Last month, Rolling Stone published an article detailing the gang rape of a young woman at a frat house at the University of Virginia. Shortly thereafter, The Washington Post published an article calling several details of the victim’s account into question. Namely, the fraternity in question didn’t have a party on the night that “Jackie”—the pseudonym of the victim—alleges her assault took place, and one of the men she said was involved was actually a member of a different frat. Additionally, some of the specific details of her account (number of men involved, nature of acts performed, where she was when she met friends for help afterwards) have changed from her earlier accounts.
This revelation led to an apology from Rolling Stone for not investigating the matter more thoroughly (published at the beginning of the article in the link above), and responses from other major media outlets have ranged in tone from critical reportage to harsh rebuttal. Most of the criticism, including those linked to above, stems from the idea that Rolling Stone didn’t follow journalistic protocol in fact-checking Jackie’s story. It’s the duty of journalists, they argue, to get every possible fact from every possible source, regardless (or perhaps even because) of how sensitive a story is. But these discrepancies also provide a rhetorical opportunity for feminists and other anti-violence advocates that I haven’t really seen anyone capitalizing on yet.
On November 18th, the Senate voted against a bill that would have allowed the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. If you are confused about this issue, you are not alone. Congress itself seemed confused, and the final 59 yes votes fell just one short of the 60 required “ayes” needed for approval of the project. The tightness of the race suggests more than a partisan battle on Capitol Hill, but comes with a whole host of other issues including party line-toeing, job creation, constituent satisfaction rates, congressional elections, foreign oil, local oil, and gas, both the natural kind and the kind that blows out of politicians.
If you are looking for a clear-cut answer to the question: how should I feel about Keystone XL? You, my friend, have come to wrong place. There’s a good article here that can help you make that decision (good luck…). In the spirit of the Silver Tongue, this discussion will focus on something else entirely: synecdoche.
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.”