In Defense of Talking Funny

For the most part, I will only post original material on this blog. However, in this case, I ran across a post that I wish I had read 4 years ago and felt compelled to share. As an instructor of a general communication course, one of the required assignments was a public speech. In the standardized rubric we were told to use, “pronunciation” was a category in which we were to evaluate our students. After reading this, I will no longer be grading based on pronunciation. Thoughts?

harm·less drudg·ery

[Ed. note: Five months! I know. My (very poor) excuse is that I was working on another big project that I can’t tell you about yet. In the meantime, here’s an extra-long post to pay you back for the extra-long wait.]

I was talking with a friend–well, a “friend”–about some of the videos we were about to shoot for M-W. We were at a crowded, chichi restaurant, the type of place where the waiters pull your chair out for you and ask if you want sparkling, still, or mineral water. In short, a place far above my usual grab-and-go, paper-napkins milieu. A place where it behooves you to not only look smart, but sound smart. A place where you’d use the word “behoove.”

So I was behooving, using some expansive vocabulary and trying not to think about how I was paying $12 for a glass of wine when…

View original post 2,288 more words

Zombie Culture and the American Presidency

After receiving valuable feedback regarding my case study on the Mount Rushmore float, one of my former peers brought to my attention the fact that there are many other ways that Mount Rushmore circulates and is re-purposed in American culture. In his response, he directed my attention to two images/objects that I honestly had not seen. To provide context, here is the comment/question that was posed:

“Do you plan to also consider other ways that the memories are repurposed, other than in service to a capitalist, consumer culture?

For example, the images below ARE for a product that is for sale, but I think the repurposing of Mt. Rushmore in this case is different:”

The objects in question are displayed below:

Courtesy of nerdtasticdesigns.com

Courtesy of nerdtasticdesigns.com

Courtesy of neatoshop.com

Courtesy of neatoshop.com

I found these images, along with my colleague’s comment, to be intriguing. I knew that he had a point – that the repurposing of Mount Rushmore in this way serves a rhetorical function other than just simply using the Presidency (and Zombie Culture for that matter) as a way to promote consumerism – but I was having trouble figuring out what other rhetorical work was being done by these images.

Then the light bulb came on. Well, at least I think it did.

First, it is important to note that objects can have multiple rhetorical functions and people can have many different valid interpretations of the meanings of those objects. In this case, I believe that the objects under discussion confirm my thesis that memories, particularly of presidents, do indeed serve the interests of consumer culture. After all, the objects are indeed for sale, and it is the blending of zombie culture with Mount Rushmore that enables the consumption of the presidency to reach a culture that otherwise would not be inclined to purchase presidential souvenirs.

While the pairing of zombie culture with the presidency may seem odd at first, there is at least one important character trait that they both share: they each have a ubiquitous presence in pop culture. With regard to the presidency, Diane Rubenstein makes this case by detailing the myriad ways that presidents are represented in pop culture in the introduction to This is Not a President. Similarly, Stephen Marche makes a similar claim regarding zombies. You can read the entire article here, but for my purposes, it is sufficient to simply note that he makes a compelling case for his over-arching thesis that “zombies are everywhere.” If we are to accept the claim made by Horkheimer and Adorno that culture is an “industry” with inherently capitalist underpinnings, then the fact that both zombies and presidents share a strong presence in American culture seems to suggest that the memories evoked by not just the Rushmore Float, but by all representations of Mt. Rushmore, ultimately serve capitalist interests. Combining zombie culture with the presidency increases consumption of presidential memories by appealing to a fast-growing zombie culture that has already generated a high amount of revenue as Marche explains in his article.

Yet, there is still other rhetorical work being done by the “zombification” of Mt. Rushmore. While I am sure there are multiple other readings of these objects I argue that of primary importance to my project is the way that these objects function to justify the study of the commemoration and memories of American Presidents by exposing the way that memories of past presidents continue to circulate and wield political influence in the present. This argument – that referencing the past is done for the purposes of present – is a widely supported theory by nearly every scholar of public memory. By placing Mt. Rushmore within the context of zombie culture, it more specifically exposes the fact that dead presidents are never really dead.

To say that a dead president is not dead may seem counterintuitive or just downright contradictory, so let me explain. There is a second similarity between zombies and presidents that becomes much clearer when these two ubiquitous presences in popular culture collide. Since zombies are familiarly known as “the living dead,” then it seems interesting that the presidents are, in this case, turned into zombies, and therefore turned in to the living dead. This clearly points to the influence that presidents can have in society years and even centuries after their death. It is important to note, though, that these objects are not the only context in which presidents should be understood as zombies. Whether they appear in zombie form or not, the perpetuation of the memories of presidents makes them zombies because they continue to exist even after they cease to physically live. Therefore, just like zombies, presidents are, and always have been, a form of the “living dead.” These objects simply make that observation apparent.

