of America Conference and Computers and Writing Conference. Learned a lot about rhetoric and humor from @cateblouke; rhetoric and algorithms from @johnmjones & @jaykirby1; rhetoric and reproduction from @lbdehertogh, @kristinarola, & @maseigel; and learned about Google glass from @Zombieranian – even got to try them out, which was really cool.
By “cool” I mean the presentations were thoughtful and engaging. In other words, I thought about things I ain’t never thought before. Besides the thoughtful and engaging presentations, another cool of the conferences came from the Twitter backchannels (#RSA14 and #CWCON) for discussin’, commentin’, and quotin’ presentations. In other words, I participated in ways I ain’t never done before because of my meatspace phobia and my lack of short term memory.
Though there was a lotta cool, there was one part of the conferences that was discool, uncool, or non-cool: the Twitter backchannel was rarely incorporated into the meatspace or live discussion following the presentations. Sorta made me feel like my participation was ignored. So I’d like to propose this cool idea for future conferences, though I’m not sure if it is possible or if there is an infrastructure for it:
Cool proposal: Social media mavens for conference presentations.
What I mean is, I think it would be cool, in addition to having a presentation chair, to have a social media maven who monitors and participates in the Twitter backchannel of presentations.
Here’s why it’s cool -
“Social Media Maven” may not be the coolest word for the addition I am proposing to presentation formats, but the idea has some cool, right?
I finally watched Blackfish last night. I’d been wanting to for a while, but also avoiding it a bit because I tend to have what some would call extreme emotional responses to animals at risk, in pain, or otherwise affected by environmental degradation. My husband, Chris, recently suggested I find a therapist who specializes in environmental-related angst. (Of course, to me, these responses seem perfectly reasonable; I genuinely do not understand how/why others don’t have the same reaction. But that’s another issue entirely.) Case in point: When I watched the beautiful, devastating trailer for Midway, a documentary about the island where albatrosses breed and suffer the consequences of plastic litter, I cried so hard that Chris thought one of my friends or family members had died. Again, this seems like a perfectly reasonable response; see for yourself:
I have a particular weakness for marine mammals and particular issues about animals kept in captivity, so when Blackfish came out, I was pleased but wary. I couldn’t help but think of The Cove, a powerful documentary about dolphin slaughter in Japan–that I can’t watch. I just can’t. More on that later. Thankfully, my husband watched Blackfish without me first and reassured me (and himself, I’m sure) that I could handle it. Since I’m increasingly fascinated with environmental rhetoric, I decided to brave it. I’m glad I did, though my eyes are a bit puffy today.
Only two scenes resulted in sobbing; both involved baby orcas being taken from their families — once in a brutal hunt/capture in the Puget Sound in 1970, and once within the SeaWorld organization. In each case, the grief of the orcas was palpable, as was the pain and regret expressed by the people who’d been somehow involved in the experience. Though the pathos of these scenes was intense, the majority of the film focused on more dispassionate first-hand accounts by scientists, experts, and, most often, former SeaWorld trainers. The prioritization of their voices was a smart strategy.
Although the film contains apparent messages about the cruelty of keeping orcas in captivity, it was carefully matter-of-fact in its treatment of the consequences for the whales and the people who worked with them. By prioritizing the perspectives of the trainers, the filmmakers kept the focus on specific, eyewitness accounts of the central plot: the history of orca attacks on trainers and the cover-ups engineered by SeaWorld.
One would think that such an emphasis could contribute to a negative view of “killer whales,” but the affection and sympathy displayed by the trainers worked against that. They clearly understood what marine biologists echoed, which was that the unnatural and inhumane treatment suffered by these creatures over decades can only lead to trauma for everyone involved. And that by hiding and denying the stories of the deaths and injuries of numerous trainers, SeaWorld was knowingly putting its workers in danger.
For me, of course, that’s a secondary concern. But for many audiences, I imagine it worked to spark a different kind of outrage about unethical business practices. Whether or not audiences were persuaded that capture and captivity is, in itself, insupportable, they surely recognized that SeaWorld is shady. But will that lead to the kinds of boycotts that would persuade SeaWorld to change its practices? There was a good amount of controversy when the film was released, so at least it was successful in drawing attention to the issue. At least it sparked conversation, which I imagine was the filmmakers’ realistic agenda.
