Rhetoric Quote of the Week

From the Governator:

We in California have made a big move forward in that area because the people of California have approved $42 billion of infrastructure … I think that was a really big, big step forward schwarzenegger03and I think that the federal government has to do obviously the same thing.

The important thing is that we look at how do we get the people enthusiastic about the subject? Because the word infrastructure means nothing to the majority of people of America. We have to come up with a sexier word than infrastructure. So the key thing is that you have to go out and promote and market this the right way like with everything in policy.

[In California] we went out and didn’t talk about infrastructure but we talked about are you angry about getting stuck in traffic every day, and you cannot spend enough time with your family and with your children? That really aroused anger in most of the people and we said vote yes on those propositions.

“Sexier,” of course, is synonymous here with “persuasive.”  (And you wondered why we named the journal Harlot of the Arts.)  To be persuasive is to be sexually appealing and alluring on a visceral level.  A successful rhetor will no doubt get pleasure out of, um, skillful application.  But also look at how quickly he switches frames: “you have to go out and promote and market this the right way.”  The economic rhetoric here fits easily with, “sex sells.”

Perhaps we’ll get Arnold to write a piece for Harlot . . .

Writing and weeding

I’m working on an academic article about Harlot, and the irony does not make it a smoother process… so I was out in the backyard weeding.

I enjoy the excuse to sit around outside, but I always have qualms about weeding–in part, because I’m never quite sure I’m pulling the right ones. But even more so, because I get uncomfortable about messing with nature. (Or rather, “nature,” since this is my urban and bricked backyard, after all.) I have these funny guilty feelings about killing something that’s growing, like its an environmental sin (cue Catholic upbringing) to in any way interfere with the natural course of, well, nature. I know that this isn’t logical, that there are immense and innumerable complicating factors… but still.

Side note: My students were so put off by Gore’s rhetorical choices in An Inconvenient Truth that they seem to have found the movie less than persuasive. It sure as hell worked on me. I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist. But now, all the time, I think about these things, the tiny details of our relationship with the earth. Negotiations and love songs.

Anyway, back in the garden, I’ve found that I can pretty comfortably pull the weeds that grow up in between the bricks of the patio, or where they might adversely affect our vegetable plants. I don’t want to analyze this, but I also tend to be more lenient with the ones I like, like clover. So delicate and pretty, no harm there. Today I didn’t yank a big ugly dandelion because there was a ladybug on it. Not logical, but a system is developing.

I weed the human areas and try to let the plant areas mostly alone. Which brings me to the borders, the lines that can be drawn and redrawn, the liminal spaces, the messy areas. I thought maybe I’d take a hard line and just declare a point past which the weeds are not welcome. But that line is hard to draw–and more importantly, I thought, they place the weeds within the surrounding areas in an interesting and precarious position. They’re in contested space (in my head, at least) between human and natural environments–and again, I wonder, who am I to decide? Plus, I’ve read Anzaldua and believe in the dynamic, disruptive potential of the borderlands. Again, not necessarily the most logical thought process… But for now, I’m going to let those spaces be, just to see what happens there.

Which brings me back to that paper about Harlot, into which I now think I should work some of these ideas about the messiness and growth potential of such border spaces. That’s some good gardening.

How Extreme is “Extreme?”

Image by flattop341 (flickr)

Image by flattop341 (flickr)

Um, not quite as much as it used to be?

Sigh. I’ve become hyperaware* of the word. I’d rather I didn’t, but now I’m beyond hope. Every time I hear someone say extremely, my ears perk up because it seems abused fairly often (and please note I didn’t say “extremely often”). Someone is always “extremely nice,” or a movie is “extremely boring,” or a resource is “extremely useful.”

But seriously, if so many mundane qualities are described as extreme, then what happens to all those real-life instances of actual, um,  extreme stuff? Hearing the word used improperly so many times, I began thinking maybe I have the wrong definition in my mental dictionary (like those times as a teacher when I see a word misspelled so many times that I begin to think the wrong spelling is correct). Fortunately for my sanity (but not for overcoming my pet peeve), Dictionary.com defines extreme as “of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average.” Exactly! (Except that “farthest” should be “furthest” in this instance I believe.)