Tangent #2: Shark Tank Thursday

As you can see, this post is not about my dissertation. That will come later today. I did, however, want to share a press release that I wrote about my dad’s small business and our experience trying out for shark tank. This post should come as a refreshing departure from my last theory-heavy post. My facebook followers probably have already heard the story, but just in case there is anyone out there with connections to small business publications or advice on how to increase small business visibility, I wanted to put this out there. Note: I have received quite a bit of valuable feedback. Thanks to everyone who is following my blog, and please share with others!

Apex “Elder”preneur™ Pitches Line of T-Shirts in Hopes of Making Big Splash at Shark Tank Casting Call

Long time NC Resident Hopes to Take State-Themed Shirts Coast to Coast

Jud Patterson Shark Tank T-Shirt

Apex, N.C. – At 60 years young, Apex resident Jud Patterson shows no signs of slowing down as he and his son Jay traveled to Greenville, North Carolina last week to pitch the former’s new line of ink-free T-shirts in hopes of landing a spot on an episode of the upcoming season of Shark Tank.

The T-shirt line, branded as “State”ments™, are made using custom cut stencils and a special bleaching solution that removes the dye from the shirt, leaving an image of one of the 50 U.S. States on the shirt with an appropriate quotation inside the image. Using music lyrics as the primary theme, Jud pitched three of his more popular shirts – “Carolina In My Mind,” “Mississippi Queen,” and “California Girls” to the Shark Tank talent scouts early Thursday morning. His son, Jay, assisted by creating a musical mash-up of the three songs that corresponded to the shirts Jud was wearing, one underneath the other. During each musical transition, Jay peeled the shirts off of his dad one by one. After the clip of “California Girls” ended, Jud revealed his final shirt with one simple message: I “heart” Shark Tank.

While the ultimate goal is to strike a deal on Shark Tank in order to put the shirts in stores nationwide, this unique line of T-Shirts has already proven popular. Jud Patterson has sold nearly 400 shirts with minimal marketing at the Raleigh flea market. Recently, the “elder”preneur has seen a rapid surge in the interest of his product as he just received a wholesale order for 300 shirts to be sold in American Beachwear and Aloha Gifts, a specialty store located in Tybee Island, Georgia. Additionally, Jud’s shirts are slated to be featured at a tradeshow in Las Vegas next month which attracts wholesale buyers from all over the nation.

“Getting to pitch my product at the Shark Tank casting call was by far one of the greatest opportunities I have ever had to really launch my product into mass markets,” said Jud Patterson. “Making it to the next level would be nothing short of a dream come true, and it would prove to fellow ‘elder’preneurs that it is never too late to pursue your passion.”

Jud sells his “state”ments and other specialty shirts for $20.00 – $25.00 dollars (depending on size and style), which includes free shipping and handling. Discounts are given for orders of 24 or more shirts.

On most people's 60th birthdays, they begin planning for retirement. For Jud Patterson, he was just working on his next big idea.

On most people’s 60th birthdays, they begin planning for retirement. For Jud Patterson, he was just working on his next big idea.

For more information and to see pictures of available designs, you can visit his website at www.statesments.com. To place an order or request a custom design, contact publicist/PR Manager Jay Patterson at 919.810.8135 or by e-mail at patterson.reynolds@gmail.com. You can also visit our Etsy Store entitled KreativeTees (although shipping and handling is not free through this platform). You may also contact Jud directly at 919.810.7472.

Business updates and new products are featured regularly on Jud’s Twitter account, @beerhopper.

Part 2: Understanding Public Memory within the Context of Circulation

Following up on Monday’s post, today I want to discuss how Public Memory may be understood differently when placed within the concept of circulation. First, however, I must issue a disclaimer: this post is decidedly more theoretical than the one on Monday, and for non-rhetoricians, I apologize in advance if the jargon detracts from what I am about to say. However, I will attempt to clarify what I mean when such esoteric terms do arise.

