A useful ironic device is suggested for a courtier wearing a mask. Let him disguise himself as someone of inferior rank, such as an uncouth shepherd; then, if he performs superbly on horseback, the show will be doubly effective, since the horseman so greatly outstrips the expectations of the onlookers (226).
What’s interesting about this statement is the concept of ‘lowered expectations’. Does Anyone remember the “Lowered Expectations” MadTV skit? It was a humorous depiction of Burke’s concept. If someone doesn’t ‘expect’ much from the other party, then they will be pleasantly surprised at even the most basic display. I also want to call attention to Burke’s concept of identification, as when one attempts to persuade another, they must enable the party to “identify” with the other.
This is certainly Phil’s strategy, as he creates opportunities for Rita to identify with him. He asks her what she’s looking for in a man “someone who is intelligent, supportive, funny and romantic” and “Someone plays an instrument and loves his mother” (1993). Every day he learns more about her, picking up her favorite ice cream flavor (Rocky Road), favorite alcohol (sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist) and love for poetry. Each day we see him get closer and closer to having her identify with him, but he always seems to screw it up. For example, when he learns her favorite drink, he goes to the bar and orders it, she is pleasantly surprised that they like the same drink, but then when he makes a toast to the groundhog she replies with a super disappointed look on her face, “I always drink for world peace”. The next day, he buys her a drink again, and this time he toasts to world peace and we see a shadow of a smile appear on her face. Through a series of trials and errors, he gets to know her and persuades her to fall for him by not being himself, but by portraying a man with whom she can identify.
However, my question is to what end? In this particular film, of course he knows that he will not get to progress past the next day, so there is no future. He is doing this for his own entertainment and for a sense of accomplishment. However, we see this play out in real life all the time. Burke says,
A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so. (Burke 20)
What I notice about this is that Burke is saying that for persuasion to exist, there must be opposing forces. For one to identify with another, two people do not need to have the same exact interests, rather their interests are joined. This implies both action and opposition. In the dance of courtship, the underlying premise for one to ‘persuade’ the other that they are meant to be together, there must be some sense of identification. Notice that in Groundhog Day, Phil is not successful at wooing Rita when he is attempting to simply mirror her interests (hence each scene ending with her slapping him across the face). They only develop a true connection with her when he stops trying to be someone else and when they learn to identify with each other. Which leads me to question, for persuasion to occur, does one need to be authentic? In an idealized world, I would love to think so, but unfortunately, I don’t think this is the case. When I read the article by Goldberg (2006) on Groundhog Day, I was surprised to learn of the philosophical influence this film had. I had watched it previously and just thought it was a funny flick with Bill Murray. However, this is what Ramis (1993) wanted according to Goldberg who said, Ramis constantly insisted that the film be funny first and philosophical second” (7). This led me to wonder what other films I’ve watched for entertainment that acutally held a much deeper meaning.
Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. 1962.
Goldberg, Jonah. “A Movie For All Time.” National Review, 2 Feb. 2006, www.nationalreview.com/2006/02/movie-all-time-jonah-goldberg-2/.
Ramis, Harold, director. Groundhog Day. Columbia Pictures, 1993.