But if by popular usage extreme now refers to qualities that are just a few measly degrees beyond the norm, then what do we use in its stead?

Enter UrbanDictionary.com. (They know everything.) Of course, the site wouldn’t even have an entry for something as boring as extreme or extremely, but – get this – they’ve got extremliest! A user defines the word as “more extreme than ever, used when u need to express an outrageous amount of extreme-ness.” Uh, right. That’s totally extremely clear.

My only conclusion is that some words appear to lose power with younger generations. I use awesome fairly frequently but rarely because I’m struck with awe. On occasions of awe, I might say something like whoa, which, to be honest, doesn’t add much to a conversation — so maybe I shouldn’t complain after all. If extremeliest is now required to evoke the same response that extreme used to bring, I suppose it’s kind of like the more mainstream ginormous substituting enormous. Nonetheless, I can’t guarantee I’ll be saying extremeliest any time soon. Alas.

Anyway, let’s take a look at some real life examples. A quick Google search brought these sites up:

Well, I feel better having gotten this rant off my chest. Now I dare you to keep your eyes and ears shut to the word 😉


* My browser showed “hyperaware” as being misspelled, so I Googled it to make sure the combined form is a word. Ironically enough, hyperaware is defined at Wiktionary.com as “extremely aware.” Ha! I’m amused.

Funky Remixes

I talked before about about Musopen for a good place to access classical music that’s in the public domain. Now, I can’t do quite that well again, but I can give you an option to update your music selection. Funky Remixes is a site dedicated to, well, funky remixes; however, they do generally try to list music that uses creative commons licensing. So, even if you need something a little more lively to accompany your project, check out the site and see if anything will fit. You might find something totally sweet you could use. They even have mixes from some notables such as Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Le Tigre, The Rapture (a personal fav), and Danger Mouse & jemini. Oh yes, and they’re all free to download.

If you need a recommendation, then I’d start with “I’M FUNKYN’LOVE YOU” by DEEJAWU. It’s just groovy–er, funky.

Old Yeller . . . The Dog Food

I wouldn’t believe unless I saw it with my own eyes:


In conjunction with Disney, Kroger has begun selling Old Yeller Dog Food based off the movie depicting a young boy’s emotional journey with his dog, set in the 1860s.  Old Yeller (named for his color, yellow/yella) and the boy become very close and engage in numerous frontier adventures.  Then the dog gets into a fight with wolf, gets bit, becomes rabid, and the boy shoots him in the head with a rifle.

The movie sometimes goes by its alternative title: SADDEST MOVIE EVER.

Or, in the words of the geniuses over at Kroger and Disney: “The movie is a timeless classic that transcends generations, and we believe this brand will appeal not only to original fans, but to the millions of Americans who share the same kind of special bond with their beloved dogs,” says Barry Vance, Kroger senior corporate category manager.

“Bringing Disney’s Old Yeller brand to a trusted retailer like Kroger was a natural fit,” says Christopher King, category director, Disney Consumer Products FMCG. “Disney’s Old Yeller dog food is for those dogs that are part of the family.”

Did these people watch the same movie?  What are they trying to convey with this branding?  What’s next, Titanic bottled water?


Language for Today

Laineys Repertoire, flickr

Laineys Repertoire, flickr

I just read “Is Language A Window into Human Nature” on Space Collective, in which the author argues that language must be reinvented in order to address our new technological age and the obstacles of this age. I find this interesting, because I’ve been having a difficult time describing what exactly Harlot is in the minutiae. Yes, we publish articles (and mighty nifty ones, I might add), but we’re not just another journal. Heck no, we’re specifically geared toward interactivity and community–through comments, the blog, the wiki. We’re a “place” and a “space” for dialogue. So, why is it that I can’t stop using those two words?

The hesitation I have to use certain words (ie publication, journal, magazine) stems from the connotation of those words. I’m not a big fan of the word “forum” either, simply because I don’t want it confused with bboards or message boards. We are online, after all, and that could easily be misinterpreted by the web savvy.

I wonder if we require our own special word. Hmm. We’re a publication and a community, so we’re a publunity? We’re a journal and a space, so we’re a jourace? Oh, I know, we’re a mag, a blog, and a wiki, so we’re a mogi. Ha, sounds like a band name.