Theories of circulation and public memory have received considerable attention from scholars across the discipline in recent years. Public memory, a source of interest amongst rhetorical scholars since the late 1980s, currently possesses enough interest among rhetorical scholars that it is often understood as a sub-discipline of the field. In recent years, as is evidenced by numerous articles including an edited volume by Carole Blair, Greg Dickinson, and Brian Ott, the study of public memory has taken a decidedly material turn. In fact, Blair, in an earlier essay, uses U.S. memorial sites to demonstrate the rhetoricity (persuasive power) of material objects. While this line of study has expanded both the definition of rhetoric and explained the way that material objects are rhetorical in ways different from that of traditional oratory often associated with the study of public address, the authors that study material forms of public memory tend to limit their studies to static places such as monuments, museums, and other “immutable” places which function to evoke public memory. Edward Casey, for examples, goes so far as to say that “Public memory is not a nebulous pursuit that can occur anywhere; it always occurs in some particular place.” It is here that Casey would most likely understand circulating memories, even in material form, as a type of collective memory, which he argues is distinct from public memory. In the context of circulation, however, this distinction lacks much analytical purchase. As Lester C. Olsen explains, “circulation” enables “a composition to address an audience of strangers who, by devoting attention to it, become its public.” Therefore, as long as a composition evokes memories and constitutes a public, then it seems as if Casey’s distinction over-limits what can be considered “public.” Instead, circulation can constitute a form of public memory that moves through space rather than being confined to place.

Similarly, the scholarly discussions regarding circulation have also complicated matters for scholars of public address. Derived largely from Michael Calvin McGee’s fragmentation thesis, texts which were once analyzed as “whole” are now in need of rethinking since, as Stephen Heidt and Megan Foley observe, speeches are often fragmented. It is these fragments, not the speech as a whole, that circulates and resonates through society. According to Stephen Heidt, it is the circulation of these textual “shards” that engage in a constitutive process, explained by Maurice Charland as the way that a text interpolates “audiences into a narrative that constituted their identities and didactically animated their political activity.” Texts that evoke public memory, I argue, also function in this way. This claim is similar to that made by Kurt Ritter’s who identifies memory-making, or commemoration, as an epideictic process which “builds communal identity and values.”

Commemoration, in contrast with history, is concerned less with accuracy about what “really” happened and more with how the “emotional resonance and the utility of a narrative” structures or constitutes society. What remains largely unexplored, however, is the relationship between material forms of commemoration and circulation. Of course, there are a couple of exceptions worth noting. First, Nathan Atkinson makes in-roads into this connection by talking about the way that film circulates in a way that creates an interesting connection between the past and the present which he refers to as “dual temporality,” or the phenomenon in which film presents the past in the present (more explanation/better understanding of argument probably needed here). Atkinson’s work also applies the properties of circulation to visual texts, as does the work of Keith Erickson, who specifically engages in presidential photo-opportunities as rhetorical fragments to argue that the presidency has taken a “visual turn.” While these works are limited to film and photography, and focus more on the visual component of the text rather than the embodied or material/tactile characteristics of visual-material rhetorics, nonetheless provides an opportunity to more fully explore, explain, and understand the relationship between circulation and material rhetorics which function to evoke public memory. This project takes up such an opportunity by more fully realizing how circulation enables the formation of public memory. Because scholarship regarding circulation rarely intersects with studies of public memory, little is known about the relationship between these two literature bases. In what follows, I offer an explanation of this relationship which reinforces the importance of attending to matters of circulation within the specific context of how memories of presidents are produced.

A proper understanding of the forms of material/visual public memory and/or commemoration requires an understanding of place and space as they are currently understood within the scholarly community of rhetorical critics. Currently, place plays a far more important role than space in public memory scholarship. Admittedly, the distinction between space and place is a slippery one. In fact, pioneering scholars on space such as Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre often use space and place interchangeably, as if they are synonyms. Nevertheless, treating these terms as different concepts is crucial to identifying gaps in public memory scholarship that this project seeks to fill.

While less explicit than the literature on public memory, theories of circulation also imply a relationship to the concepts of place and space. In the most basic terms, I contend that circulation be understood in as the process by which texts move through space and places. Rather than focus on circulation in the context of fragmentation, I turn attention to circulation as a mechanism by which material/visual texts gain mobility and expand their rhetorical force throughout American culture. In a recent issue of Critical Studies in Media Communication dedicated to the spatial turn in the field of communication, the relationship between space and circulation becomes clear. Donovan Connelly, for example, states that before the digital era, the term “communications” referred to the “mediators of bodies and goods.” In other words, he continues, communication became possible through “the technologies of transportation – the roads, canals, turnpikes, bridges, and railways – that came to manifest the physical fact of the united states.” I believe that even in the 21st century, these modes of transportation and the movement of bodies and objects is still an important mechanism by which material forms of memory move through space, or are circulated in a way that constitutes a public through the evocation of these memories across space and through place. Under this framework, it becomes clear that space is at least as important if not more so as place in the formation of public memory. This claim, however, is not reflected in current public memory scholarship. Scholars of public memory, especially in visual and material forms, tend to focus on place as a locus for the harboring of memories, effectively relegating the concept of space as the raw material out of which places of public memory are constructed.

This is a rather rough sketch of the theoretical framework of my project, and I welcome only the harshest of criticism in moving forward.

