The early part of this month was a tough one for Conflict Kitchen, an (in)famous Pittsburgh restaurant/art project. The restaurant was closed over the course of several days after receiving a letter containing death threats. The restaurant has since reopened, but on top of that, a one-time sponsor, the Heinz Endowment, has publicly distanced themselves from the restaurant.
If you’re unfamiliar with Conflict Kitchen, you can read more about them here on their website, but the whole point is that they serve a menu that changes from time to time, highlighting food from a country that the U.S. is currently in conflict with. The food’s packaging contains excerpts from interviews with people from the country in question. At the heart of the current controversy? The restaurant is now serving Palestinian food and, as could probably be anticipated by anyone who’s paid like a split second of attention to international politics in the past several decades, the wrappers (which you really ought to read in their totality) contain some quotes by Palestinians speaking less than favorably about their country’s current relationship with Israel. Although the wrappers also contain Palestinians’ comments on several other topics including food, religion, dating, and their own government, the restaurant and wrappers have been criticized by conservative media outlets as “anti-Israel propaganda” and even as “anti-U.S.” by the geniuses over at Breitbart.
But these critiques miss some hugely important rhetorical distinctions, and grossly misapprehend how significant sharing food can be.
Most recently known for her role as Katniss Everdeen in the book series turned movie franchise The Hunger Games, 24-year old actress, Jennifer Lawrence, is a prominent public celebrity. Recognized for her quick-witted and unapologetically sarcastic and at times crude nature, Lawrence frequently speaks candidly to the press. Besides being my spirit animal (–yes, people can be spirit animals), she is considered by many to be an extremely talented and well-accomplished actor, starring in movies such as Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past, and American Hustle.
A few weeks ago, nude photos of the actress were leaked on websites like Reddit, Twitter, and Tumblr (though many have since been taken down). From what we know, the photos were taken by Lawrence and were intended only to be viewed by her then boyfriend, Nicholas Hoult (who acted alongside Lawrence in X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past).
In a recent Vanity Fair article, Lawrence was interviewed about her career, personal life, and release of these personal photos. When asked, Lawrence explained her concern that it would affect her acting career, though quickly turned the tables to focus on what she considered to be the wrongness of the photo hacking. As a rhetorician, female, feminist, and personal fan, I was particularly interested by the ways in which Lawrence framed the issue not as a scandal or something to be embarrassed about, but rather as a sex crime committed against her. One way to approach this framing is through Kenneth Burke’s philosophy of Terministic Screens, which remind us of the relationship between language and ideology—particularly the ways in which language not only reflect reality, but also help us select and deflect reality.
When watching our favorite football teams play on Sunday afternoons, the last thing we want to think about is domestic abuse. Yet the video images of ray rice assaulting his then fiancee in an elevator has caused some in the public to stop watching NFL football games. Although players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have received public condemnation for their acts, it has been NFL commissioner Roger Goodell who has faced the most criticism for his handling of the Ray Rice case. When TMZ Sports release the grainy Ray Rice video, the firestorm of criticism intensified to the point where many have called for the resignation of Roger Goodell as NFL commissioner. Before this video became public, Goodell had already assigned a two game suspension of Rice (there are disputes as to whether or not the NFL league saw the video prior to the suspension.) A penalty that outraged many in the sports world who felt the penalty was not nearly strong enough.
It’s been my experience that explaining your profession to friends and family (especially if you’re in the humanities) is often accompanied with a justification. You can usually expect to make some quip about loving to read, try to explain why business school doesn’t interest you, or get defensive about whether or not English is a “real major.” One such recent encounter illustrated to me how definitions can incite disagreements—particularly when the definition involves your field of work.
Having been an adjunct lecturer in a First Year Writing program this past year, I worked alongside other instructors with varying academic backgrounds in English other than Rhetoric. One friend, and colleague, Nick (who said I could use his real name), holds an MA in Creative Writing, and one day in our shared office space offered to read over a personal statement I was writing for grad school. I willingly accepted his offer, and within two minutes he nodded, leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms. I asked what he thought, and he said, “I mean, it’s kind of bullshit, but it’s probably what they want, so yeah.” Feeling shell-shocked, I asked him what he meant and he coolly explained, “Well, Rhetoric is bullshit.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ June 2014 Atlantic Monthly article has rekindled and old heated debate about reparations. The print issue with its black background and provocative title written in white and red letters, “250 years of slavery. 90 years of Jim Crow. 60 years of separate but equal. 35 years of state-sanctioned redlining. Until we reckon with the compounding moral debts of our ancestors, America will never be whole. The Case for Reparations,” has set several copies-sold milestones for the publication. Despite Coates’ concern with an old conversation, this article has resonated with many writers and journalists through articles, blogs, and talk show conversations defending or decrying his argument. The essay is massive in terms of length compared to most articles. Coates’ essay takes up over 16 pages in the magazine and uses over 16,000 words.
In a recent discussion of the health of the earth on his show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver attempts, within five minutes, to tackle the entirety of the “scientific controversy” on climate change. In doing so, he runs headlong into an issue which rhetoricians and scientists have been puzzling over for years: exigence.
Oliver opens by quoting a recent interview with President Obama, who states, “This isn’t something in the distant future. Climate change is already effecting us now.”
“Now,” says Oliver, “that is a pretty smart move Obama. Because we’ve all shown we can’t be trusted with the future tense.”
Oliver is a pretty savvy political commentator, and he uses the full leeway granted by HBO to push the show, both in terms of topical choices and the language used to discuss these topics. But, in this instance, Oliver has chosen to focus on the problem of “now,” or what rhetoricians might refer to as exigence.