When I tell people that I study "rhetoric", I usually follow this up by explaining that it's "the study of communication". It's the easiest way to quickly describe what exactly "rhetoric" entails. Of course, it is much more than *just* (ha!) communication, but in a pinch, it's a fairly apt explanation.
Sometimes, however, people interpret this to mean that I "study the art of bullshitting".
I think that's crass and doesn't cover everything involved in rhetoric, but there is no doubt that a part of rhetoric is about understanding how people are persuaded of another position. Thus, bullshitting. But there's a time and place for that kind of jargon, and, as John McFerran wrote in the January 16 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press, when you're trying to effectively communicate to others in the workplace, you should not use jargon.
Included in his article is the following advice:
- When in doubt, leave it out.
- If you are unclear on the meaning, ask for clarification.
- Stick to the script when you don't know the audience well.
- Refrain from buzzwords in formal communication.
- Big words don't equal a bigger brain.
- Don't try too hard to impress an interviewer with buzzwords.
You can read his full article, Buzz off, and leave jargon out of communications, by checking out the Winnipeg Free Press online.
Penguin Group sent me this book to review some time ago; now that we are in the middle of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, I figured this would be prime time to discuss Red Snow. As a lawyer specializing in cases involving the criminally insane, author Michael Slade sets his murder mystery novel at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are the heroes of the story, with the James Bond/Indiana Jones-style villain intent on destroying the world. Beautiful women play a prominent role in this typically "modern" murder mystery, in which the female characters are supposedly strong (they are either involved in police work or they work alongside the villain), yet they still require a certain amount of care and protection from the men. The female villains are mere sidekicks, and the "good" women depend on the other police officers to do the real grunt work.
Slade's writing style is simplistic; he makes use of basic creative writing techniques with flat characters and stereotypical plot design. Cliches are abundant in this crime novel, complete with a "tittering buxom trio" and an evil villain with a penchant for shriveled heads.
Although the writing itself is mediocre at best, presumably there are grounds for the realistic aspects of the murder cases within Red Snow, considering that Slade himself has work on more than a hundred murder cases during his time as a lawyer. But with a villain hell-bent on revenge, mutilation, and world destruction, as well as a body discovered covered in gold and a number of athletes who get their heads mercilessly chopped off, the book appears to be more of a child's imagination run amok rather than anything that could remotely be compared to an actual murder trial.
Despite the fact that the storyline is tediously predictive and that the writing is blase, Slade certainly knows how to keep his reader captivated by the sheer magnitude of disturbing scenes. Not even the main characters are safe from being killed off in gruesome fashion. It is for this reason that I wouldn't recommend reading the book before going to sleep- chapter after chapter ends on the note of someone being brutally killed. Not, perhaps, the best genre to choose, especially when set at the infamous international event of the Olympics.
Earlier this week, we examined how it is human nature to make judgments based on first impressions. Now I would like to address an adjoining part to this same issue: namely, the problem of acting upon assumptions when we have no real basis behind them.
As a writer for a local newspaper, one of my jobs is to write theatre reviews. This year's Master Playwright Festival in Winnipeg was Churchill Fest, so my task was to attend several of Caryl Churchill's plays over the course of a couple weeks and review them. Reviews tend to be uncontroversial pieces which don't ignite any particularly strong reaction from readers; they generally are simple opinion pieces describing whether or not the play is worth seeing and why. Because of this, it took me by surprise when one of my theatre reviews elicited one particular comment on the online copy of my newspaper article: the commenter wrote an accusatory response which was twice as long as my article. Her main issues with my review involved 1) my lack of insight into art and culture; 2) my lack of knowledge of 1970's England; 3) that I do not notice anything around me besides my supposed studies and whatever job I am working, and that I have not studied any form of sociology. In short, she did not approve of my writing style or of my interpretation of the play.
Although the comment took me by surprise, it also fascinated me that someone would have felt so compelled to respond in this manner to a theatre review. More than that, I was intrigued by the assumptions that she made about me; I have never met her before and know virtually nothing about her, but she seems to be quite convinced of a number of things regarding my own capabilities as a writer and theatre reviewer. We often make assumptions about other people when we know very little about them- and these assumptions are not always entirely correct. For example, here is some background regarding the issues that the commenter had about my writing and reviewing capabilities:
1) Lack of insight into art and culture: I have been starring in plays since the first grade. Moreover, I won several awards in Dramatic Arts in high school and played the lead role in a play directed by an actress from the Prairie Theatre Exchange; I have also been studying and analyzing plays since the fifth grade when I first began reading and picking apart Shakespeare's works. I have been a season's ticket holder at the Manitoba Theatre Centre for years, and I have attended theatre performances and art galleries around the world. I have also written several plays myself (although admittedly they have yet to be published or performed), and I have been writing for the Arts & Culture section of the newspaper since last summer. Granted, none of this necessarily means that I do have special insights into art or culture, but I think that I am no less qualified than anyone else to write a theatre review. No one needs to have any particular "expertise" in order to watch a play and form an opinion on it, either.
2) Lack of knowledge of history in Great Britain: I attended a British school for three years. They definitely covered history lessons in there.