P.S. – At the end of Dissertation Week, I will provide a complete bibliography of the sources I use and cite, although I have already attributed the quotes I use to their respective authors. I am waiting until the end to do this because I want to make sure I am clear in my own argument without getting bogged down in what everyone else has argued. Nonetheless, I will post full citations for those who want to refer to the literature in which I engage.

 

 

 

Dissertation Week: Part 1

If the title isn’t already clear enough, this week’s blog posts will be dedicated to updating my readers on the progress of my dissertation. I am doing this for two reasons. The first reason is self-serving – I need to maintain a consistent flow of blog posts as much as I need to maintain a consistent amount of progress as it pertains to writing my dissertation and finally attaining that all too elusive Ph.D. Secondly, I believe that the topics discussed in my dissertation are of import to a wider audience than is usually reached in a dissertation. Therefore, by using this blog as an outlet, I can progress academically while at the same time attempting to bridge the gap between academia and the rest of the public.

For tonight’s post, I simply want to offer a brief explanation of the project, the sources of inspiration for the project, and a preview of what to expect in following posts.

The Presence of the Presidency in Everyday Life

If I had to describe my project in one sentence, it would go a little something like this: My dissertation investigates the ways that memories of former U.S. presidents appear before their audience(s) in the course of everyday life. Much has been written about public memory and the presidency; but what makes my project different are the ways in which memories are proliferated. In a majority of the pre-existing literature of public memory, scholars focus on those memories which are evoked by permanent statues, museums, or other fixtures that occupy a particular place. With places of public memory, the audience most likely chooses to travel to these historic landmarks, and therefore willingly exposes themselves to the memories or narratives being evoked by such structures. A good example of this is Mount Rushmore: located in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, visitors do not just happen upon this architectural feat: they deliberately travel there to lay their eyes upon the mountainous carving. Although I cannot say this with certainty, I would be willing to put money on the fact that the vast majority of the 2 million annual visitors to Mount Rushmore make that trip deliberately.

While studies of permanent places of public memory have certainly yielded valuable contributions to the field of rhetoric and memory studies, my project shifts focuses to investigate the concept “circulating memorials,” or to put it more simply, to analyze those material objects which evoke memory by moving through space rather than occupying a place. I believe that these types of memory function differently since they appear before an audience that does not necessarily voluntarily submit themselves to the exposure of these memories. Put another way, these memories occur in the context of everyday life. To explain better what I mean, I now turn to a brief explanation of how Mount Rushmore is able to present itself in a way much different than its original status as a permanent, immutable structure.

Circulating Mount Rushmore: The Case of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Photograph courtesy of www.keloland.com

Photograph courtesy of http://www.keloland.com

 

Since 2010, the South Dakota department of tourism has sponsored a float to be included in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, making it the first and only State to be represented in the parade.  The float has reappeared each year since. As I watched the 2013 parade, I experienced the float for the first time (albeit mediated through television). I was not in a particularly analytical mood at the time, and was watching the parade for the purpose of entertainment more than anything else. However, when the South Dakota float appeared with a replica of Mount Rushmore as its centerpiece, I couldn’t help but find its presence odd, especially given that the rest of the floats and balloons represented either big business or pop culture icons such as Snoopy and Santa Claus. In turning a critical eye to this rhetorical phenomenon, I realized that understanding the rhetorical work done by the float is fraught with implications regarding public memory and the myriad forms in which it is evoked. In arriving at this conclusion, I re-read the float in two ways. First, I read the float in the context of participating in a parade that promotes commercialism and even functions to kick off the Christmas shopping season. Secondly, I read the performance through a theoretical framework informed by the literature concerning theories of circulation and public memory. In weaving these two readings together, I found that the rhetoricity of the Mount Rushmore float is symptomatic of the larger context of the ways memories of presidents are evoked and consumed in contemporary American culture. It also serves as the overarching argument of this dissertation – that circulation enhances the rhetorical force and accessibility of memories since it brings the memory to its audience in contrast to places of public memory which require a concerted effort on the part of the audience to expose themselves to the memories evoked at a particular location. Secondarily, I argue that as an extension of the discussion of the politics of memory, this dissertation narrows its scope to focus on the economics of memories, particularly those of presidents, and how circulation makes these memories susceptible to being repurposed in a way that manipulates the ethos associated with certain presidents to reinforce a capitalist, consumer culture.  This rhetorical maneuver effectively conflates patriotism with consumerism and continues to do so as circulation enables the repetition of an audience’s exposure to these memories.

