This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
In the last lesson, we examined several techniques whereby a rhetor (i.e., a practitioner of rhetorical discourse) may seek to persuade his or her audience by encouraging to imagine themselves in ways consistent with the rhetor’s agenda. Those techniques are called pathetic appeals. Now I’d like to examine ethical appeals. Whereas appeals to pathos seek to influence the way that the audience perceives themselves, appeals to ethos seek to influence the way that audience perceives the speaker or writer who addresses them. A savvy rhetor knows that the persuasion consists not only of making logically convincing arguments and of evoking the emotions, attitudes, beliefs, and values that make the audience receptive to those arguments. He or she must also show him- or herself to be credible. Ethical appeals come in many, many forms: some subtle (e.g., the college professor who’s manner of speech seems so “intellectual” that even those who can’t understand her become convinced of her expertise) and some not so subtle (the senior bureaucrat who begins every meeting by reminding his subordinates who’s boss). We find some particularly vivid examples of the strategic use of ethical appeals in American political discourse, especially during presidential election seasons. Indeed, some complain that questions of presidential candidates’ “character” — and that’s what an ethos is: a projection of the rhetor’s character as designed to win the adherence of an audience — have all but crowded out questions of policy and of governing philosophy. To be, or to campaign to be, President of the United States is to become a full-time character in an ongoing rhetorical drama. To help us understand how those characters are developed, I’ve created the diagram below, called “The 3D Persona.” The image is a metaphor, borrowed from three-dimensional Cartesian geometry, which measures objects along the axes of height, width, and depth.
Having studied presidential (and other forms of highly ceremonial) rhetoric for some time, I find that presidential rhetors typically construct personae for themselves that can be charted along the three axes
pictured here. There’s the hero/humble servant axis, which measures the characterological spectrum between leaders, who do for others what the others cannot do for themselves, and followers, who do what they’re told. Then there’s the thinker/doer axis, which measures the spectrum between (sometimes wholly ineffectual) intellectual-type and the (sometimes wholly thoughtless) action-oriented type. Ad finally, there’s the scourge/lover axis, which measures the spectrum between the character type who’s determined to set right all that s/he holds to be wrong with the other people and the world and the character type who desires more than anything to affirm and enjoy other people and the world exactly as they are. So: What can we do with this diagram? Again, it’s a visual metaphor: i.e., not a scientific tool of measurement, but an artful device to help us think creatively. What it can help us think creatively about is the “character arc” that a rhetor (especially a presidential one) will endeavor to create when delivering a speech. Listen carefully to a stump speech or a State of the Union address and you’ll likely find the speaker likely presenting an image of him- or herself that can be plotted along these axes and, moreover, that changes as the discourse proceeds: that is, a speaker who begins by presenting himself as a scourge may change into a lover as the discourse proceeds; the thinker may slowly transform into a doer; a recognized hero may morph into a humble servant. Or s/he may move back and forth along several axes at once, developing in fits and starts from, say, a humble, thoughtful, scourge into an active, loving hero. For our purposes, plotting the arc of these ethical “movements” is only the first step in conducting an analysis. The second step consists in asking: Why? What rhetorical purpose do these ethical appeals serve? Why does, say, President Obama create in one speech an arc that travels from lover to scourge but in another speech an arc that travels from scourge to lover? Why does vice presidential candidate Palin present herself as a hero when addressing one audience but a humble servant when addressing another. In short, how does the arc of the development of a rhetor’s ethical character reflect an underlying strategy? To help you learn how to analyze ethical appeals yourself, I’ve prepared an analysis of my own for you to read. After that, I’d like you to get some practice yourself. The speech that I’ve analyzed is the one in which Barack Obama introduced himself to the national audience, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Please watch that speech here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWynt87PaJ0 (I’ve also embedded it below this document on Blackboard, along with a transcript); and then read the essay that I’ve written about it, which I’ve embedded just below this document in the Module 2 folder on Blackboard. I hope that reading my essay will show you how the concepts represented in the 3-D Persona diagram can be used as tools of analysis. After you’re done reading my analysis of Obama, please watch the video (also embedded in Blackboard, Module 2) of the speech whereby Sarah Palin introduced herself to the national audience, and then respond to the prompt that accompanies it.