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COTD: The Intentional Issues of “Occupy Wall Street”

October 3, 2011

TST's Catch of the Day by Kate Holterhoff

Call it what you will, there’s no denying left-wing protesters have taken to the streets, particularly Wall Street.   But calling it what you will is part of the problem–how are we to interpret these actions?  Interpretation in some way relies on assumptions about intent, and intent is a notoriously sticky subject for rhetoricians.  Media coverage has less problem wading into it, as you can see here in this short clip from local NYC news.

This story only shows how cloudy interpretation is.  Even when aided by video coverage–something that should provide a standard record of what actually occurred, right?–confusion reigns.  The protesters’ statements are rhetorical, and some theories would call the physical presence of the march a rhetorical act. But without knowing each protester’s context, can we even begin to extrapolate intent?  And without knowing intent, how do we judge?

Your side dish:

Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity pointed out how easily video coverage can be shaped to fit a preferred interpretation, as we wrote here.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. brentsaindon permalink
    October 3, 2011 11:14 pm

    I like the question, but expecting an answer is premature.

  2. Alexis Teagarden permalink*
    October 4, 2011 8:23 am

    Hi Brent,
    I agree; I’d even go further and say when it comes to intent, the best we can hope for are illuminating interpretations rather than answers. But I find keeping the question in mind, regarding Occupy Wall Street or any protest movement, can be a fruitful means of inquiry. Otherwise, I find I am prone to read intent into the protest or accept without noticing what the media writes onto a group, something that I have to guard less against when considering, say, less current discourse. The question, as I see it, forestalls judgment for a moment and lets more critical faculties kick in.
    ~Alexis

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