In making this argument, I supplement the case of the Rushmore float with an analysis of American currency (the penny in particular) as well as presidential holidays. Together, these analyses reveal the economics of memory and how these cases are exemplars of the ways in which the commemoration of presidents circulates through culture as a part of everyday life, thus transforming these revered political figures into objects of consumption. Before turning to a synopsis of these case studies, however, I first situate my project within the existing literature concerning circulation (which necessarily involves an understanding of place and space) and public memory. Second, I offer a justification for focusing specifically on public memory of presidents in favor of any other public figures. Finally, I offer an explanation of the case studies and tentative conclusions/implications of this study.

For tomorrow’s post, I will follow up by explaining what I allude to in the above paragraph. Any feedback, especially harsh criticism, is always welcome. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Sunday Funday #2: Local Mercedes Dealership Goes Above and Beyond

Before I begin dissertation week, I am keeping with my weekly theme of featuring an item that I believe everyone should know about. Last week I featured Jimmy Fallon’s musical impersonations, and although the response to my poll was less than stellar, it seems clear that Fallon’s version of “Fancy” is far better than the original.

Today, I feature a car dealership with exceptional customer care and a sales team with an incredible amount of integrity that is committed to providing the customer with the best possible experience.

 Shattering the Salesperson Stereotype: Mercedes-Benz of Cary

The other day, while doing odd jobs for an acquaintance of mine, I was tasked with taking her three luxury vehicles in for inspection. Since two of the vehicles were Mercedes, we chose to have the inspections done at the Mercedes dealership located in Cary, North Carolina. Upon arriving at the dealership, my acquaintance (or temporary boss, whichever you prefer), saw a car on display that we was interested in buying. She began talking to Richard Meagher, one of the dealership’s Leasing and Sales consultants. She expressed interest in trading in one of her vehicles to purchase the car. However, instead of giving Richard the benefit of the doubt, she immediately expressed her concern that the dealership would try to rip her off, and that she had had bad experiences with Mercedes in the past. For this reason, she told Mr. Meagher that she expected him to make it up to her by giving her a good deal on the trade in and the price of the vehicle. After we were taken back to her residence by the courtesy transportation service coordinated by Service Adviser Gary Clement, I returned alone to the dealership with the 3rd car to be inspected. As per my boss’ request, I worked with Mr. Meagher to obtain a trade-in appraisal for one of her vehicles. Knowing that she had been disappointed with the dealership’s customer service in the past, Mr. Meagher went well above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that he made her the very best offer within his power. He had three different employees appraise the vehicle, and then he personally compared their appraisal to the Kelley Blue Book valuation. Although the car was not in perfect condition, he appraised the car based on it being in perfect condition, and even offered a trade in value that exceeded the Kelley Blue Book appraisal as an attempt to regain my boss’ business. Nevertheless, she did not accept his trade-in offer, but that is another story for another day.

Although Mr. Meagher knew that I currently fall well short of possessing the financial capability to purchase a Mercedes-Benz, he invited me into his office where he charged my phone and provided me with a comfortable place to sit while I was waiting for the inspections to be complete. He then proceeded to spend well over an hour of his time asking me questions about my graduate studies, about my opinions on various current event controversies that cropped up during our conversation, and took a genuine interest in my work as an educator and in me as a human being. We had a wonderful conversation about everything from philosophy and politics to where to go for good sushi. As anyone reading this blog probably knows, time is money. This is particularly true for car salesperson who works mostly if not exclusively off of commission. Knowing he would not be selling me a car, the fact that he spent so much time with me and genuinely cared about me as a human being is a testament to his integrity, and goes to show that the negative stereotypes of car salesmen are not always true. Mr. Meagher shattered this stereotype into a million pieces. If I ever win the lottery, the first thing I am doing is buying a Mercedes from Mr. Meagher. For all of these reasons, if anyone reading this blog is in the market for a Mercedes, I highly recommend Mr. Meagher as well as the rest of the customer care team at the dealership, which is located at 2400 Auto Park Boulevard, Cary, NC 27511. Mr. Meagher can be reached directly at richard.meagher@mb-cary.com or by phone at (919) 380-1800.

No Sympathy for Neymar: FIFA’s Complicity in Flopping

To conclude my rant against FIFA and the immense amount of frustration I experienced while watching the 2014 World Cup, I want to discuss perhaps the most infuriating part of the game: The exorbitant amount of fouls and flopping that occurred during the tournament. Flopping – defined as an attempt to draw a foul by falling to the ground in an overly dramatic fashion – is not unique to soccer. A few year ago, this problem was identified in the NHL, and the league began cracking down on this dangerous and deceptive behavior by issuing penalties to players who attempted to fool the officials into thinking a foul had been committed against them.

