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Love, Hate and the Rhetoric of Race

June 26, 2015

The heinous shooting of nine innocent African Americans in Charleston South Carolina by Dylann Roof and the strange story of former Spokane, Washington NAACP Director, Racheal Dolezal living life as a “Black” woman have put race at the center of the national conversation. Two people, who are classified as “White,” have in many ways defined their lives around African Americans.   Dolezal and Roof’s preoccupation with “Black” people led the former to fully immerse herself in the created identity of a black woman and led the latter murder Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson inside a South Carolina church.

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Just the Facts, Please

May 13, 2015

Has this ever happened to you? You were little (or maybe not so little) and your mother came up to you, frustrated over some ill-advised life decision, sat you down, looked you in the eyes, sighed, and then said, “Listen, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.” Do you remember how mom then proceeded to immediately tell you exactly how to live your life? If you do have one such memory (or many such) then you have been occultatio’d.

The occultatio is a rhetorical technique in which rhetoricians bring something up to let their audience know they are not going to bring it up. If this sounds familiar, but the notion of occultatio is unfamiliar to you, it might be because the technique goes by a number of other names (paralipsis, apophasis, preterition, antiphrasis, the list goes on and on). But occultatio may also sound familiar to you because you see it all the time, from your parents yes, but also in advertising.

Recently, this tactic seems to be everywhere, but one memorable example comes from a series of television commercials produced by Dodge for their Ram Truck series called “Just the Facts.” Take a moment and watch these ads here, here, and here before reading the rest of this so we’ll have some to talk about. Read more…

The Power of Black Twitter

February 15, 2015

I confess. I do not tweet. My social media participation began and ended with the now seemingly archaic Facebook. But for many, the most important and influential conversations are now taking place at lightning-fast speed in 140 characters on twitter.   Within this world of tweets, there is a subgroup that seems to be increasing in power and reach. It’s called “Black Twitter” and constitutes a subculture tweet about everything and anything regarding Black culture. The term “Black Twitter,” according to my research, goes back to 2009, and its ongoing influence on politics and pop culture is undeniable. Stories have been written about “Black Twitter” getting its own wikipedia page, and the Communication Department at USC is conducting an extensive research project on “Black Twitter.”

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What’s Not Being Said about the Rolling Stone/UVA Rape Controversy

December 23, 2014

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.

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Prufrock’s Pipeline: The Political Rhetorical Battle for Keystone XL

December 3, 2014

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.

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Conflict Over Conflict Kitchen: When Restaurants Get Death Threats

November 19, 2014

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.

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Scandal or Sex Crime? A Naked Approach to Jennifer Lawrence’s Nude Photo Hack Framing

November 10, 2014

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.

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