I had a great discussion with my students today about the video I posted yesterday. We were talking about what persuades us (or hasn't yet persuaded us) to vote. This question of "effect" is one that kind of puzzles rhetoricians. Do people really act as a result of persuasive rhetoric, or is rhetoric just one of many influences that eventually causes action. We (my class and I) looked at a bunch of posters on this site, talked a little about Mtv ads, watched that video and--in the end--came to some interesting realizations.
One of those realizations--or maybe admittances--was that young people (my students are 18 and 19) don't vote. One student said that he didn't vote because he didn't really know a lot about the candidates and didn't want to just vote to vote. It felt irresponsible. So the posters weren't really that persuasive. Another student said that he liked the posters but that it really took something spoken before he was moved in any particular direction. That made me think of the video I posted yesterday.
I didn't know if I would have time to show it because I had other stuff to cover--so I held off on it until the end of class. We did have about 5 minutes after my planned lesson on library research, so we watched the video.
I didn't know who a lot of the celebrities were in the video, but I knew they would, so I asked them to write down the names of people they knew. When the video was over, I asked them whether or not they felt the video was persuasive. They did. I asked them why-- The student who said he liked oral persuasion said "I don't know why I am persuaded, but I am! I've got goose bumps!" "And we believe what our goose bumps tell us, don't we!" I shot back. "Yes!" he said. Ha, ha--I had lured them into my trap.
Then we started talking about all the celebrities in the video and why their influence helped the message be persuasive. We didn't have a lot of time, but it was here that I revealed my purpose in showing them this video that really doesn't have any clear mention of Obama's politics or views on the issue other than that he wants change and "Yes we can" get it. We talked about ethos (credibility), pathos (emotional appeal), and logos (logical appeal) and how the video was almost completely based on pathos--the least stable of all of the appeals. It was a great teaching moment where I was able to talk about being weary of rhetoric that appeals only to the emotions (which most visual rhetoric is aimed at--at least initially). We mentioned how sad it would be if they voted for a candidate based on the feeling their TV ad gave them without doing any research (ah ha! Research!) about what that candidate really believes--where they might find some drastic personal incongruities.
If I would have had more time, I could have spoken a little about using that kind of rhetoric as a springboard to investigation. If they like a certain candidate based on his or her ads on TV, start doing that research. Start doing some soul searching.
So, my own recent decision to align myself with the Democratic party (instead of flailing as an independent) and support Obama does not come lightly and without much thought (or without some help from an understanding, very conservative, friend). And I am still doing work to figure out my exact stance on the complex issues our Nation faces. But that I am thus working is a marked change from my past apathetic political life. And at least I know now which way I lean. I hope that doesn't alienate me from my friends and family who are persuaded differently. Being a religious democrat (like being a religious academic), is often incorrectly spun--as outlined in this great speech--as a paradox or conflict of interest. I just don't think that is the case.