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 stopthealcu.com, 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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Presidents and Chimps

I've enrolled in a course called "Race, Rhetoric and Technology" this semester, and our very first course reading really got me thinking. (A good sign!) It was an article on race in America by Victor Villanueva. Although I certainly didn't agree with everything in the article (especially the notion of "reverse discrimination," which is a discriminatory term in itself), there were several good points to be had. Two of the narrative examples which stood out to me were:

  • The story of two young Latino children found covered in flour, saying they wanted to be white enough to go to school.
  • The example of a graduate student who appeared at a Halloween party in blackface, saying he was portraying black jazz musicians, who he admired.

While the reactions to these two situations were typical -- very little reaction to the Latino children, university-wide outrage at the white student -- the rhetorical tension between the two situations reminded me of the much-debated New York Post monkey cartoon.

This cartoon sparked outrage because many felt it portrayed President Barack Obama, our nation's first "black" president, as a monkey -- which, if true, would obviously be an unethical and outrageous racist commentary. The cartoon's defenders said it did nothing of the sort, rather, it portrayed our political system as the violent chimpanzee that had been gunned down that same week in Stamford, Conn.

Regardless of the cartoonist's true intentions, the fact that there was significant outrage over this cartoon and not a bit of hype over the myriad comparisons between former President George Bush and chimpanzees indicates that race/color is still a visible characteristic that sparks a ridiculous amount of tension in our society. (Regardless of whether "race" is even real or just a social construction -- see my recent post on my culture, rhetoric, and technology blog.)

We still have a lot of work to do here in America.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I've had a rather hard time finding LASIK ads from countries other than the U.S. Similarly, LASIK photos of people with brown eyes (or any color other than blue) are few and far between.

I did find an article in a Singapore-based zine called "asianone health" about government concerns with the marketing of the LASIK procedure. This article has a companion photo of a person apparently having an eye pressure test done in preparation for LASIK, and the person has brown eyes.

Of course, the fact that the article comes out of Indonesia is not necessarily the determining factor in why a person with brown eyes was chosen for this photo. As you can see, the photo has also been altered to include a scary black box with a caption demanding that people "see the truth about LASIK," with some of the type in a blurry typeface to visibly demonstrate possible complications or problems with the procedure. I also think it's interesting that the person chosen for the photo has almost no visible eyelashes, which is a visual cue connoting sickness. (However, please note that the article is written in standard journalistic style -- the style that most people believe is neutral. I'm just hypothesizing a bias in the photo used, which the author likely had no control over.)

I wondered, at first, why the woman in the photo had no eye makeup on, as the pre-operative procedures don't require a ban on eye makeup. Then I realized I was assuming the model was a woman and that most Indonesian women wear makeup. More on those cultural assumptions later.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cyborg vs. Carano

Here's something I don't think I've touched on before: fighting. Talk about some visible rhetoric! Mixed martial arts is an up-and-coming sport, largely because the amount of blood inherent in the fights kept it off TV for a number of years.

I was at a friend's house this weekend to watch the fight between Cris Cyborg and Gina Carano. It was the first time I'd watched a major fight between women. However, I'd seen enough of "The Ultimate Fighter" and other UFC fights to notice a distinct change in the visible rhetoric of the broadcast.

The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot more emphasis on the women's faces. As the two prepared to face off, cameras maintained a tight focus on each of their faces. In fact, the focus became so tight that it eventually narrowed to just the eyes. I've never seen this done with male fighters while they are actually in the ring. This was pretty interesting given that women usually have their bodies played up in Western-style broadcasts. So, is this a sign of a feminist attitude within the fighting culture, or is it some sort of strange twisting of that usual prejudice? I'm leaning toward the former, especially since it was clear that the observers of the fight -- including many well known male fighters -- thought of it as no different than any other.

The online visible rhetoric of the fight is somewhat different, with Carano -- who is recognized as the more traditionally "pretty" of the two -- shown in sexualized poses while Cyborg seems to maintain a persona as a fighter and a fighter alone. (Check out the photos I've posted, which, obviously, are borrowed.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009


They all look kind of alike, don't they? Right down to the color scheme. I'd guess the predominant color in these ads -- blue -- springs from the fact that most people have blue or blue-green eyes. (The figure is 47%, according to the American Academy of Opthamology. The next-highest color is dark brown with 25%.) All the irises visible in these ads are certainly blue.

