Trading iPods

To continue on my music-is-a-form-of-communication rant, I recommend you read and/or listen to this short piece by Andre Codrescu.

In this piece, he describes listening to his wife’s ipod after his dies and the world that opens up to him after doing so. I like the potential of this. I like the thought that our choices of what to put on our ipod communicates our lives to other people and that those choices impact their lives as well. Call me idealistic, but I find it a beautiful concept.

Typophile = Delicious

One of our beloved editors, Kaitlin, has helped open my eyes to how typefaces gives us signals and shown me the beauty (and rhetorical effectiveness) of kinetic typography.  Thanks, Kaitlin, for reminding me that the most persuasive rhetoric is that which hides itself, most often through normalization.

To repay the favor I’m posting this exquisite video by a group of students at Brigham Young University promoting the 5th annual Typophile Film Fest:

Typophile Film Festival 5 Opening Titles from Brent Barson on Vimeo.

Body Typed

Jesse Epstein has a series of documentaries called Body Typed, which explored the idea of body image and how these various representations of the body impact us.

The first, Wet Dreams and False Images. . .

The Second, The Guarantee. . .

And the third, 34x25x36. . .

These are all high quality films that effectively explores beyond the cliche “too much perfection is bad for us” criticism and questions this kind of perfectionism as a form of worship. It’s interesting. You should watch it.

In fact, you can see 34x25x36 in its entirety at PBS Video as well as an interview with Jesse Epstein herself.

Ralph’s Rants & Rhetoric

I’m still not used to seeing Ralph Nader’s name in my inbox.  Sure, I signed up for his listserv, but that has yet to stop me from thinking that Ralph has searched me out personally because he knows how much I enjoy a rant, especially those that mercilessly attack greed and corruption.  Of course, Ralph and I don’t agree on everything, but his essays are eminently reasonable and meticulously researched.


Last week, however, I almost wrote Ralph back, letting him know how much one of his emails hurt my head and heart.  He succumbed to cliché and alliteration (a poisonous combo, for sure) by titling an essay, “Between the Rhetoric and the Reality.”  He didn’t explicitly extrapolate on the shaky binary, thankfully, but such a juxtaposition is sure to raise hairs on most rhetoricians.  Wayne Booth started collecting headlines like this years ago (perhaps to mollify his irritation) and shares a few in the preface to The Rhetoric of Rhetoric:

“Impoverished students deserve solutions, not rhetoric.”

“[What I’ve just said] is not rhetoric or metaphor.  It’s only truth.”

“President Bush’s speech was long on rhetoric and short on substance.”

We’ve all seen the likes of these lines, so I’ll not needlessly deride them with a long response on how rhetoric is most productively viewed as epistemic (it simultaneously describes, discovers, and creates knowledge) or how language fundamentally shapes our perceptions of reality.  Instead, I’m here to let you know that Ralph redeemed himself yesterday (for the most part*) with an email titled, “Words Matter.”

He begins by ridiculing the journalists who uncritically adopt words that are finely calibrated to affect the way we think about an issue or concept.  His examples are rather thought-provoking, so I thought I would share:

Day in and day out we read about “detainees” imprisoned for months or years by the federal government in the U.S., A-detainee-from-Afghanist-001Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. Doesn’t the media know that the correct word is “prisoners,” regardless of what Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld disseminated?

The raging debate and controversy over health insurance and the $2.5 trillion spent this year on health care involves consumers and “providers.” I always thought “providers” were persons taking care of their families or engaging in charitable service. Somehow, the dictionary definition does not fit the frequently avaricious profiles of Aetna, United Healthcare, Pfizer and Merck.

“Privatization” and the “private sector” are widespread euphemisms that the press falls for daily. Moving government owned assets or functions into corporate hands, as with Blackwater, Halliburton, and the conglomerates now controlling public highways, prisons, and drinking water systems is “corporatization,” not the soft imagery of going “private” or into the “private sector.” It is the corporate sector!

“Free trade” is a widely used euphemism. It is corporate managed trade as evidenced in hundreds of pages of rules favoring corporations in NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. “Free trade” lowers barriers between countries so that cartels, unjustified patent monopolies, counterfeiting, contraband, and other harmful practices and products can move around the world unhindered.

* This redemption is only partial, I’m afraid.  Despite the correct articulation that “words matter,” Ralph’s proposed solution is to use “words that are accurate and [can be taken at] face value.”  He calls for “straight talk” and “semantic discipline.”  Such an appeal reflects his earlier rhetoric/reality split by suggesting that we “cut the rhetoric” and get down to the “real” stuff.  His framing suggests that there are right words and wrong words, with the right words being more ideologically or politically neutral.  Demanding that we return to the dictionary as a source of authority and clarity is about as persuasive as Dukakis in a tank.  So here’s the deal, Ralph: I promise to vote for you when you run in 2012 (or 2016, since you’ll probably be there, too) if you read the following works and give this troubled binary some serious reconsideration:

-) The Rhetoric of Rhetoric

-) Image Politics

-) “Rhetorical Perspectivism” in Contemporary Rhetorical Theory

What is the vernacular avant garde?

There was a great piece in the NY Times this weekend, “Uploading the Avant Garde,” in which Virginia Heffernan considers the presence, among YouTube’s many microgenres, of what she calls “the vernacular avant-garde.” I’ve never heard this phrase before, and I dig it. What does it mean to put those words in tandem? According to the OED (of course):

Vernacular (adj)

1. That writes, uses, or speaks the native or indigenous language of a country or district.

2. a. Of a language or dialect: That is naturally spoken by the people of a particular country or district; native, indigenous.

6. Of arts, or features of these: Native or peculiar to a particular country or locality. spec. in vernacular architecture, architecture concerned with ordinary domestic and functional buildings rather than the essentially monumental.

Avant garde

1. The foremost part of an army; the vanguard or van.

2. The pioneers or innovators in any art in a particular period. Also attrib. or as adj. Hence avant-{sm}gardism, the characteristic quality of such pioneering; avant-{sm}gardist(e) (-{shti}st), such a person; also attrib.

And so this seems clear enough: we have the home-grown innovator, the local pioneer. But in our current use of vernacular, we usually mean folksy, populist, “normal” ways of communicating, whereas avant garde is all about pushing those norms to provoke and even alienate mainstream popular audiences… So, yeah, I’m still not sure I get how those work together. How can we define such a concept? ( I heart semantics.) Like porn, do we just know it when we see it? Anyone?

So of course I googled the phrase and found few results beyond a couple of uses in reference to avant garde jazz and vernacular architecture… Except, that is, for a couple of  blogs and a SNS who’d posted the same link and video:

Networked Performance

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, and especially in new media artistic practice, we have witnessed a shift from the representational idiom — where art is viewed mainly as a means to represent the world — to the performative idiom — where the practice of art is considered an active negotiation with the world it seeks to address.*

Networked Performance is real-time, embodied practice within digital environments and networks; it is, embodied transmission.

Performance involves the moment of action, its continuity, inherent temporality and relationship to the present.


DocumentaryTech is a collaborative effort to talk about what makes for the best in the art of the documentary. As a joint project by The Rhode Island Film Festival and several sponsoring universities, we’ll talk about technique, technology, distribution and funding.

Using the most advanced social software platforms and internet rich multimedia applications, provides movement and new media artists, theorist, thinkers and technologists the possibility of sharing work, ideas and research, generating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborative projects.

I don’t have much profound to say about all this. I think the phrase is fascinating and worthy of play. And I think it’s cool that there are such fascinated/ing people out there instigating such play.

Yay interwebs.