Sitting will F*%$ You Up

Since we talked about moving our bodies last week, it seems only pertinent to bring up this poster that everyone’s been talking about in the blogosphere:

The creators of this poster seem to have struck an interesting balance between pathos and logos. They provide plenty of statistics with the scary goblin-like images to scare us into standing up. Plus, even though there are scary-Halloween images, the people themselves are hardly ever villainized. The objects themselves (chairs, tvs, etc) have shadows that are out to get us, but the people themselves tend to be bright cutouts. The obese cutouts, however, are represented in black much like the evil shadows. So, we’re clearly supposed to favor one over the other–feel aligned toward one of the other. It certainly does grab your attention, for sure.

Honestly, though, I will always favor the ads that offer a solution over the ones simply pointing out the problem. I mean, don’t most of us know we should be more active? Well, may I suggest more GirlTalk? I think that counts. 😉

Which word moves you (off the couch and into the gym): “Fat” or “Obese”?

There’s a fascinating conversation happening in Britain right now on the rhetorical aspects of being overweight.  The BBC just published an article that debates the merits of calling patients “fat” or “obese,” with health professionals evaluating which one will help move patients toward a more healthy weight:

The debate appears to hinge on motivation, with some health professionals advocating for the term “fat” with the argument that it will ostensibly shame them into improved weight management.  The flipside, of course, is that the pejorative connotations could reinforce a negative self-image to the extent that is demotivates.

Professor Steve Field, of the Royal College of General Practitioners, makes an insightful remark about the rhetorical consequences of the term obese: “I think the term obese medicalises the state. It makes it a third person issue. I think we need to sometimes be more brutal and honest.”  Field’s comment can be applied more broadly, I think, to the host of conditions that are now in the process of “medicalization,” with “disorder” being attached to a wide-range of conditions that not too long ago were tagged with more colloquial descriptors–and perhaps should remain as such.  The DSM-IV is replete with new classifications like “personality disorder” and “caffeine intoxification disorder.”  This trend toward medicalization is largely a rhetorical process and thus signals the need for understanding it along those lines, I would argue.

Transparency in photography

There’s a fascinating piece in the NY Times today — “Point, Shoot, Retouch and Label?” by Steven Erlanger –about French politician Valerie Boyer’s draft of a law requiring advertisements to carry a label if they contain images that have been digitally retouched. This is not a new discussion; publishing associations in the UK and elsewhere have talked about voluntary reform. Check out the consistently smart coverage in Jezebel. But it may be the first to push a law.

The article focuses on the issue of women’s body images and the dangers of falsified ideals, documenting various approaches to this debate, from hopes that “such a label might sensitize people to the fakery involved in most of the advertising images with which they’re bludgeoned” to the threat that “such a law would destroy photographic art.”

In this vein, a fashion photographer is quoted pointing out that all photography is a representation of reality through a lens that excludes as well as captures. Very smart and valid… but is this the generally accepted view that fashion magazine readers share? Based on a sample of my self, friends, students, sister, cousins…. No. However naively, most women still “buy” these false images.

An editor at Marie Claire declares the labels unnecessary because “Our readers are not idiots … Of course they’re all retouched.” You’ve got to almost admire her bravado, and the move to convince her readers with a magazine that so clearly respects their intelligence… I guess I’m an idiot, then, since despite my rhetorical training, I’d still love to be informed.

Check out Marie Claire’s edited editors:

Photoshop Disasters: Marie Claire

Photoshop Disasters: Marie Claire

At least, in the meantime, we have such wonderful sources as Jezebel and Photoshop Disasters and Photoshop of Horrors, and of course fun on YouTube:

Visual Rhetoric Crush-of-the-Month

The website FlowingData has quite a bit in common with Harlot. Translating complex data of all varieties (money spent, reps at the gym, time you waste) into compelling graphic form, “Data visualization lets non-experts make sense of it all.”  At Harlot, our goal is to reveal all the various and subtle ways rhetoric penetrates our everyday through a language and location that invites everyone to explore and understand persuasion.  FlowingData, meet Harlot; Harlot, meet FlowingData.

The graphic that’s posted at the very bottom has captured my attention for a number of reasons, mostly related to Derrick Jensen (no direct relation–only in the larger Danish sense), who is perhaps my favorite author (and certainly the most sane person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting).  As a radical environmentalist, Jensen is constantly searching for new ways to communicate just how severe the situation is we are currently, collectively facing.  That’s at the macro level.  At the micro level, he’s challenged with taking statistical data that most logically reveals how the earth is being murdered and transforming it rhetorically into something that sticks.

