Announcing The Silver Tongue

There’s a new blog coming out of Carnegie Mellon that looks exciting:

The Silver Tongue is written by a group of rhetoric scholars committed to providing smart, entertaining insight into the language that shapes our everyday lives.

Although many people associate rhetoric with deceptive or “slimy” communication, we believe that rhetoric is the way things get done in a democracy, that communication and persuasion are desirable alternatives to force. We cannot solve social problems without understanding, and we cannot achieve understanding without rhetoric.

And you can see, there’s considerable overlap with the mission of Harlot, right down to the name–Silver Tongue takes a term that’s often used with tinctures of derision (or at least skepticism), and reclaims it for a positive, productive notion of rhetoric.  The warrant offered for the project’s instantiation is one that Harlot is familiar with:

If rhetoric really matters to the public, as rhetoricians often claim, then we have a responsibility to aid the public in making sense of it.

There are, of course, differences between the projects; but it’s exhilarating to see more and more ventures that seek to build bridges between popular audiences and the academy.

Congrats to those of The Silver Tongue and best wishes for success with the project!  The more of us working for these admirable goals, the better — perhaps down the road there will be opportunities to collaborate!

Playing Hard to Get

Alas, I have not read this article, but when I get through my 26-book reading list, I will. In the meantime, perhaps you could read “Playing Hard to Get: Using Scarcity to Influence Behavior” by UX Magazine and let me know whether it’s worth the time or not. Anything particularly eye-brow raising? Unfortunately, I haven’t the time to read miscellaneous interesting things just to read right now, but I’d love to know if this is worth carving out some time for.

Issue #5 is Alive!

Happy fall from your friends at Harlot. We’ve got some treats for you: A Katrina survivor delves into stories that reveal more than just memories of a New Orleans’ past; a student produces a coming out performance through her writing; a photo lover questions whether the love is for the photo or the emotion it consistently conjures; relationships of adulthood are pondered by a movie-goer through the lens of Up in the Air; and sexuality is expressed in a pair of suspenders.

Intrigued? Excellent. Don’t forget to post your thoughts in response—just hit “Add Comment” to keep the conversation going!

We’re currently accepting submissions for our spring 2011 special issue, focused around the theme of family rhetoric. The deadline isn’t until January 15th, so you’ve got plenty of time to ponder why your brother flushed your favorite toy down the toilet when you were 6… how your parents managed to convince you to sit for that sibling portrait in the 80s… or what strategies you rely on to survive the holiday onslaught of aunts. You figured out early on to ask Dad for certain things and Mom for others–how did you know to do that? What were the differences between those approaches?

For more ideas, check out the full call on the announcements page, where you can also see some highly embarrassing shots of yours truly. As always, feel free to shoot us a line to chat about your inspirations, hesitations, or just to say howdy!

And of course, don’t forget that we accept pieces for consideration throughout the year. We’ve got reviewers standing by to help you polish that rant or sharpen that observation into the next Harlot masterpiece.

Speaking of: We want to extend a hearty congrats to contributor and blogger Ben McCorkle on being awarded Computers and Composition’s Michelle Kendrick Outstanding Digital Production/Scholarship Award for his “The Annotated Obama Poster,” which appeared in Harlot‘s second issue. Honored for its intellectual and creative awesomeness, McCorkle’s piece exemplifies the smart, accessible rhetorical criticism Harlot was designed to share.

In other news, we’re delighted to announce our shiny new ISSN: 2156-924X. Yup, that means the Library of Congress now has a listing for a journal named Harlot. And so does the Modern Language Association (MLA) Directory of Periodicals! Sa-weet.

And finally, we’re partnering with some design peeps to develop a new, more inviting look for Harlot. Of course, we’d like you to have a say in that re-vision… so let us know what you’d like to see!

‘Dem ar Fightin’ Words…

NPR has officially won my “Rhetorician of the Week” award, for their new project: “Fighting Words.” Here’s how they describe it:

Check out this video for a sixty-second overview of the project:

NPR is doing great work here in helping cultivate civic rhetorical literacy, simply by providing the data needed for analysis.  The one critique that I believe is worth mentioning, however, is the title of the project: Fighting Words.  It seems they’ve fallen into that well-worn groove of envisioning argument and debate only in terms of WAR.

Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By reveals just how deeply this association has ingrained itself into our everyday expressions and thought patterns; here are just a few examples they list:

Your claims are indefensible.

He attacked every weak point in my argument.

His criticisms were right on target.

I demolished his argument.

I’ve never won an argument with him.

He shot down all of my arguments.

The language we use to frame the practice and process of debate significantly impacts how think about and respond to it.  NPR is taking the same route that the lame-stream media takes in trying to boost their ratings: amplify the sense of contentiousness to get viewers to tune in.

Every time I hear these metaphoric frames of aggression and war invoked without a thought given to their long-term consequences, I think of all the different ways we might envision argument.  As Lakoff and Johnson so eloquently put it:

Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.

Creating Creatively

In terms of how we frame things, I often wonder what effect some of the techniques people use are. For instance, onextrapixel compiles a beautiful array of “35+ Unique & Interesting Product Packaging Designs.” Indeed, there are some unique packages that would get me interested in the product. (I’ve been interested in packaging, though. I still buy real CDs because I respect the packaging.)

It seems like this tactic works in this situation because there is a real, tangible item to be handled in the course of investigating how it’s marketed. On the other hand, however, we can see that some of the same techniques are being applied to business cards via Smashing Magazine’s “Business Card Design Starter Kit: Showcase, Tutorials, Templates.” While some of these cards are vibrant, interesting, and clearly will engage prospective clients, others appear to be so focused on the packaging that it may not benefit the designers in the long run. For instance, some of the cards appear as if they would break apart easily, which will be a problem when that card ends up in a client’s purse or wallet. Others appear as if they might be too sturdy–they use materials that would be expensive to give out to every client, which probably is not an advantageous business model. Jus’ sayin’.

So, are these business cards too focused on the design without enough attention to the function? And, if so, does that make it less persuasive? They may be super cool, but does it actually produce an increase in business?