During this year’s World Cup, however, I couldn’t help but assume that FIFA did not have the same policy as the NHL regarding the (il)legitmacy of flopping as a strategy of the game. After discussing this issue with a friend of mine who is much more knowledgeable about soccer than myself, I was informed that flopping IS indeed against FIFA rules and regulations, and that referees can issue yellow cards for such behavior. It is astonishing to me, then, that out of the dozens and dozens of flops that occurred throughout the tournament, only ONE yellow card was given for such behavior to Oscar of the Brazilian squad. Ironically, the play in which he was penalized for flopping was clearly a legitimate foul, and not a flop.

While players from nearly every nation engaged in some degree of flopping, Brazilian star Neymar was arguably the tournament’s worst offender. But don’t take my word for it. For evidence of Neymar’s brilliant acting skills, see this story.

Unfortunately, Neymar wasn’t always faking. During the match against Colombia, he suffered a broken back and was unable to play in the remainder of the tournament. The following picture says it all:

While Neymar did indeed suffer a legitimate injury, this picture could easily have been taken during one of his many flops.

While Neymar did indeed suffer a legitimate injury, this picture could easily have been taken during one of his many flops.

Many people expressed extreme sympathy for Neymar while also arguing that FIFA did not do enough in taking the injury seriously. While I do blame FIFA for allowing players to flop repeatedly without penalty, I do not believe that they can be held responsible for mishandling Neymar’s injury. Contrary to many people who have commented on this incident, I have absolutely no sympathy for Neymar. He feigned injury so many times throughout the tournament that it is no wonder that many people initially under-estimated the severity of his injury. Just like my mother who used to ring my phone off the hook and leave me text messages demanding that I call her back because it was “an emergency” only to later find out that she just wanted to complain to me about something trivial, I eventually started ignoring her calls, and Neymar’s behavior is no different. By crying wolf, both my mother and Neymar have put themselves in an extremely dangerous situation. When something actually DOES go wrong, I will be the last person to believe it.

So I conclude with a simple message to Neymar – if you want my sympathy, then stop being the Brazilian who cries wolf.

FIFA Fi Fo Fum – Why the World Cup is oh so Dumb

Admittedly, I am your textbook bandwagon Soccer Fan. I don’t pay much attention to the MLS or the British Premier League. Even when it is featured in the Olympics, you will probably find me watching Curling instead. But when the World Cup kicked off this summer, I was as avid a fan as any. And I wasn’t just on the U.S. bandwagon – I was on the Cinderella bandwagon. The American triumph in Ghana was great, but in my opinion it was secondary to John Brooks becoming the first American substitute to score a goal in World Cup history. I couldn’t get enough of James Rodriguez, I was as excited about Costa Rica’s success as I was about the super-human skills displayed by Tim Howard, and my heart broke into a million pieces when Chile nearly beat Brazil, only to fall in one of the most dramatic shoot-outs of the entire tournament.

There is no denying the fact that the 2014 World Cup provided an immense amount of entertainment and excitement for viewers world wide. In spite of this, however, there were several issues that arose which were, in my view, so outrageous that FIFA will have one less viewer in 2018. In this post, I will focus on perhaps the behavior of perhaps the most infamous player in the sport: Luis Suarez.

Crimes on the Pitch: Why Suarez should be Convicted of Assault

Act Like a Rabid Dog, get Treated Like a Rabid Dog Photograph Courtesy of www.rtve.es

Act Like a Rabid Dog, get Treated Like a Rabid Dog
Photograph Courtesy of http://www.rtve.es

I hardly need to recount what occurred, but just in case, here’s the deal. During a match with Italy, Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. No action was taken by the officials. Yellow cards are given for dangerous plays, many of which are probably unintentional. In this case, however, no card was given at all for something that was clearly intentional. Now, just to cover my bases, let me play my own devil’s advocate. How could I possibly know whether it was intentional. After all, Suarez claimed that a collision occurred between him and Chiellini and that his mouth fell on his shoulder, resulting in “a strong pain in my teeth.” Given this explanation, it is entirely reasonable to think it could have been an accident.

Here’s the problem: Suarez is full of shit. Given the visible bite marks on Chiellini’s shoulder coupled with the fact that this was the THIRD time that Suarez sank his teeth into an opponent during a soccer match and has faced (inadequate) disciplinary action for his behavior. If FIFA punishes someone, then you KNOW it’s a big deal. Now all of this still doesn’t prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was on purpose, but it certainly proves beyond a reasonable doubt that his action was intentional, and that is all I care about. After you have been found culpable of biting someone three times, you lose all benefit of the doubt.

What Luis Suarez did was clearly wrong, and I do not think many people will disagree with that. But the thesis I advance here may be a bit more controversial: his behavior wasn’t just wrong, it was criminal. If I am at a restaurant or a concert and someone bites me, I could (and would) press criminal assault charges. Short of a technicality, and provided I had evidence and witnesses to verify the crime took place, that person would surely be convicted – and if it was their third strike, they would likely face jail time. Given these factors, I find it puzzling that a behavior that would be a crime in any other context is not treated as such if it occurs within the context of a sporting event.