None of these are going to catch on. First of all, they’re terrible, and secondly, they don’t carry any context for readers. That’s what makes creating a new language so difficult. If it doesn’t happen organically, then it’s hard to force on anybody, because no one knows what you’re talking about and they don’t really care to.

Do I wish for one perfect word to encompass all that Harlot is and will be? Absolutely. It’d make my job easier, but at the same time, isn’t it my job to try and attain that–to be active in the movement that is Harlot and push for the convergence of multiple forms of contribution. To encourage the amalgamation of top-down and bottom-up voices in this community? So, what do we call it? Other than a “place” or a “space” or simply Harlot. An interactive online publication? A web-mag and community? A rhetorical realm for the populice? How do you describe all that you are in one simple, understandable word if that word has yet to exist yet?

Tiananmen & Twitter

Tomorrow, June 4th, marks the 20th anniversary of the bloody affair in Tiananmen Square, when the Chinese army opened machine gun fire on unarmed protesters. In an attempt to obviate any risk of renewing the spirit of dissent, China is taking measures to prevent communication:


Not that we exactly needed more evidence that communication technologies are instrumental in 21st-century activism, but this certainly helps confirm it. And since China is credited with having the largest online community, the impact goes deep.

This maneuver to counter dissent has interesting connections to the massacre, since one of the key demands of students gathering in Tiananmen was for free media. Such issues should concern any rhetorician who is interested in who has the power to speak, who is denied such power, and the influence of digital technologies on expression.

One may wonder how protesters will react to this sadly predictable move on the part of the Chinese government. How will citizens communicate when the channels for doing so are blocked? Who will lead when leaders have been placed on house arrest or “strongly encouraged” to vacation away from the capital for the 20th anniversary? Furthermore, since none of these tactics are surprising, how might activists elsewhere learn from them? The digital networks that support much of the transnational activism that is highly touted these days could easily disappear. What then? How can those that identify with certain social movements account for “cutting the head off,” where leaders are minimized, or worse, executed? And what might this mean in our networked age, where movements could be seen as acephalous?

Point of Departure

A conversation . . .


In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.


Someday, in the distant future, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires glowing within. May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light and knowledge.

Derrick Jensen:

When you don’t know how to connect, when connection frightens you so much, I suppose this simulation is better than nothing. Isn’t it better to watch nature programs than to never see nature at all? We’re substituting imaginary experiences with the images of things for experiences with the things themselves, having already substituted the experience of things for the possibility of relationship with other beings.

Martin Buber:

Through the Thou a person becomes I. The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.

Jean Baudrillard

Television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things.

Cruiser chic

It was a gorgeous weekend in Columbus, OH, and I was lucky enough to spend a fair amount of it watching the neighborhood soak in the sun. As I sat on my porch, I saw an impressive number of people on bikes — hipsters on street bikes, middle-aged couples on mountain bikes (and too often, on the sidewalk), the hard-core guy on the recumbent bike… streams of them rode by my porch.

One trendy young woman  passed a couple of times on one of those new-style “easy-boarding” cruiser-types;  they look significantly different than trad or even updated cruisers — it’s not just that there’s no crossbar, but that the frame dips almost to the road between front and back tire.

Biria's easy boarding cruiser

Biria's easy boarding cruiser

I haven’t been able to figure them out, but seeing that girl ride hers in a dress made me realize at least part of the point — they’re wardrobe-friendly for women. (They’re also nicely accessible.) I ride a new cruiser myself, but it doesn’t have that design feature, which does impact what I wear to work in terms of practicality and decency. More importantly, they are actually part of a growing fashion trend: the cute, stylish bike that goes with a cute, stylish outfit… and lifestyle.

Coincidentally, today Tim sent me a link to David Byrne’s review of Jeff Mapes’ “Pedaling Revolution: How Cyclists Are Changing American Cities.” In it, DB agrees with Mapes’ claim that growing numbers of women riders will play a major role in attitudes and policies about riding:

I can ride till my legs are sore and it won’t make riding any cooler, but when attractive women are seen sitting upright going about their city business on bikes day and night, the crowds will surely follow.

I caught a glimpse of that shift today — and it brought another ray of sunshine. Because that ride had rhetorical potential.

Now if only she’d take that message off the sidewalk.