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.