ABBA, McCain, and Rhetorica all walk up to a jukebox . . .

Your post on musical choice as rhetorical choice has me thinking, Kaitlin.  I’m thinking about all the times I’m sitting in a car with a varied group of friends and I go to pick from the iPod: I consider everyone’s choice, some more than others (because they might be more discerning, more difficult to please, etc.), their backgrounds, what I know they like, what I think they might like and so on.


Yep.  That there is a classic rhetorical situation. Conscious choice of communication based on the variables of a situation, all for a desired end.

Now mull on this: Obama and McCain were asked by Blender Magazine to pick their favorite Top Ten songs.  I can’t wait to hear people’s musings on this doozey of a list . . .


John Mccain’s Top Ten

1. Dancing Queen ABBA
2. Blue Bayou Roy Orbison
3. Take a Chance On Me ABBA
4. If We Make It Through December Merle Haggard
5. As Time Goes By Dooley Wilson
6. Good Vibrations The Beach Boys
7. What A Wonderful World Louis Armstrong
8. I’ve Got You Under My Skin Frank Sinatra
9. Sweet Caroline Neil Diamond
10. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes The Platter


Barack Obama’s Top Ten

1. Ready or Not Fugees
2. What’s Going On Marvin Gaye
3. I’m On Fire Bruce Spingsteen
4. Gimme Shelter Rolling Stones
5. Sinnerman Nina Simone
6. Touch the Sky Kanye West
7. You’d Be So Easy to Love Frank Sinatra
8. Think Aretha Franklin
9. City of Blinding Lights U2
10. Yes We Can

Speaking of interdisciplinarity…

I wanted to place a plug for the upcoming “Expanding Literacy Studies” conference, the first international, interdisciplinary conference on literacy studies organized and hosted by graduate students. It will be held at The Ohio State University on April 3-5, 2009.

Expanding Literacy Studies logo

This conference is dedicated to exploring the broad range of literacies–alphabetic reading and writing, visual, digitial, rhetorical, critical… and so on. If you compose or decode a text, that’s a literate act. And this conference offers an opportunity to contribute to a conversation that transcends the usual disciplinary borders… while chatting with a group of smart, fun people. Tell ’em Harlot sent you.

See for more info.

meant to be?

As I push and shove (or, rather, swing and duck) my way through my dissertation, I’ve been thinking lately about the topic I once promised myself I’d write my dissertation on: the rhetoric of fate in American culture. You see, there was a time in my life about six or seven years ago that I had a major philosophical shift in my thinking. Previously, I had been a faithful believer in fate and predestination. Everything was, of course, predestined—where I’d go to college, who I’d meet, what career I’d have, whom I’d marry, if I’d marry, etc. After some pretty heated discussions with several people I respect and admire, I toyed with the idea that maybe everything wasn’t based on fate, or wasn’t predestined.

To make a long story short (or, to spare you a personal story more interesting to me than to others, I’m sure), I’ll cut to the chase. In the process of shifting my thinking, I asked anyone and everyone what they believed about fate. Did they, too, believe that everything was predestined? What did people mean by fate? Predestination? Most profound to me, and pertinent to Harlot, is the contradiction I found over and over in what people believed about fate, and in what they said about it. Most didn’t really believe in fate, but I could easily catch them speaking as if they did.

For example, my mother firmly stated that she didn’t believe our lives were predestined—that we had independent thought and choice in what we did. She did, however, routinely utter such comforting statements as, “Don’t worry, Kelly, it wasn’t meant to be,” or “If it’s meant to be, it’ll work out.” My best friend confirmed that she, also, did not believe that our lives were predestined. However, she would often ask the question, “Where is Mr. Right?” “I guess I’m not meant to find him yet?”

What I’m still curious about is why many of us (not to mention popular culture) often speak as if things are meant to or not meant to happen if we don’t really believe it. Do we really believe, on some level, that things will work out? Do we need to believe that? Is it all just rhetoric we’ve heard and repeat out of habit?

Obviously, I, at least, wasn’t predestined to write that dissertation. Long way from there…

Analyze That Melody

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about music these days. And its role in rhetoric. I don’t know. It just seems like as much as we try to keep the disciplines apart, they keep strolling down lovers’ lane hand in hand.

Music is so integral to most societies worldwide–whether they define it as “music” or no. For instance:

1. My boss not too long ago criticized a coworker for having rap on her ipod and then promptly handed the scissor sisters for her to listen to. What happens if the under-person does not accept the higher-ups version of what is “good” or “acceptable/respectable music?” Does their relationship change in some way? Does their dynamic dampen because they don’t cherish the things that the other person does?

2. I will be driving some coworkers (of a different job) on a 2/3 hour trip. Trust me, they will be forced to listen to my music and the things I like. Now, I will try to be sympathetic and stay away from some of the most polarizing kind of stuff (ie Linkin Park–you’ll either love ’em or hate ’em), but I don’t think they’d want to hear my Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada either. Which I guess will make us stick with something that most everybody likes (The Temptations it is–or Clapton, no one can “no” to Clapton) or just not play anything at all. Does this mean that we might actually have to talk to each other!?