This leads me to wonder if LASIK ads in parts of the world where eyes are predominantly brown are different. I'll see if I can find some ads from, say, India and post them here later.

In the meantime, there is a lot more to be done with these ads. What other themes do people see?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I don't think I've very found anything with quite such a direct tie to visible rhetoric. On July 9, I had LASIK eye surgery. Today, 20 days later, I can see better than 20/20. (My contact prescription previous to the surgery was in the -5.5 range.)

What does this mean for visibility for me? I can see! Anyone who has suffered through life with contacts or glasses can appreciate how entwined they become in one's life. I still reach for my glasses every morning. On occasion, when my eyes are dry, I have to remind myself not to scoot my contact around to a more comfortable position. The world is actually legible without aid. I feel naked ... and free! (Although I admit that every once in a while after a long day, I sort of miss being able to take out my contacts and let the world fade away.)

As far as the visible rhetoric surrounding LASIK, I think there is much to be analyzed. First of all, the various advertisements for LASIK are fascinating. They all seem to circle around one central point: clarity. The ads demonstrate and overtly mention that basic tenet. They also seem to gravitate toward themes of independence/strength, for obvious reasons. I may post more later on these ads and how they function.

In terms of the surgery itself, the visible rhetoric is striking. The doctor is not necessarily placed in a privileged position. Rather, she is very much part of a team; every member of that team is necessary. She is seated behind the patient, while other members of the surgical team are standing and seem to be busier than she is. My mother had LASIK a week after I did, and during her surgery the doctor encountered problems with a suction device. One of her assistants insisted firmly that the device was not attached and surgery could not be performed, and her opinion was respected. Although it is difficult for me to analyze the visible aspects of the surgery itself (given that my eyes were occupied), I can imagine the interaction of the staff and how it was visibly efficient and equal.

For those who are curious, I will also include a brief description of the LASIK procedure.


The doctor will have you lie down on a surgical table in a sterile surgical suite (which, in my case, was very cold). An inflatable pillow ensures that you won't move your head too much. There are two machines in the suite, and the table is capable of rotating between them. The doctor first places a suction device on your right eyeball. This really isn't a big deal for contact users; it just feels like putting a contact in combined with a pressure sensation. Close your eye and press on your cl0sed eyelid; that's the extent of it. Then the doctor will place you under one of the machines, which attaches to the suction device (add a little more pressure here) and cuts a flap in your eyeball. (This is using the intralase method, not a blade.) You may feel a slight burning sensation, but no pain. The doctor then disengages you from the machine and suction device and you can close your eye. So far, about 22 seconds have gone by. Next, the doctor will put an eyelid clamp in place to keep you from blinking. (I was extremely worried about this, but it was no big deal. When you need to blink, you just go ahead and try. You obviously can't, but your brain thinks you did and it's taken care of. No pain or even discomfort.) Then you have the actual LASIK treatment. For me it was about 40 seconds; my mom needed more than 60. Again, a slight burning sensation is the worst of it. Then the eyelid clamp is removed. The whole process is repeated for the other eye.

The worst part is about 30 minutes later when the numbing eyedrops wear off. Your eyes will burn a bit, which makes them tear up, which makes them burn more. This lasted about 2 hours for me. After that, it was just a matter of remembering not to rub my eyes until they healed. I could see pretty clearly when I got up from the surgical table, by the way, and was better than 20/20 by the following morning.

Ah, technology and visibility. What an interesting time we live in. :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Welcome back?

I'm more than a little embarrassed that it's been so long since I've posted anything. I got caught up in my last semester of master's studies. On the bright side, that means I have new and interesting visual rhetoric news to report. I finished a portfolio rather than a thesis to earn my master's, which means I was able to utilize visibility in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. I'm so impressed with ISU for allowing this option. The portfolio, which is online, can be found here. Check it out! I'm continuing to research in the areas it highlights and so am always interested in constructive feedback.