Friday, August 29, 2014

The Rhetoric of Ice Buckets

I am subscribed to the excellent YouTube channel, Idea Channel.  

They posted a video about the value of social media posts, focusing on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. 

The video says a lot of what I've been thinking. Take a look.
After viewing, I scrolled through some comments, where I ran into the same argument I've been seeing since this challenge went viral.

Those comments prompted me to put on my Rhetoric Instructor Hat and write the following:

I've read the complaint that this challenge only went viral because it satisfies people's narcissistic desires; it feeds the ego, and according to those doing the complaining, that's shameful. 

I feel pretty comfortable saying this complaint is stupid. And my reasons for saying that address this question of value.

The ice bucket challenge is a call to action that leans primarily on appeals to ethos and pathos to make its case.

The ethos appeal, while it is not what people are complaining about, is important. It goes like this: You are a member of my social network and I am calling you out as a friend who cares about a cause. I believe our social ties should be enough to prompt you to act.

That's a familiar appeal on social networks, but by itself, this appeal often leads to token support and nothing more. A profile pic changes color for a week (or 8). A cause is "liked" or shared. 

In rhetoric, a strong call to action combines appeals, and that is what the ice bucket challenge did.

The pathos appeal (the one people are complaining about) goes like this: For many people, it feels good, exhilarating, fun, and satisfying when a bunch of people watch you perform a silly public act - even better when some of them praise you for that. After seeing a member of your social network enjoy those feelings, there is an emotional push to follow suit. That push is made all the stronger when you have been called out by name. The call out gives you permission to step across the socially constructed convention that tells us (well, most of us) not to draw too much attention to ourselves. 

Those are very strong appeals, and there is nothing wrong with them. Adding the appeal to pathos is what gave this phenomenon it's value. The combination of appeals drove, in part, the impressive raising of funds and awareness.  

And on a related note, we should not shame a person who vies for public attention through a silly act in the name of a cause. For many, it is fun to perform and it is thrilling when people approve of your performance. Even when it is something silly, those emotional responses are valid and worth seeking. 

The people who tsk-tsk that kind of behavior are frowning on any public displays that fall outside of what they have deemed appropriate. The term for such a person is "stick-in-the-mud." And I have very little patience for such people. 


Monday, August 11, 2014

Politics and Close Relationships


I love arguing.

I enjoy the act itself.

I will argue with a person who I agree with if I think their argument needs a little work.

But it is too easy for me and many others to forget that the people we argue with represent a lot more than the arguments they make.

On his weekly blog for the Village Voice, Andrew W.K. offers this incredible reminder that we shouldn't allow politics and arguments to overshadow a person's humanity.
Human beings crave order and simplicity. We cling to the hope that some day, if we really refine our world view and beliefs, we can actually find the fully correct way to think -- the absolute truth and final side to stand on. People and systems craving power take advantage of this desire and pit us against each other using a "this or that" mentality. The point is to create unrest, disagreement, resentment, and anger -- a population constantly at war with itself, each side deeply believing that the other is not just wrong, but also a sincere threat to their very way of life and survival. This creates constant anxiety and distraction -- the perfect conditions for oppression. The goal of this sort of politics is to keep people held down and mesmerized by a persistent parade of seemingly life-or-death debates, each one worth all of our emotional energy and primal passion. 
But the truth is, the world has always been and always will be on the brink of destruction. And what keeps it from actually imploding is our love for life and our deep-seeded desire not to die. Our love for our own life is inextricably connected to our love of all life and the miracle of this phenomenon we call "the world." We must give all of ourselves credit every day for keeping things going. It's an incredible achievement to exist at all.
The whole piece is framed as advice to a young man who can no longer deal with his father's politics.

It's a great read. Check it out.