Wednesday, March 10, 2010


This blog is moving. Please update your bookmark to reflect the home of my new blog:

At least for now, VizRet's past entries will remain at this address. The new blog will include all past entries as well.

Thanks for following!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Buying American is not as simple as it seems

Do you know what these symbols are?

Well, they're a lot of things.

They're clever marketing. Specifically, they're branding. They're the result of intensive study on what colors and shapes motivate people to buy. They're a source of identity for a whole lot of people. But, all too often these days, they represent a case of mistaken identity.

To be clear, the graphic on the left is Toyota's logo and the graphic on the right is Pontiac's. Two different companies, right? Even companies from two different countries. Anyone who has heard and supported the phrase "Buy American" (which is probably the vast majority of Americans, or at least most of those with disposable income) knows which of these logos you're supposed to gravitate toward when purchasing a new vehicle.

Now let's break that down a little.

These companies are keeping their logos because the visibility of the logos is important to the branding of the vehicles they create. But those companies are not so very different, and the fact that the Pontiac Vibe and the Toyota Corolla have these different logos on them is somewhat misleading. It's not because Toyota and Pontiac are up to anything sinister. It's just an example of how, sometimes, visible rhetoric can keep us from the truth.

Last week, a massive recall was issued on eight kinds of vehicles produced at a California plant. The accelerators stick on these particular eight models, and, well, you can imagine the sorts of disasters that could cause. Among the models recalled were the Vibe and Corolla, as well as six other Toyota vehicles. That's right. They were all produced at the same plant. A plant on U.S. soil, employing American workers and paying American taxes. (And, so far as I know, the other seven vehicles are still in production while the Vibe--along with Pontiac--is now defunct.)

This complicates the notion of buying American. What does it mean, exactly, to buy American? Did I do my country any good when I purchased a Vibe instead of a Corolla? Or was the visibility of my American logo all "Americanness" that my purchase got me?

It will be interesting to see what happens with branding and logos in the automotive industry as we rebound from the recession. I'm not prepared to make any predictions except for one: There will still be a sense of nationality tied up in company brands that actually has very little footing in reality.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cyborg vs. Coenen

This is a sort of update to my Aug. 16 entry about the fight between Cris Cyborg Santos and Gina Carano. I noted in that post that the camera work done on the fight was different than the camera work done when male fighters face off. But, it wasn't different in the way one might expect. The cameras framed the women's faces tightly, de-emphasizing their bodies. I wasn't sure whether this was out of some sort of respect for the women, or if it was a heteronormative move aimed to shift the gaze away from female bodies that don't adhere to the norm. I was leaning toward giving Strikeforce the benefit of the doubt. (For the record, it turns out that the Cyborg-Carano fight was the first time a major sponsor featured women fighters in a main event, which could also have contributed to the unusual filming.)

Last night, Cyborg defeated Dutch fighter Marloes Coenen at a Strikeforce event in Miami. And guess what? The camera work was different.

That is, it was different than last time. However, even when I was looking for it, I couldn't see any differences in the way the Cyborg-Coenen fight was filmed and the ways the male-male fights of last night were filmed. The same sort of pre-fight footage was used. The same sort of zooms and focuses were in play. And the post-fight interview was similar to those involving male fighters.

All of which leads me to wonder: How is it that a sport that so many people consider "barbaric" is the one with the most advanced brand of feminism going on?

Interesting, no?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Rant on the Visible Rhetoric of the Comma

This post is just what the title says: a rant. It was really bound to happen at this point in the semester as everything is coming due at once and students begin to realize how much they have left to accomplish with just 2.5 weeks left. I'm in that position myself, so I feel a little bad about my rant ... but not bad enough to call if off.

Imagine sitting down to grade a paper. In your first sweeping glance from top to bottom of the page, you realize you can trace rivers of white space vertically down the paper because of the excessive punctuation usage. On further inspection, you see these rivers are created almost exclusively by commas. And you further realize that most of them are unnecessary.


