I Have Mail Too!

. . . But this came in the mailbox. And in the form of a credit card offer.

I get pre-approved for all kinds of cards, so I see all kinds of offers and techniques to try and get me to use their card. I was rather impressed by American Express’s latest maneuver though.

Travel. Note the “plane ticket,” the “passport.” They really went for it with these materials.

American Express “Passport”

Being a so-called youthful and exuberant person, travel is quite the enticing proposition. So, they’ve got my number. Well played American Express, you correctly identified my demographic. If I actually needed a credit card right now, you might have beat out the competition. Fortunately, I don’t. But I still appreciate the effort. And I actually do find this quite a persuasive piece of advertising.

I’ve got mail…

…from David Byrne!

Last month, I downloaded a free song from his new album with Brian Eno, and since then we’ve had some great communication. They suggest I visit their site to hear free samples, download the album, buy concert tickets, etc. And I do, of course. I wouldn’t want to let Dave down.

I’ve never understood before why people would bother to sign up for text messages from political candidates or wake-up calls from actors… I mean, it’s not real, people!

But that is a real smile that comes to my face whenever I see that name in my inbox. Now that’s a rhetorical appeal.

It’s Necessary.

We’ve had a power outage here in central Ohio in the past few days. While sitting in my darkened house with candles trying to light the way, I realized how much I occupy myself with kinda random things. I mean, no tv, no internet, no caller id, no lights, no stereo. And you’re wondering why that’s important?

No TV means no knowledge of when the electricity should come back on. I don’t know how many other people have been affected or where. Same goes for the stereo. My forms of communication get narrowed down to the phone and my voice. My phone I couldn’t charge unless it was in my car and my voice doesn’t carry when you stand directly in front of me.

No internet means that I don’t get any work done. You may say, “But Kaitlin, you can go someplace else for that.” Oh contraire my friend,  I spent about 3 hours today driving around trying to find someplace with electrical plugs and a signal that I can tap into. I’d go to a cafe to have the outlets taken up; okay I say, I have two hours left on my battery, I can work until someone gets up or it dies. But then, my browsers won’t load, because there are so many people on the same signal. I can’t stay at the cafe and just sit there. I have to find someplace else.

I’d go to a library only to have it close on me. Wonderful. Okay, I’m just complaining now, but no internet=no work for me. No work=nothing gets done and Nothing gets done=Panic. Er, fear more or less. How am I supposed to communicate to people, now!?

No caller id. Not important, really. I can live without it, but it was more of a surprise that I’m not used to. The phone rings (I do have an electrical phone with a plug-in base and all, but I also have just a phone that plugs directly into the phone line for when the power goes out) and I don’t know who it is who’s calling. I have a habit of answering the phone with a “hello?” The question mark is important there. I do phrase it as a question — even when I already know who it is calling, but now when I actually don’t know who’s calling, the question has actual significance. I really did need to know who it was calling.

No lights. Trust me, writing by candle light is not as easy or romantic as it looks. There’s a reason why we don’t all sit at our desks with a candle and quill pen these days. We don’t have to. And this is where we see how necessity stimulates progress.

I guess I just realized how cut off I became. My primary form of getting news ceased. I couldn’t check out the news on tv, internet, or (theoretically) stereo. My step-father did have a battery powered stereo that I used for a bit, but it took forever for them to bring up any real info that I wanted.

The paper is a nice way to hear what happened yesterday, but it doesn’t tell me a whole lot about what’s gonna happen in the minute by minute way that I’m used to. And uh, well, I don’t buy the paper. I have nothing against print — I just don’t spend the money on it. I’m poor.

So that left my cell phone. I’m not much of a phone person as it is, but calling places to ask if they’re open so I can bum some wi-fi is a terrible way for me to spend my afternoon. I did it though. Necessity made me do it.

So there we have it. An almost total lack of my average forms of communication. And yet, I still found a way to communicate. Now, ain’t that human?