They were careful. As Chris said, they did a good job avoiding polemic. Although their stance was clearly critical, they dialed back the pathos in favor of factual data, expert testimony, and the voices of those traumatized witnesses. And they were all scarred by the many betrayals: how they were deceived, how their colleagues were blamed for “accidents,” and how they contributed to the pain of the orcas they clearly loved. With the best of intentions, they’d signed up to participate in SeaWorld’s exploitation of incredibly sensitive, intelligent mammals for the purposes of entertainment and profit.
Little attention was paid to the usual arguments in favor of organizations like SeaWorld — that without these showcases, people would not feel a connection to animals, that they wouldn’t work for their protection. This is the excuse of most parents who don’t want to deprive their children of such opportunities. I wondered about that omission, but I think the focus on the trainers worked toward that message: Their good intentions and their ignorance led to collusion in cruelty — just like the crowds that line up for SeaWorld every day.
In that light, the conclusion of the film makes more sense than I originally thought. The final scenes show several of the trainers going on a whale-watching trip, experiencing orcas in their natural habitat. The joy and wonder on their faces spoke to the healing power of that trip, a marked contrast to the sadness and regret they displayed throughout most of the film. The filmmakers’ hope, I suspect, is that audiences might be persuaded that this approach is the “right” one, that appreciation cannot be separated from respect — and that those who buy in to the SeaWorld product would (or should), like these trainers, suffer with the knowledge of their complicity.
That’s my reading, anyway. Of course, whether that message gets out at all depends on whether people actually see the movie. More to the point, it depends on whether audiences who don’t already agree with its messages see the movie. I didn’t need this to learn that SeaWorld is problematic (or downright evil) — but would those who’d really like to watch that orca show actually watch this movie? Perhaps, if that controversy made them curious enough. I’d like to think so, but I’m not sure.
Which brings me back to The Cove. After we finished Blackfish, Chris and I were talking about its potential effectiveness. I brought up The Cove as a cautionary tale: If those trailers turned others off as much as it did me, and I feel passionate about dolphin protection, how could it reach and therefore influence enough audiences to make a difference? Chris suggested that it had already achieved its aims; we both thought the outcry following its release had led to change in the Japanese government’s policy. It turns out not so much. So far, the pressure hasn’t resulted in actual change.
For a lot of reasons, SeaWorld is not Japan; it may well feel more compelled to respond in some way to widespread criticism. But is it really likely to do anything more than damage control? Release some statement (not animals), make minor improvements (not substantive changes), etc? Are enough people likely to decide against that vacation destination that they go out of business? Doubtful.
I really want to end this on a positive note. I’d like to hope that a careful, strategic, and “successful” film like Blackfish can make a difference. I know: Changing just one mind makes a difference. But does it really? Maybe in the long term. Maybe?
It might, in the case of Midway.
If everyone who sees that movie (or just the trailer) reconsiders their plastic consumption, picks up some plastic caps at the beach, even votes in favor of some kind of legal protection or prevention, that could maybe save a few birds. Maybe? You tell me:
If you have a minute, I highly recommend checking out this article on The Huffington Post about “Warpaint,” “a nuanced art project addressing the subtleties of gender expression.” It explains how photographer Coco Layne decided to play with her own physical representation in order to explore the subtleties of gender expression. What I find particularly interesting is her point about gender identity:
“It’s important to open up this conversation about gender presentation because its often confused and read as gender identity,” she added. “Gender presentation is not about sexual orientation at all! Playing around with gender expression is strictly an avenue to explore my identity as a queer person not my sexual identity.”
Since gender presentation is so often correlated with gender identity, it is interesting to note the nuance and distinction that she speaks of. It’s definitely worth a read.
Yesterday, my Spanish teacher and I were discussing Martín Fierro (1870s), a culturally significant epic poem in Argentina because of its depiction of gauchos. (If you’re not aware, gauchos are kind of like Argentine cowboys. At the time the poem was written, they were a sort of “sub-class” because they were multi-racial, being a mixture between the colonizing Europeans and the indigenous people. Traditionally, they weren’t land owners themselves, but worked with the cows and horses for other ranchers throughout the Pampas region of Argentina). Essentially, Martín is a gaucho who is drafted into the Argentine civil war, but doesn’t want to be a part of it. So, he runs away and escapes into the southern part of Argentina (Patagonia, really) until he is able to reunite with his children.