3. Abstract music intrigues me. What’s it trying to say exactly? Hmm, I think it is trying to communicate, even to persuade in some way, but what is it that it’s trying to communicate to me? For example, from Opsound,  a piece called “sailing.” I mean, how exactly is this “sailing” and how does it connect to the overarching message of the piece?

I guess, I just think it’s there. It’s worth exploring and delving into the many, many facets that music encompasses–from social connections to identity to what the music does itself. Seriously. The musician (in most times) very intentionally choose a minor key over a major key for a specific reason and that reason is trying to communicate with its audience. It’s just another form of persuasion.

The interdisciplinary ideals make me salivate.

Photo from [nati] of Flickr.

cards on the table

I am so tried of hearing the phrase “playing the race card.” First of all, exactly what game (not to mention teams, rules, and trophies) are we talking about? As far as I can tell, the “race card” is generally treated like an underhanded and potentially unethical strategy (not simply an acknowledgement of identity politics) that someone who is “raced” (Obama) can turn to in a pinch — but not what someone who is white, which apparently translates to “non-raced” (McCain), can ever be accused of.

The problem with that, of course, is that it perpetuates the invisibility of whiteness, the privelege and power that come not just with being “dominant” or in the “majority” but with the refusal to acknowledge the artifical nature of this position. Because if white people are not raced (what does that make them?), then race is not really their concern — it can remain always the concern of the other, a special interest issue rather than a complex web of historical, social, and cultural constructions that impacts all of us.

This simplisitic version of reality is what Steven Colbert satirizes with his insistence that he is “color blind” — as if white men/white media can “solve” the racial tensions in the U.S. and beyond by simply refusing to see them. Willful blindness at the expense of critical consciousness is the name of that game.

And this is exactly what McCain’s team is banking on — that American audiences are too blind to see the white power he exploits and exemplifies. Now, I’m not calling McCain a white supremacist. But I am pointing out that his own race card has already been and will continue to be played — by cynical, opportunistic campaign managers, racist voters, fearful Christians, and everyday, well-meaning citizens who unconsciously support what they are familiar with… and/or who rely (blindly) on counterproductive binaries perpetuated by the bear-baiting circus we call “the news.”


Trashy Rhetorics . . .

So I was out in Denver recently to revisit the Peter-Pan lifestyle that I used to lead not all that long ago.  While pulling out of the Whole Foods (which used to be a Wild Oats) I noticed perhaps one of the most effective (public) rhetorical maneuvers that I’ve seen in a long time.

Envision if you will walking up to these two containers:


As I walk up with a plastic bottle, I look for the recycling option, which is not only there, but has a nice list of what’s acceptable and what’s not.  I was thrilled with the fact that an effort was being made to not only sort but educate at the same time, knowing that recycling literacy is pitiful — even among those that self-identify as “green.”  (Click here to see what Columbus accepts, which is a pretty standard list.)


But I was even more THRILLED when I saw this label on the other can:


What an effective way to redirect someone’s thought-path to consequences that aren’t otherwise considered in throwing away something into a “trash” bin.  Even though it’s a move done by Whole Foods (a company whose ethical principles sometimes walk the line), it’s an excellent example of micro-politics: the making of everyday occurrences into conscious political acts.

And here’s the best part: this is easily transferable into an activist project that anyone can participate in.  Stickers, stencils, or a simple crossed out “trash” with a penned in “landfill” in its spot will redirect otherwise mindless acts of devastation.

Perhaps someone should take the time to create a “landfill sticker depot” where you can get landfill stickers sent to you so that you can do some redirecting whenever you find the chance.  A similar thing happened with the “Fuck” project.  If you want to get some immature kicks, the book, “Fuck this Book” is relentlessly funny.  Some sample shots below.  Enjoy.

But seriously, thoughts on trashy rhetorics?


Who Am I Wearing?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. However did you get your fabulous fashion sense, Miss Kaitlin? Well, it’s called pulling whatever is clean out of the drawer and putting it on. But for everyone else, they might learn from a little show called “What Not to Wear” on TLC.Now, this particular show is supposed to take people who have been nominated as, well, less than polished dressers and teach them how to present their best assets by changing their style. What I personally find fascinating are all the tactics that the two hosts, Stacey London and Clinton Kelly, must go through in order to convince their nominees of particular items of clothing. Like the nominees say so well themselves, the way they dress expresses who they are.

ie. Christina

Or even Marcy

And that’s where I’m both perplexed and fascinated. If someone is a jeans and t-shirt person and that’s how they choose to represent themselves, which means that that’s how they choose to form their identity, does changing their dress change their identity? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it changes who they are, per se, but perhaps it changes who they will be.

Or what about this thought. If these hosts truly are bringing out the nominees’ most attractive qualities, then maybe the nominees are actually finding their true identities and their true selves.

Well, I think that’s my more optimistic side coming through, because I then can’t help but question what or who gets to decide what constitutes their best attributes or what their best self would be.

And to think, we used to merely wear clothes for the warmth. How misguided we were.

Photograph from Moriza of Flickr.