Observations: About Rhetoric


I’ve been thinking a lot about rhetoric recently, and as traditional media, new media, and social media (all the media) continue to inseminate nearly every social sphere I think it’s important to discuss it. Like, what it is, how it’s changing/changed, how identifiable it is, how everyone wields it, so…

Let’s start with a definition:

Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques. And, language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content. (Thanks Google). Philosophical titan, Aristotle defines it as ‘the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.’ (Thanks Wikipedia)

Rhetoric is usually referenced when we consider politics; the politicians, political debates, flame war embroiled YouTube comments, gender politics blogs, party manifestos, opinion articles, and even the news channels and newspapers. (These are just examples, not exclusive things or places!) Rhetoric is usually mentioned when someone is arguing with another person, using the word to demean and devalue what the other person is saying. Implying that they are a puppet, they are brainwashed, repeating the words that someone else used to convince them into believing.

Regardless, rhetoric is everywhere. And as I’ve grown older (maybe not wiser) I think that it bleeds into much more than solely political content. I believe it is neither exclusive to politics or news.

Something I have noticed in the last couple of years is a kind of rhetoric-by-proxy where, for example, a TV show will propagate certain kinds of rhetoric as a kind of universal morality, purely to be attractive to a particular demographic. To take this example further, there are films or TV shows which utilise the political and moral beliefs of their target audience to create a relatability to characters and to the content itself. It almost creates a tic-tac-toe effect, where you can assume what will happen next depending on the kind of person or storyline you identify in a program, show or film, based on what the characters believe and how they relate to the audience that’s targeted. And, as you would expect, it takes away the plausibility of the show from audiences outside of the target demographic.

Let’s think about this from a storytelling angle.

So Cindy, brunette, button nose, traditional, she wears long pencil skirts and wears cardigans, is seduced by a cool-dude, the hair, the leather jacket, the cigarettes, and James Dean scowl, Jackson; they bone.

Crisis Alert 1a) Cindy gave her virginity to someone that only values her as a sexual object.
Crisis Alert 1b) Cindy gave her virginity to someone that doesn’t value her as a romantic partner.
Crisis Alert 1c) Cindy gave her virginity to someone and has rebelled against her traditional upbringing and values.
Crisis alert 1d) Cindy gave her virginity to someone without explicit consent.
Crisis alert 1e) Cindy is pregnant, Jackson’s terrified.
Crisis alert 1f) Cindy wants a relationship, Jackson’s terrified.
Crisis alert 1g) Cindy was unimpressed by Jackson’s sexual prowess, Jackson’s terrified.  Crisis alert 1h) Cindy is actually a she-demon who wants to birth the next Damian, Jackson’s terrified.
Crisis alert 1l) Cindy’s father is abusive and doesn’t appreciate Jackson’s tainting, this is terrifying.
Crisis alert 1m) Jackson is super clingy, & Cindy’s terrified.
Crisis alert 1n) Cindy’s best friend is upset that Cindy decided to lose her virginity without telling her.
Crisis alert 1o) Jackson’s best friend is upset that Jackson seduced his crush.

These are all conceivable plot points. I.e, catalysts; things that either push the story along, or push a character into development. Each have a different character as the protagonist, depending on the crisis alert’s perspective. For example, 1a, 1b, 1d, 1e, 1m, 1n all hold Cindy as the main point of interest, where what’s happening is happening to her. And each are subject to rhetoric, each represent an approach or belief about sexuality, morality, gender politics, dependent on two things:

  • The character’s perspective and beliefs.
  • The overall moral of the story, and what the story is trying to convey.

(This isn’t to say that they usually follow one specific belief. I find that they best content is usually a collection of different beliefs. Where you’ll have one person’s moral standard playing with another’s, where they complement or contrast each other.)

I can hear you saying, but Jivan, rhetoric means words, yo.

Yeah. I don’t know about specifically though? Google says, the act of persuasive speaking or writing. Aristotle says, the available means of persuasion. Writers and directors persuade an audience into continuing to watch, read, and listen. A politician or priest uses key words and phrases that are part of the vocabulary of a belief system. A writer or director or speaker or politician or religious figure creates a point of interest, and the reaction to the action denotes a stance, and it prescribes a means by which we are being manipulated to be entertained, to feel, to think, or not.

It is debatable whether this is entirely intentional, or not. I mean, it could be either. It’s almost impossible to tell. But it is everywhere, in everything we consume, everything we hear, read, everything we see on Facebook, Instagram, everything. Whether the creator intended it or not. It’s there. But, mate, what does this mean?

Does this mean that political and moral beliefs are intrinsic to content?
Is everything that contains rhetoric is baseless, and wrong?
Is everything practically rhetoric?

Yes, no, yes. If they are trying to persuade you into something, be it feeling, understanding, believing, buying, etc., its rhetoric. But, I don’t think that this is a bad thing. It is what it is. Understanding and identifying it. This is important. So, we can see something for what it really is, and what it really means.

When Bob is telling you a story, what’s he really trying to do? Make you laugh? Does he want your sympathy? The way he tells the story, the words he chooses are all used for one thing; to make you understand what he’s trying to convey, and react to it. The words he chooses, the way he chooses to say them all effect how you react. I guess, what it boils down to is the impact of what something or someone is trying to say, and whether it’s worth your time and energy. Even this whole article is rhetoric, by definition. I am trying to persuade you into seeing content how I see it; the lovechild between someone’s creative, or economic, endeavours and the moral and belief systems to which the creator adheres.

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