Holy Mixed Metaphor Batman!

In response to Obama’s recent “attack” on Palin (huh?), a McCain campaign spokesperson had this to say:

“We have put a lot of hard work into Gov. Palin, and it is really beginning to pay off. She is proving to be quite adept and flexible in getting across the Republican party’s messages. She’s one tough cookie and the perfect person to put an end to Washington’s spending on pork, and bring home the bacon for the American people.”



rhetoric and remembrance

Yesterday, as we all well know, was September 11, the 7th anniversary of what has become the touchstone moment of contemporary American (and, to a large degree, international) politics. I didn’t watch the coverage. This is a hard day for my family and me every year, and I have learned that the rhetoric surrounding–overwhelming, really–this date tends to infuriate and sadden me. My usual critical glee at fascinating ploys and manipulative wordplay can’t withstand the very real pain and anger that surround September 11.

So I managed to avoid most of it, until we turned on BBC America news (incidentally, the only news I can generally stomach) where they showed a clip of Obama and McCain at the WTC site (now “ground zero,” a phrase that I think it criminally overused and under-examined). I was fascinated to discover that on this day, and apparently only this day, “All of us came together on 9/11 — not as Democrats or Republicans — but as Americans.” This statement, released jointly by the competing presidential campaigns, brings up an interesting question:

Um, aren’t Democrats and Republics every day? Shouldn’t that identity, that community, trump party allegiance EVERY FREAKING DAY?

How is it that candidates for president of the United States are allowed to pat themselves on the back for acting, for one day only, as if they are more than just candidates for president of Democrats or Republicans?!

I will now refrain from further ranting about the callous and offensive use of September 11 in political stumping. But you should feel free… every freaking day.

clichés, context, juxtaposition, kairos, and . . . pigs?

The age-worn expression, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” has plenty of similarity with how rhetoric is often conceived.  When somebody says, “oh, that’s mere rhetoric,” they’re essentially saying, “you’re all style and no substance; don’t let cosmetic changes distract from the real (and often ugly) truth.”

So the recent mild-media-frenzy of Barack is paralleled with Harlot in many ways.  Here’s a sequence summary:  Obama uses the colloquialism in reference to McCain policy; the line gets picked up as a reference to Palin (McCain is “sexifying” his campaign by choosing her); McCain campaign releases a press statement calling the comment “sexist”; it is then put in juxtaposition with Palin’s lipstick reference at the RNC by media pundits; bloggers talk about how Obama called Palin a pig.  Like a harlot who has been dressed up to resemble something respectable, a filthy pig is dressed up with cosmetics to resemble, well, anything else.


So, in honor of this close relation between the cliché and how rhetoric is popularly conceived, I’ve compiled some texts below that might serve as a jumping off point for a discussion on taking lines out of context and attempts at framing in campaigning.

Let’s start with the “original,” with some added Fox news footage at the end. I ask that you pay attention to how the remarks are contextualized and juxtaposed:

It’s rather remarkable to watch the assumptions flying about within Fox’s framing of the comment,  calling it “name-calling,” “engaging the vice-president,” and “going after Palin.” Also, any thoughts on the conspiratorial rhetoric used in the news footage that follows? By juxtaposing it with some remarks about Biden, Hannity frames it as long-term plan, asking, “Do you still think there’s not a strategy here?” Also, notice that Hannity justifies the discussion itself with juxtaposition, saying the audience clearly knew what Obama was referring to in light of Palin’s recent RNC line (footage of which, please notice, was placed before Obama’s in the editing, giving it that “in-direct-response-to” feel).It’s odd they didn’t show this footage:

But even if they did show it, a lot of their claim would still stand (strangely), simply because of how they juxtaposed the comments and framed it as direct reference.  Juxtaposition is everything here. More generally, the fight is over framing. Consider Barack’s follow up comments on the scenario, reframing the event as a one that’s been ripped out of context and poorly reframed by “the media”:

And just for kicks, consider Cheney’s use of the phrase as an ethos-builder, framing it as an good-ole-Western-frontier expression — something that true, red-blooded Americans say over black coffee:


Comparing Apples and Windows

Last week, Microsoft unveiled its first television commercial in its new $300 million campaign to “highlight how Windows has become an indispensable part of the lives of a billion people around the globe” (Microsoft press release). I’ve been amused by the Mac vs PC ads that have been around for a bit, and Windows has been working to counter them with a this new advertising scheme that features the comedian, Jerry Seinfeld.

Some of the responses I read, including a blog post by David Zeiler of The Baltimore Sun, give responses that I think are just a bit too negative (but some of the comments on Zeiler’s post expand the conversation in really smart ways). Is this the first ad that sells a product without showing the product? Certainly not. It’s risky, but sometimes it works. (For one of my favorites, take a look at what Haagen Dazs is doing these days.) I think in this case the ad is more powerful than some are giving it credit.

Just recently, a member of a listserv to which I subscribe posted a link to a very interesting episode from Frontline called “The Persuaders.” I watched only the first chapter (which was really good, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it), and what it presented resonates with the Apple and Windows ad campaigns: When our culture is already imbued with advertising, creating a flavor that pops out from the rest is difficult but is what every ad agency tries to do, and as those agencies continue to compete, they increasingly blur the (already unclear) distinction between culture and advertising. That’s precisely what Microsoft is doing with this first commercial and apparently what it will do with its entire campaign.

So far, however, I’m more a fan of the Mac vs PC ad campaign. The commercials do well in their simplicity, comedy, and visual representation of the two operating systems/software/hardware bundles (I’m not quite sure how to describe them when “Apple” refers to all three components and “Microsoft” refers to the first two). The Mac guy is confident but not pompous, competitive but sensitive, and very human and fun. The PC guy is the nerd with glasses who could use some exercise, needs to get out of the office, and should work on catching up with the times. Would I take such a simplistic approach in identifying people in real life? No. But I do think it works here.

But I’ll let you decide.

Call Me Mademoiselle Homo Sapien

There are few things that send me into a tizzy. I’m a generally calm kind of person that doesn’t really get caught up in the little things. I mean, I like my things the way that I like them, but I’m not going to get caught up in your stuff.

That is, unless you’re rude. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about friends ragging on one another or some situation that demands very specific attention and some foot laying down action. At those points, I think you’re beyond what is required out of politeness. But when someone I don’t really know is rude for really no apparent reason beyond opportunistic and ambitious tendencies, it just irks me. (My issue, I know.)

This got me to thinking, though. On an evolutionary scale, how did politeness help? Where was the day when Caveman #1 turned to Caveman #2 and said “Would you mind possibly passing a piece of woolie mammoth leg?” I can just imagine Caveman #2 grabbing a piece of woolie mammoth leg meat and smacking Caveman #1 over the head with it. Hmm, politeness didn’t quite work out for Caveman #1.

So, where did this sense of fair play come from? This humanistic desire for what is “right” and “polite.” And how is it that my Cavemen ancestors made it through the evolutionary ladder with a sense of anti-rudeness?

Now, I am sitting here, putting this into the perspective that politeness is a good thing, but I could just as easily say that all it means is that my ancestors played by the rules set up within the society that they lived in. Never going beyond or away from what is expected of them. But that’s the part that trips me up. What was expected at that point was to survive at all costs. And I don’t think survival would be a realistic goal when you’re asking if it’s okay for you to eat, sleep, and drink.

So, how did we get to this point? Where did this idea of “right” and “wrong” that we all seem to live so strongly by come from? How has that form of communication outlasted the a woolie mammoth leg over the head? I mean, I’m glad it did, but I still wonder why.

Well, I’m beginning to believe that my ancestors thought too much. And that it’s a hereditary condition.