Some data for you:


Facts, though, have a tendency to roll right off of us.  We’re more inclined to be persuaded by stories that connect with us personally, in ways that we can readily link to everyday experience.  Here’s a stellar example of the rhetorical task he encounters when trying to persuade people that our way of life, our sense of self, and relation to what allows us to live is not just unsustainable, it’s immoral and insane.*    And stupid.

“Within our current system, the life span of any particular artifact as waste is usually far longer than its life span as a useful tool.  Let’s say I go to a food court at a mall and eat a meal with a disposable fork.  Let’s say I use the fork for five minutes before one of those tines breaks (as always seems to happen) and I throw it out.  The fork goes in the garbage and is buried in the landfill.  Let’s say this particular type of plastic takes five thousand years to break down … For every minute I used the fork it spends a thousand years as waste: a ratio of one to 526 million, a number so large it’s hardly meaningful to human minds.  On a scale that’s easier to fathom, if we compressed a fork’s five thousand year existence to one year, the fork would have spent only six one-hundreths of a second as an object useful to me.”

Although he presents it rather modestly, Jensen’s shift from a ratio to a story-of-sorts is a crucial rhetorical move–one that all environmentalists and activists of all walks should take note of.  We need to keep pressing for the most effective forms for communicating the gravitas of the situation (but without falling prey to the idea that that’s all that needs to be done).

I think the artists of GOOD and Fogelson-Lubliner that collaborated to produce the brilliant illustration below have a solid grasp of what it takes to translate facts in a way that sticks.  I strongly suggest that you click the image to view it in its full glory . . .


And when you’re done there, don’t forget to check out the archive of amazing at FlowingData.


* I use the term “insane” quite literally, in its strictest definition(s): senseless; an unsoundness of mind that affects one’s capacity for proper responsibility; one whose way of life and/or mental state is such that they are unable to make a sustained commitment to their own health and the relationships that constitute it.  Perhaps “madness” is more accurate, though, since there is a particular violence to our collective insanity.

Swine Flu gets a Name Change

from iwona_kellie, flickr

from iwona_kellie, flickr

Has anyone else noticed that the media has made a conscious effort to refer to this sickness as N1H1 rather than its nickname “Swine Flu?” Of course, I understand that this is in response to what’s been happening with pigs/pork. Egypt has been killing their pigs, Russia has banned any importation of pork, and pork sales have dropped even though you’re not supposed to be able to contract N1H1 from eating pork. Heart disease, yes. Swine flu, not so much.

Food groups always carry a fair amount of weight when they want something done. Remember Oprah and the whole mad cow thing? In this case, though, I actually kinda support the move. When innocent pigs are being killed for the mere association of a name, well, maybe creating a distance between a nickname and the reality of the disease is necessary. And if you can create that distance by calling it by its scientific name, then I think that’s acceptable. It’s not that the name is changing to some commercial marketing ploy.

Bottom line, if innocent and healthy pigs are saved in this move, then I find it a comfortable and ethically reasonable shift.

Oh, and another somewhat misconception I find interesting: there’s all this talk about Mexico and California and Texas and the Southwest in general; however, the state with the highest confirmed cases (as of May 2nd), according to the CDC, is New York. Seriously, look into it.

Adventures of File Clerkdom

After seeing The Colbert Report’s show the other day, the flashbacks started. You see, in this segement, he talks about the perks that doctors get from pharmaceutical companies.

Unfortunately (or fortunately if you love Colbert), the part I’m referring to (Corporate Health) isn’t until 4 minutes into the video, but in it he says that pharmaceutical companies are cutting back on those perks (pens, mugs, etc) in order to save money.

Now, for the flashbacks. When I was 15, I worked in a medical office as a file clerk for a summer job. I’d say that throughout the summer that I worked there, I probably only had to get my own lunch maybe 4 times. That’s a fairly liberal estimate too. Why did I never get my own lunch? It’s not because I wasn’t eating.

You see, the drug reps — that’s what we call them — would often buy lunch or breakfast for the office in exchange for hanging around and trying to talk to the doctors while they eat. Often times, it really turned out that Mr. or Ms. Drug Rep would sit there and watch the young file clerk read her summer list of novels for Honors American Lit. And since the young file clerk always took a late lunch in order to avoid a packed break room, it often was just her and the drug rep. The file clerk read. The drug rep shifted in their chair. Drummed their fingers on the table. Cleared their throat. Then the inevitable question would arise.

“So, does Dr. ____ usually eat in?”

“It varies.” The young clerk says in the very vague way that only teenagers can seem to get away with.

“Like how?”

“Well, Thursdays are Dr. _____’s half day. He sees some people and then plays golf for the rest of the day.” (By the by, if you think doctors playing golf is a stereotype, it may well be. I’m sure that you can find plenty of doctors who don’t play golf, but there is a basis for that particular stereotype. Jus’ sayin’.)

