What is Rhetoric? By W.A. Covino and D. Jolliffe is one of the best articles I’ve read on the background and basic principles of rhetoric. The authors’ address at the forefront that there is no short answer for the definition of rhetoric. Some individuals have a negative connotation of rhetoric, as “the manipulation of the linguistic features of a text” (4), associated with fraud and opposition to truth. However, my view is similar to Ulrike Jaeckel who states, “Does a rhetor ever NOT intend a text to do something?” (5). Whether the effect of the text is intended or unintended, everything we write has the potential to influence someone. I ask myself my intention every time I post something on social media and I evaluate the intended and unintended consequences. Almost every day I see something on Facebook that irritates me (why am I still on FB?), but I ask myself what my intention is, will I achieve my goal and if there the potential for unintended consequences.
As we apply this to film, In The Terministic Screen David Blakesley (2003) defines film rhetoric as “the visual and verbal signs and strategies that shape film experience and film theory as “the interpretive lens through which and with which we generate perspectives on film as both art and rhetoric” (3). I correlate these two thoughts by thinking of how the rhetoric in film has both intended and unintended consequences. Take, for example, the tropes on motherhood portrayed on screen. Covino and Jolliffee define tropes as “figures of thought, and schemes, or figures of actual expression” (7). One of my favorite shows is The Goldbergs. While I love this show, it features the common motherhood trope of the overbearing, selfless, “smother-mother”. There are both intended and unintended consequences of this rhetoric of motherhood. From an intended perspective, the show’s producer, Adam Goldberg, wants to portray an image of the “way things used to be” in the ‘80s with the caring, stay-at-home-mother whose life revolved around her children. From an unintended consequences perspective, this is a stereotypical portrayal of motherhood that forces women into gender normative roles and lacks diversity. There are larger unintended consequences when film portrays stereotypical tropes, asthose who are not exposed to a broader culture may “learn” about other cultures, races, different abilities and genders on screen. I think about how Italians are portrayed on Sopranos or how autism is portrayed in Rain Manor how Southerners are portrayed in Fried Green Tomatoes and all three films use rhetoric that influences the audiences’ viewpoints on race, class, gender and abilities.
Blakesley, David. The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film, Southern Illinois University Press, 2003. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/clemson/detail.action?docID=1365229.
Covino, William A., and David A. Jolliffe. Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries. Allyn and Bacon, 1995.