3) Lack of awareness beyond my studies and my job, and lack of sociological studies: My purpose in university is to study rhetoric. This means that it has been ingrained into me to analyze absolutely everything. I wouldn't be able to stop it if I tried. So perhaps I am too focused on my studies- but considering my studies involve studying everything, particularly communication and relationships, I think that's a good thing that I am constantly analyzing everything around me.
I make all of these points not in response to the comment left on my article, but to demonstrate that although we cannot help but make assumptions about others around us, we should always remember that we are seeing through a very specific lens. Assumptions can be refuted. We enhance our rhetorical awareness of the world by being open to having our assumptions challenged.
As a health writer with a particular interest in body image, one of the issues that crops up time and again for people who are trying to come to terms with themselves has to do with body composition.
Body composition refers to how we look and how the body distributes our weight. Three people of the exact same height can all look (and be!) a healthy weight, even if the variations in weight between them are 10 or 15 lbs. The reason for this is body composition: everyone has different amounts of fat and muscle, and we all carry that fat and muscle differently depending on where we store fat. Our body shape can be a determinant in how big or small we appear, due to proportion. So, one contributing factor is based on body shape, which is likely going to be due almost entirely to genetics (and therefore be nearly impossible to change). Another major factor is how we present and hold ourselves- and this is something which we can change, if we so desire.
This is where the rhetoric comes in to play. When we are aware of how our individual bodies distribute the fat and muscle, we can project confidence or insecurity depending on how we carry ourselves. Although we all know that we shouldn't "judge a book by its cover", it is human nature to make quick assumptions based on first impressions. This is unavoidable. We can minimize the potential for poor judgments to be cast upon us if we perceive ourselves as looking professional and confident, because if we perceive ourselves to be this way, we will become this way.
Even if you are unhappy with your body composition and are having difficulty coming to terms with it, you can trick yourself into changing your own perspective. Dressing in sloppy or too-small clothing is not going to make yourself feel as good as it will if you wear clothes which are appropriately fitted to your body shape. When you accurately assess yourself in the mirror and are honest about how you feel about yourself and why you feel that way, you can take the necessary steps to reacquaint yourself with the body you're in, and to figure out how best to present yourself to the world to project precisely what it is that you wish to project.
In Neal Gabler's Life: The Movie, the reader is thrust into a world where life not only imitates entertainment, it is entertainment. And no, this is not sci-fi. This, as Gable demonstrates, is real life.
The book discusses how everything that we do is a performance. We dramatize and use theatrical expressions and gestures across all ranges of communication. With everyone watching us 24/7, we grow up as artists of theatre, masters of exaggerated acting skills. As I read the book, I couldn't help but relate it not only to film, Hollywood, and television (yes, even in terms of news stories), but also to the Internet. Specifically, blogging.
The classic question of art imitating life vs. life imitating art is legitimate to raise at this point. Substitute blogging for art: where does life end and blogging begin? Or, for that matter, where does blogging end and life begin? For bloggers, are the two even separate at all?
For myself, I would say that they are not separate. This is neither a "good" nor a "bad" thing; it simply is. I write about many things on the three blogs that I have created, and a major part of all of them is the personal voice that I use. I share intimate thoughts and happenings with my readers. I do many things in life because of my blogs: taking the time to write them is one part, but so is the way that I conduct month-long nutrition challenges, or review books and products and so forth. My life is highly influenced by my blogging.
It has become even more affected now that I've started my Health Writer Eats blog, which documents my daily food intake, exercising regime, sleep schedule, and change in body composition. Too much information to have on the 'net? Maybe, but why not? What's so different between that and posting photos on Facebook? Besides, who's going to actually follow along and read what I eat every single day? It's more to keep myself accountable- which is the whole point of this blog post. Knowing that I will be blogging about these things may or may not impact my choices.
Again, I do not believe that this is either positive or negative. I do believe, however, that it is an excellent example of how life is media. "Reality" is all about entertainment; it's all about the possibility that "someone" could be watching. It's all a show, our everyday actions. And that, in essence, is real life.
The question I now pose to you is this: are you happy with the show that you put on for the world? Do you like your style, your performance? Regardless of whether you like how your portray yourself or not, it's not *just* a show. It's real life. It's you.
Myself, yes: I am happy. The medium that I use and the way I present myself within that media- the life I lead and the way I lead it- are precisely where I want to be right now.
How about you?
The difference between saying "shut up!" and "quiet, you!":
Shut up! is a dismissive order, indicating that the rhetor does not care for nor has any desire to hear your perspective.
Quiet, you! is a passive command, suggesting that the rhetor respects your opposing viewpoint but would really rather not have to incorporate your way of thinking into their worldview.
Every year, the Texas A&M University holds a contest for people to submit definitions of a contemporary term. This year's term and winning definition were:
Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.
If there were any one term that you could redefine, what would it be?
The two images below depict the famous photograph of the Kent State University massacre. The first photograph is the "original"; the second has been retouched: one of the fence posts was removed from the photograph to make it more aesthetically pleasing. The second photograph was the one that first appeared in the media.
In some cases, the blood on the ground (on the pavement beside the curb, just behind the crouching young woman) was also removed from the photograph, depending on how the photograph was being used in the media.
Photographs are, in some way, always "manipulated". For this kind of photojournalism, with the removal of a fence post and blood, does it alter how you "read" the image?