So, when Martín runs off to Patagonia, the book describes this by saying that he goes to “el desierto.” In some cases, based off of context, this could refer to a desert as we think of it in English–a place with sand, heat, and not a lot of water. However, in this context, it refers more to wilderness–a place which is “deserted.” (And, in fact, Patagonia is known for being extremely cold.) But herein lies the question: deserted by who? The poem itself describes how Martín and another gaucho, Cruz, spend their time with the indigenous people there. Obviously, this means that it was not truly deserted, only deserted by the European colonizers.
So, this prompted my teacher to pull out a hundred-peso bill. On one side is a picture of Julio Argentino Roca, an army general and president of Argentina in the late 1800s. On the other was “La Conquista Del Desierto,” the conquest of the desert (or wild as the case may be).
The image itself depicts Roca and his men expanding and “uniting” Argentina, which pretty much meant killing or displacing the indigenous people living there and allowing more ancestral-Europeans to settle.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because my teacher made this point: these bills are being phased out. In 2012, the Argentine government started to make new bills depicting Eva Peron instead of Roca:
I (and my Spanish teacher) find this to be a fascinating indication of cultural priorities and the change thereof. Personally speaking, I was always aware of how commercials, newspapers, political campaigns, etc. were parts of a society that spoke to its greater cultural needs and how those cultural elements connected to the rhetoric performed in addressing those needs. But, the money. The thing that I carry in my pocket every single day. That had not occurred to me. The money itself–what we choose to put on it to represent our national identities–is symbolic for what we want to say about ourselves. And the changes to that imagery is important too. In Argentina (as in many other places), people are no longer persuaded by “the conquering forces.” Not only that, but choosing Evita is important. This is the first woman to be on an Argentine bill in over 200 years. Is that an indication of cultural priority? Are Argentines becoming more open to women in positions in power or is it Evita’s connection to social programs which speaks to the nation (even though Peronismo is a highly contentious subject here)? And when, for heaven’s sake, will there be a woman on a U.S. bill and not just being relegated to an unused coin? (Susan B. Anthony / Sacagawea, anyone?)
Speaking of rhetoric in everyday life, I love a smart and savvy Craigslist ad:
Grab a paper bag, breathe into it and calm your ass down. You’re hyperventilating because you ain’t never seen a deal like this before. Now collect yourself, then keep reading this incredible description that barely serves to do justice to my 2003, 19″, KONA Muni Mula, 7005 Double-butted Aluminum, multi-gear mountain bike. Also known as the greatest bike the suburbs have ever had the privilege of existing around. What makes this bike so much better than every other bike that has ever been pedaled? Glad you asked. It starts with the paint scheme. It looks like 24 Karat gold if they made bikes out of 24 karat gold. That’s bold, son. Curb appeal. What else? Ryan, the paint’s a little dinged up. Yeah, well, that’s called real life. It comes at you fast, bro. Besides, you really want this glimmering, shimmering sex machine catching the eye of some small time thief? You really don’t want to be living your own version of PeeWee’s big adventure. Consider the lived-in feel a natural crime deterrent. If this bike were denim jeans, it’d be called “de-stressed” and you’d be paying extra for the privilege. I’m not gonna charge you extra for it, though. Cause I’m not trying to take advantage of you. But you should take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What else? Let’s talk about that Marzoochi Bomber front fork for a second. It’s as gnarly as it is exotic. Like the tropical, saw-toothed platypus. Which is a species that does’t even exist. Fortunately this crazy front fork does. It offers bomb-a$$ shock absorption, as the name implies. What else? Did you see those Shimano Deore Rapid-Fire Shifters? These shifters make you wanna take this thing off road in a big way. They also offers a terrific chance to introduce that dome of yours to a tree. So don’t trip. Ride safe. Get a helmet and if you’ve never ridden a bada$$ mountain bike, maybe it’s time to move along, young sir because this thing is made for big hills and mud trails. What this bike does offer is a one-way ticket to legits-ville. Find a bowling ball. Then find another one. Your nuts must be at least that big to even consider making this whip the dreamiest object to ever take up space in your garage. But you’ll be filled with joy once you throw a leg over this flawless piece of cycling excellence. But, Ryan, aren’t you sad about selling the greatest bike on earth? No. When you ride this bike once it permanently eliminates your ability to feel sad about anything ever again. Even for little puppies who are afraid to walk down the stairs, because the stairs…they’re so big, and they’re so little. Puppies who are young, but have already discovered the world to be a cold, unforgiving place. But you won’t give a shit about it because you’ll be on your awesome new bike living the dream. And you’ve just learned something else about me. That’s right, my name is Ryan. And your name is lucky motherfather if you make the best choice of your life and pay me cold, hard cash for this ridiculous ride. 2003, 19″, KONA Muni Mula, 7005 Double-butted Aluminum, multi-gear, hard-tail mountain bike with Marzoochi Bombers, Deore Shimano Rapid Fire Shifters. Barely Ridden, like new. In no rush to sell, big ballers only, no low-ballers. $650 OBO Contact Chris near Alum Creek Trails