“I see, but this isn’t Thursday.”

“Right, but Dr. _____ is a specialist. He does rounds at the hospitals — referals, you know — and only comes to the office to see patients or to talk to the other doctors.”


photo by Plutor of Flickr
photo by Plutor of Flickr

The industry just makes me laugh and cry, really. The entire health care system. It’s so sad that you have to laugh at it just so it doesn’t drive you crazy. These pharmaceutical companies spend all this money with their drug stamped on pens, pads, mugs, stress balls, lunches, little foam things in the shape of organs–no really, I have a yellow brain like that. They spend all this money just for doctors to avoid talking to them. Oh, and these are just little things. I know companies used to give away tickets to sports events, or dinners to extremely expensive restaurants (Smith and Wollensky comes to mind). I mean, you can get some pretty serious loot from being a doctor.

Don’t get me completely wrong. For the most part, I’m not a fan of drug reps. I find them to be more of an annoyance and waste of money that could be going to patients, but they are somewhat successful at times. Doctors will generally listen to whatever new drug this person is marketing, but I’m most concerned that this is the primary form that doctors hear about new medicines.

If a drug is truly going to change patients’ lives then why is it necessary to give so much of this crap away just to get attention? Sure, providing medical offices with lunch may give you face to face time with the doctors, but the doctors I’ve don’t appear overly persuaded by a free meal or a few pens. If the drug truly would work well for the patients, then they’ll try it and if not, then they won’t.

Of course, that’s just from personal experience. I would like to see some studies or statistics on whether drug reps truly do make a difference or not. I have a feeling, though, that it’d be hard to find a control group of physicians who have never been approached by a drug rep.

Medicated Rhetorics

The topic of backpacks came up in my office the other day. My officemate, Craig, complemented my book bag, and as I always do whenever someone says something nice, I dramatically wave my hand and explain why it isn’t really all that grand.

And then we got into discussing style versus functionality.

He has a regular backpack that is waterproof, has lots of pockets, and balances its weight equally over both shoulders. Mine is a brown leather (men’s!) bag that I sling over one shoulder and that has me walking like I’m in need of V8 most the time. Mine looks a bit more appealing; his is better for posture. Mine is a more compact and neat; his carries more weight and volume much more comfortably – and keeps dry in our unpredictable Columbus weather.

But, he said, the backpack of old will have to go. It’s embarrassing, he said, to walk into a meeting with it because people won’t take him seriously. I named a professor on campus who’s quite respected and carries one around. But, Craig said, it’s different in the medical field.

Craig is in the Nurse Practitioner program at OSU, where – apparently – the means by which you carry your scholarly materials matters. But it wasn’t long before we moved away from the expectations within the medical field to the expectations toward the field.

The medical field trains its students how to properly interact with patients. First, health practitioners must dress in bland attire. They appear more trustworthy that way, so they say. Don’t believe the movies that tell us we buy into the romantic notions of eccentric, brilliant doctors saving the day. In reality, we don’t want to be surprised by quirky health practitioners. Calm, cool, collected, and so tied to their work that they otherwise appear boring and characterless. Apparently these qualities make us comfortable in the doctor’s office.

He went on to say that sessions with patients need to focus solely on the patient. Attempts at creating common ground by acknowledging a patient’s experience with a personal anecdote actually shuts the patient down. This is very interesting. In rhetorical studies, creating a commonality between two people (identification) is supposed to facilitate communication. Does this mean we don’t want to identify with our health practitioner? Is this situation like finding out in 3rd grade that the teacher has an actual life outside the classroom? And makes the person human? And therefore susceptible to human tendencies, like trimming one’s fingernails, eating junk food, or committing errors? Hmm.

Last, Craig brought up the conversation ratio between patient and practitioner. Practitioners are told to give careful attention to the time they spend talking and not listening. Studies have shown that when asked to gauge how much time went to speaking or listening, practitioners had impressions that were quite far from the truth. They spend a lot more time talking than they expect. (A lot of us, actually, could probably learn something from this study.)

At this point in the conversation, I began taking notes on what Craig was saying (which kind of freaked him out, but that topic is for another day). Now he began giving me some of his personal insights on the personas of health practitioners. He said that in the one or two appointments with one patient is often not enough time for him to figure out which character to take on. Sometimes he has to be disciplinarian, coach, parent, friend, or any combination thereof. His duty comes down to patient education: What sort of persona will be most effective for making patients believe they need to take their medication until they have finished their prescriptions?

Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. From the rhetoric of handbags to medical literacy – all in one office. Imagine if we could fit more people in here. . . .