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Andres De La Fuente

Civic Artifact Speech Outline: Robert Houdin Advertisement
INTRODUCTION
A. Entertainment has always been a part of the human experience.
a. But in modern times, the way it is presented and sold to us can be
immensely insightful.
i. Often times, nowadays, it is sold by laughter and smiles and
seemingly perfect lives.
ii. It is also sold to us by suggestion of a possible shared
experience.
iii. Sometimes, like in this particular advertisement, it is sold by the
promise of wonder and amazement.
b. What implications does the way people try to sell us entertainment
have, as far as the way we think?
B. That is what I set out to explore in this poster for famous French illusionist,
Robert Houdin.
a. For some background:
i. Robert Houdin was born in 1805 and died in 1871.
ii. He was a clockmaker whose interest in magic eventually made
him famous.
iii. His name was inspiration for magic legend Erik Weisz, also
known as Harry Houdini.
C. Now back to the artifact: there are two major dimensions to this poster’s
rhetorical effectiveness.
a. There is a cultural one; the depiction of the exotic and mysterious, as
well as Houdin’s physical appearance.
b. And there is a deeply psychological one; people love to be mystified.
ANALYSIS
A. The artifact gives a strong representation of cultural standards of its day.
a. The depictions of the exotic are commonplaces; remember the context
is the height of European imperialism (the mid-19 th century).
i. Look at this Indian woman at the forefront.
ii. Behind her is a voodoo drawing.
iii. Behind that is a mysterious Middle Eastern man.
b. There is an immense cultural undercurrent to these simple images.
i. Europeans sought to distance themselves from colonial peoples.
ii. The often sensationalized and objectified them to maintain the
thin veneer of superiority soon to be demolished by the world
wars.
c. The advertisement’s use of these images as commonplaces served two
purposes.
i. It was a source of ethos, as it validated societal standards of its
audience.
ii. It was also a use of pathos, because there is an emotional
comfort in simply looking at other cultures as beneath your own
rather than to be introspective.

Andres De La Fuente
d. Houdin’s personal image is also important, as it cues us into what his
target audience was.
i. His attire is an intended source of ethos because he is dressed
like his audience rather than some gaudy wizard.
1. His audience was, of course, the higher class of society;
his clothing is that of a gentleman’s evening attire.
2. This makes sense because we know the higher classes of
European society were the most responsible for
imperialist sentiment and the most likely to relate to it.
e. These four main images were an effective use of cultural Kairos.
B. Beyond this use of cultural context, the advertisement appeals to its
audience in a much more deeply psychological way.
a. The unknown is suggested by the imagery of shadows and white
versus black as well as a bizarre figure at the top right, which has no
cultural connotation.
i. These images and color scheme suggest mystique, imagination,
and the arcane.
b. It may seem unlikely upon surface consideration, but humans love
uncertainty.
i. If a person is offered $10 to do a certain amount of work and
then offered anywhere from $5 to $20 to do the same amount,
they will most often take on the second offer.
ii. It is even apparent in the new rise of psychological arguments
that counter the classical reciprocity principle, and that suggest
people are more attracted to uncertainty.
c. People will go out of their way, like in the simple act of buying a lottery
ticket, to give their minds a sense of possibility, despite astronomical
odds.
i. It is the same psychology behind gambling.
d. Some would even link it to a primal ancient desire to resolve the
unknown.
i. This characterizes modern civilization so much that we often feel
like there is nothing left to resolve (an interesting parallel to 19 th
century Europe); magic offers something here.
CONCLUSION
A. This advertisement is an example of almost everything we have discussed in
this class.
a. It utilizes Kairos (in this case, mid-19th century European society).
b. It employs commonplaces like the stereotypical portrayals of other
people.
c. It develops an ethos through the image of a gentleman magician and
the validation of cultural views.
d. And it creates a powerful pathos, both in the cultural sense and in the
psychological one described.
B. Ultimately, why did I come up here and show you a dated old French poster?
a. We are nothing like the Europeans of that time, we have nothing in
common. We couldn’t possibly think like them.

Andres De La Fuente
b. Is it right to put that kind of absolute distance between us and them,
however?
c. We are as vulnerable to their mistaken thoughts as they were, and in
the face of the kinds of issues that surround us today, it is more
important than you might think, to be aware of that.