Why can't students use commas?

Actually, I don't really blame them for not understanding commas. Commas are confusing. And everyone uses them incorrectly sometimes. My beef is that my students don't think commas can be understood. I give them a cheat sheet for comma use. I provide them with resources to figure out commas. I offer to talk to them individually about papers with comma problems. But they persist in just sprinkling commas about the page wherever they think they'll look pretty. Ugh!

My point is this: Even punctuation has visible consequences. When I look at that first page described above, the message I get from that writer through the visibility of that page is: I don't know how to use a comma and I don't care enough about this paper to get help.

That's why the visibility of even something as trivial as punctuation is important.

End rant.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Barbie

This ought to cause a stir. Mattel has announced it will release "a new line of African-American Barbie dolls, with fuller lips, a wider nose, and curlier hair."

Although, as a visual rhetorician, mention of Barbie usually gets my back up, I have to say I'm kinda impressed with this turn of events, even if it is far overdue. And, the doll was designed not only by a black woman, but by a mother who presumably has some understanding of Barbie's effect on children.

One troubling feature of the news release, though, is that the new Barbie is dubbed "African-American" in a CNN iReport. I'm not sure of how others conceptualize the difference between being black, being Black, and being African-American, but I do think there is a difference. As an Irish-American, I'd want an Irish-American Barbie to have something more than red hair to demonstrate her ethnicity.

Any thoughts out there?


By the way, here is the first comment in the CNN iReport. I thought it was pretty interesting, so I've copied it here verbatim.

"I notice that the designer has stright hair. I don't know if that's her nature style, or if she has it straightened.

Best of both worlds would be for Mattel needs to provide two models - one straight, one kinky. Although they may need to do a market study for which one sells more so they can tailor their production proportionally.

And I'd be tempted to make her butt bigger. But then Barbie really doesn't have that much connection to reality, does she?"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bubbles and rebellion

I took one of my classes on a little field trip to a fountain on campus here at Illinois State University this week and asked them to look around and see what they saw in terms of visible rhetoric. They came up with lots of examples, one of which was that the fountain was a visible marker of tranquility.

The fountain is also a sign of affluence, of course, because it demonstrates with significant bulk that the university values art/luxury and has the money and space to show off said art. All said and done, the fountain is definitely a visible sign denoting something about ISU; it's a site of institutionalization.

Two days later, I showed up for class and saw that the fountain looked like this.

Someone had poured soap into it, thus turning a site of institutional power into a site of rebellion. I thought that was a pretty powerful testament to visible rhetoric--plus I think it's darn funny.

(The maintenance workers also laughed about it. Their general response was, "Oh, the fountain needed cleaning anyway." They had it cleaned up in short order, although I think they left it for people to see for as long as they could. My point is, no harm no foul.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

In defense of visible rhetoric

I recently ran into a college professor--someone I very much respect--who was of the opinion that rhetoric does not include the visible. I suppose it all depends on how you define certain key terms, one of them being rhetoric. I adhere to the classical definition; rhetoric is the art of persuasion. I would also go so far as to say that what I study (and what this blog explores) is the rhetorical nature of various texts, with "texts" loosely defined, perhaps, as anything with an author. (I think that definition of texts to be a little more problematic, but I'll work on it.) This would include visible artifacts. I'll use just such an artifact as an example, because I think visible rhetoric is the best tool for the defense of visible rhetoric.

So, try to convince me (heck, try to convince yourself!) that this image is not rhetorical.

This image, found on the anti-abortion site, is certainly one of the least gruesome examples of visible rhetoric directed at the elimination of abortion. If you have the stomach for it, do an image search for abortion. Talk about some serious persuasion! If you don't think the results you get are rhetorical, then I'm not sure anything will convince you that visible rhetoric is a discipline in its own right ... and a powerful one, at that.