I moved to Argentina. No, really. It’s true. I just graduated with my MFA in May (woot!), packed everything into boxes, sold what I could, and took a flight to Buenos Aires. Of course, here is your obligatory picture of French buildings in latin america:
Anyway, while in Buenos Aires, it has become incredibly apparent how culture plays a major factor in rhetoric. Of course, we all think about communication in different, individual ways, but the culture that surrounds us has a large impact on the framing of that communication. As a foreigner, coming into contact with that different use of rhetoric reveals the kind of audience and culture that rhetoric is geared toward. Argentines are known for being very forward, a little ego-centric, and, really, all up in yo’ business. Por ejemplo, I had a friend get some money out of a wire transfer and the teller proceeded to ask what the money was for. In Argentina, this guy is just making small talk. In the US, he’s rude. Herein, we can see the cultural differences of customer service. What might be rapport-building in one culture is offensive in another.
I think this might be an interesting discussion when applied to teaching. In my own classes, I would tell my students that it’s important to avoid colloquial phrases because academic writing is intended to be a global endeavor; therefore, what may make sense to us and our culture may not be translatable to other academics in other countries. Similarly, this issue of what is cultural accepted or appropriate also speaks to audience. In one culture, being very direct and pointed may be persuasive and in another it would actually work against you. It’d be interesting to see a rhetoric class framed around that–the rhetorical awareness of cultural appropriacy. Has a ring to it, no?
As someone interested in rhetoric, new media, and in joining a digital publishing community, I’ve spent the last few years eye-balling various online journals. I’ve anxiously watched as a number of journals released shout-outs for editorial assistants, reviewers, or editors, but never found myself getting excited enough about any particular journal to send in that familiar “Hello, I’m interested in working for your awesome journal” query.
But then I found Harlot.
I began following the journal in the summer of 2012 when one of my much-admired professors, Kristin Arola, published an award-winning video in the journal. After watching the video and reading various other pieces, I thought “Wow, this journal is doing some cool stuff.”
My interest in Harlot continued to grow as I encountered creative multi-media pieces like Abigail Lambke’s “The Oral Aural Walter Ong,” quirky sci-fi analyses like Rita Malenczyk’s “Scully and Me: Or, The X-Files, Revisited” and big-statement pieces like Elizabeth Kuechenmeister’s “‘I Had an Abortion’”: A Feminist Analysis of the Abortion Debate.” These works, along with my growing admiration for the journal editors’ dedication to publishing articles that don’t fit tidily into traditional academic venues, led me from simply reading Harlot to wanting to join the staff. At last I was ready to send in that long overdue email inquiry.
Luckily for me, the Harlot crew responded to my query with a generous “welcome aboard!” and I’m now working on cool social media projects with folks like Paul Mulhuaser and Kaitlin Dyer. Over the next year, we hope to expand the journal’s social media presence as well as craft and curate educational materials for teachers. Working on these projects, as well as getting to know both the Harlot editors and contributors, is an exciting process and already titillating my inner rhetor-teacher-tech-nerd.
Call for Submissions for Harlot’s Fall 2013 general issue
It’s that time again! Harlot is inviting adventurous critics, artists, and thinkers to examine the real, important, and everyday powers of rhetoric in innovative and creative ways. With a broad readership (including academics and non-academics), Harlot asks critical questions and provokes playful discussions that are interesting and relevant to diverse audiences. We welcome contributions of all sorts–in terms of subject, style, and presentation–and encourage pieces that engage our audience through meaningful media productions (i.e. accessible alphabetic texts and/or multimedia pieces such as videos, audio files, webtexts, etc.). Submit to Harlot and reveal those arts of persuasion.
If you have any questions or want to chat through an idea, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the editors (email@example.com).
Submission Deadline: July 15th