Admittedly, there are issues with my argument. For starters, context does matter. As a scholar of rhetoric and communication, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that. For instance, if any behavior that is a crime outside of sports is considered a crime within sports, then we wouldn’t have Boxing, MMA, Wrestling, Rugby, or tackle Football. Given these facts, I am not going to even try to justify abolishing all contact sports, because that would be ridiculous. Instead, I offer a more specific proposal:

If an action is committed during the course of a sporting event that would be considered a crime AND that action cannot be reasonably deemed as a routine part of the sport being played, then that action should be considered a crime and the authorities that have jurisdiction in the area in which the incident occurred have an obligation to press criminal charges against the alleged culprit.

Given this criteria, I feel safe saying that biting is not something that a soccer player should reasonably expect to happen on the pitch. Therefore, the punishment handed down by FIFA which has been criticized as being to harsh is far from it. Originally, I was going to entitle this post “Why Luis Suarez Should be Euthanized.” After all, with strict liability laws in most states, if a dog bites a person ONCE, they are put to death. No second chances. On top of that, many dog bites are not unprovoked. But that is besides the point. We shouldn’t hold human beings to lesser standards of conduct than dogs. By allowing Luis Suarez to live, we are doing just that.

But even I think my own gut reaction to the whole controversy is a bit extreme. Instead of euthanizing humans that bite, it probably should not be legal to euthanize a dog after the first time they bite somebody.

Still, FIFA’s punishment is far too lenient. At the very least, Suarez should be convicted of assault and be handed a lifetime ban from all soccer activities. Three strikes and you are OUT. There are no fourth strikes in baseball, so there shouldn’t be any for biting either.

Clearly I am upset with Suarez for bringing shame to the game and with FIFA for not taking this much more seriously. But I am equally upset with the victim – Chiellini himself. He accepted Suarez’s (non) apology, and even went so far as to claim that the punishment Suarez received was too harsh. Chiellini, are you fucking kidding me? Do you not have any self-respect? He bit you! He transferred his germ-carrying saliva into your skin! My message to Chiellini: have some respect for yourself, and at least pretend like you care about restoring integrity to the game you have dedicated your life to playing.

That’s all for now. I hope this stirs up some controversy – the comments I have received up to this point have been far too kind.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post in which I explain why I have absolutely no sympathy for Neymar.

 

Tuesday’s Tangent: Humanity’s Real Sixth Sense

I had fully intended to dedicate this week to blogging about the politics of sports – and I still fully intend on keeping good on that promise. But I recently ran across an old post that I wrote for a blog for which I never followed through. As a trudge along in my dissertation writing, I wanted to share just a glimpse of my academic interests, and this post does just that. I will return tomorrow to my regularly-scheduled programming, but for now, here is a post that may shed some light on the way I approach both academia and the rest of the world around me.

Since grade school science classes, we’ve been taught that we have five biological senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. M. Night Shyamalan added the ability to see and speak to the dead as humanity’s “Sixth Sense” in the critically-acclaimed film by the same name. But even as I consider myself open-minded and spiritual, my suspension of disbelief swiftly disappears within minutes of watching that film. My apologies to any mediums that may be following me on here.

I do, however, believe that humans have a sixth sense. And that sense can quite easily be explained as the human capability to remember. The role that memory plays in society in undeniable, and several scholars and other inquisitive minds have written much on this subject. If this were an academic paper, this is the part where I would start name dropping the famous theorists of collective and public memory while working myself to a specific argument that I will contribute to an academic journal. I would be lucky if more than 40 or 50 people ever read that article.

But my purpose here is much different. I’ve already made my argument – that memory is a human’s sixth sense – and that argument is far too broad for any academic journal, although I do not abandon the academic tradition altogether, as it is the foundation upon which I have learned to contemplate memories – my own personal childhood memories, memories of running track and field in high school, memories of making out with girls in the backs of cars at debate camp and so on and so on. Then there are political memories – remembering sitting in Ms. Winn’s fifth-grade classroom watching the live verdict be delivered in the Orenthal James (“OJ”) Simpson murder trial, or sitting in my junior-year U.S. history class preparing for an upcoming exam when the teacher (who’s name escapes me, ironically enough), got a call and was told to turn the television on. The timing couldn’t have been better (or worse, given how traumatizing the events were to the nation), as the television screen came on within seconds of the second plane crashing into the towers. While it is impossible to know all my fellow citizens and anyone who shares those memories with me – the fact that most people my age remember 9/11 and the O.J. Simpson trial creates what can be referred to and public or collective memories. While we may remember these events differently, it is the circulation of these events through the advent of the 24-hour news networks, the internet, and social media that consume private memories of these events in order to fashion “a” singular memory for the nation to remember, to forget, or to take remembering one step further by engaging in a ritual mode of memorializing or commemorating people, places, and events that shape public memory and therefore gives society a sense of its self. In later entries, I will explain how a memory-based society functions at even higher levels to facilitate if not constitute national identity.

Memory has been an important aspect as human communication dating as far back to Aristotle and the Greek tradition of rhetoric. Now, don’t freak out – rhetoric isn’t as esoteric of a concept as most think. But there is an important distinction here that must be made. In contemporary media culture, rhetoric often carriers a negative connotation. Newspapers refer to politician’s “mere rhetoric,” and next to lawyers, politicians are often thought of as the nation’s second-biggest liars. Rhetoric is flowery language used to disguise the lack of content with a politicians speech. Rhetoric is to be distrusted. It is separate from action, and until the rhetoric of a public figure aligns with that persons actions. Hence the trite American colloquialism, “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.”

But as a student of rhetoric, I much object here. It’s not that I don’t think actions speak louder than words – but rather I believe that the speaking and writing of words is an action in and of itself. I borrow this concept from Kenneth Burke, who argues that language can be understood as symbolic action. Simply put, words do things. They are not material objects to be held or built, but words do a lot. They cheer someone up who’s having a bad day, they can be used to hurt someone’s feelings, they are often used to change one’s mind about a litany of topics. But a lot of times the actions induced by language go unnoticed, or the action performed is not understood as an effect of the language used to induce said action. The persuasive function of language, then, facilitates actions. I believe in this theory so steadfastly that I will advance two arguments that apply both to public memory specifically and rhetoric generally. First, I argue that rhetoric has effects, but they are often not immediately noticeable, making it easy for critics of rhetoric as a discipline to ridicule us for failing to demonstrate empirical proof that x speech caused y effect. I stand in stark opposition to this criticism, and I hope that the ruminations in this post will aid in debunking this criticism.

My second argument is a first step toward answering the criticism of rhetoric described above, and it uses a specific instance of rhetoric – MLK Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” – to demonstrate that rhetoric exists and is used for something beyond itself. It seeks to remedy problems and create change in the real world. (Some rhetoric, of course, can cause problems and create unwanted change). So, my argument is simply this – that if MLK had never delivered that speech – if that occasion for civil rights activists to gather upon the national mall make themselves politically present in the center of a government which for years treated blacks as inferior to whites – then I contend that the material conditions for minorities, and particular African Americans, would be far worse than they are today. I do not deny that racism still exists, both socially and structurally/institutionally, but MLK’s speech did something about the problem. Maybe not right away, but it is my position that MLK’s speech and the many remembrances of the speech and of him as a civil rights leader have created better, but admittedly far from perfect, material conditions for minorities and have spurred legislation that works toward the ideal of equality. His speech was so impactful, in fact, that they etched part of his speech into the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – a memorial that for decades had emphasized Lincoln’s accomplishment as the president that ended the civil war and preserved the Union, with little if any acknowledgment of any role he played in facilitating the abolition of slavery through his famous Emancipation Proclamation. While those memories of Lincoln remained dormant, MLK Jr.’s choice to speak at that location was a distinctly rhetorical feature as he was able to create an identification between him and one of the nation’s most heroic presidents and thus reinvigorating memories of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator.” Without this rhetorical act, I argue, we very well may still be staring down Jim Crow’s oppressive throat.

These arguments have also demonstrated a lot about the way that memory in contemporary society is much different that the memory understood as the fifth canon of rhetoric. In this tradition, memory was a device used by the rhetor to remember his speech. He would often create visual cues to aid in his memory and then translate them into oral discourse. In today’s era, however, memory is evoked, produced, maintained, contested, and modified, all through the work of rhetoric.

This is just an introduction into the topic of memory. Sometimes I’ll discuss memory through personal experience, or through interviewing the experiences of others. Sometimes, through film or television, people are invited to remember things that they did not even experience. The point is simply to take memory more seriously, to be more observant of memory’s appearance and presence, not to mention its disappearance and absence. Taking better account of the ubiquity of memory as is circulates through space and occupies place, as well as the ways in which human bodies encounters different types of memories, I believe will produce a more contemplative and self-reflexive society – a society in which ethical choices become more clear in a world in which our moral compass has been spinning out of control.

 

 

Sunday Funday: Academic Glutton’s Top Picks

Each Sunday, I will feature a book, magazine article, TV Show, Artist, Song, or any other product or service that I believe everyone needs to experience. For this week’s top pick, I provide for your pleasure a song: Jimmy Fallon’s cover of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” done in the style of Neil Young accompanied by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Now that is what I call talent.

Enjoy!