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Jiajia Song (Lorraine)

Prof. Tae Sung

Writing 39B

1 May 2017

According to Marshall Mcluhan, a pionner of the study of media study, in his book Unde

rstanding Media: The Extensions of Man, “The medium is the message”. He indicates that a

medium iteself can affect the society not only by the content carried by the medium but also b

y the characteristics of the medium itself. I agree with this idea and I think that for people wh

o are working in the public relations and enagage to make certain things popular, they should

learn to take advantage of different characteristics of different medium to make such thing att

ractive. We can see this from the example how the two versions of the commencement speech

delived by David Foster Wallace makes the speech a big hit around the world. Each of the ver

sion of the speech makes fully use of the characteristics of its own medium to affect and send

the main ideas to the audience, so in the end the speech become well-known in the world. In t

he first part of my paper, I mainly talk about how the written version of the speech uses its ch

aracteristics as a medium to expand the range of audience and help them to fully understand t

he message. In my second part of my paper, I will focus on how the video version produced b

y the Glossary uses the characteristics of video to persuade the audience.

The commencement speech delivered by David Foster Wallace on May 21, 2005,

published as a book by Little, Brown and Company in 2009, which also contributes to the

wide spread of the speech around the world. However, some parts of the written version are

different from the original speech like the content and a different way to present it. Therefore,

in this section, I am going to explore the way how the publisher use the characteristics of

medium-the written version of David Foster Wallace’s speech by adding swear words and
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using the typesetting to expand the audience and affect the audience. The purpose of the

section is to get you know the significance of a written version as one of the medium

contributes to the popularity of a work.

Unlike the audio version of the speech, the written version adds some swear words in to

the original script, which helps to expand the speech’s audience from the graduating student

in a private liberal art school to the normal people. In an actual speech, it would be offensive

and informal if the speaker uses some swear words. However, in the written version, using

swear words really makes the text more causal and shorten the distance between the text and

the audience to expand the range of audience. who sometimes cannot help to curse at people

to express their emotional. For instance, the writer gives examples about the time when

people think as their “default setting”, which is “an automatic, unconscious belief that I am

the center of the world.” Originally, in the audio version, Wallace just describes the thoughts

that a normal person, who has been tortured by his work has when it seems like all the other

people is in his way. However, in the written version, the publisher changes the thought

bubbles in that person’s head. It goes like this: “who the fuck are all these people in my way”

(77). “. . . I cannot even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid goddamn

people” (78). These adding words potentially expand the speech’s original audience-

graduating students to the public who cannot help to curse at people to express their emotion.

Because the first place that the speech came out is on the commencement speech at Kenyon

College for those high-educated graduating students. It would be improper to use those words

in such kind of a formal occasion. But for the written version, it is different because the

revision by adding words like “fuck” “goddamn” “sucks” can be as a rhetoric device to

explicitly expresses the dissatisfaction that person has, which helps the readers to associate

themselves with the character in the text. Because we all have an experience that we are so

angry that we cannot help to be cynical about everything around us. This change really
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shortens the distance between the text and readers and makes the text not only just for

students but for the public.

Another importance of the revision is that it helps Wallace organize the whole text in a

logic way. Since we can know how angry we are if we think like the automatic way from

those swear words. Therefore, we will naturally ask ourselves: Is there any other way to avoid

such hatred? In fact, as we ask, Wallace does propose another way after talking about this

discontent that the automatic thinking way generates. This change made by the publisher

helps the whole speech to flow well.

To better remain the juicy part of the speech in the process of transferring the audio

version to the written version, the publisher also makes effort on the typesetting. A book itself

as a medium cannot emphasize directly like the way that a speaker emphasizes his point by

changing his voice, tone or speed. Still, the book can do it in another way by typesetting since

the presence of a books gives people an opportunity to slow down to meditate the sentence.

And typesetting reinforces that effect on people. To be specific, the book italicizes some

important words that are emphasized by Wallace in the speech. And the publisher also does so

by putting some essential sentences just in one page. Therefore, this typesetting serves a good

way to remind readers paying attention to those words or sentences and get the message that

Wallace wants to send its audience in the speech. For example, the sentence, which is put in

one page, goes like this: “Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s

capital-T true is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it” (94). When I first

heard this sentence from the audio speech, I did not pay attention to it since the speech goes

so fast. However, when I read the written version, I was totally captured by content and the

purpose of this sentence in the whole speech because of the layout of the sentence. From this

sentence, we can know that David Foster Wallace really wants to persuade his audience to

change their “default setting” way of thinking. This sentence is also essential for the whole
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text, which connects the previous and the following text. This kind of layout really makes use

of the advantage of the book itself, giving a way for the audience to meditate what they have

read. Therefore, the audience is more likely to get the main point of the speech from the

written version.

The wide-spread of the speech around the world cannot accomplish without the influence

of the medium-the nine-minutes compressed video version of the speech produced by The

Glossary. In this section, I will analyze how the Glossary makes use of the characteristics of

video, as one of the popular medium, to impress and convey David Foster Wallace’s main

message to the audience by two ways: putting different types of information like verbal,

visual information together; mirroring the real world.

The first way that a video does is to combine different forms of information like the

visual, the verbal information together to get the audience’s attention and then convey the

main point to its audience. In other words, the video can accomplish all the effects that all

types of the medium like a book and audio version are able to accomplish because the

producers of videos can not only put the audio version itself but also set scene and put written

words into the videos to emphasize. In this way, the audience is more likely to pay attention

to, reflect from that part of the video, finally get the main message. This nine-minutes short

video of the speech, This is Water, uses this technique a lot to emphasize and convey the

message that David Foster Wallace originally wants to send to its audience. One of most

impressive part using this technique of the video is from 6:16 to 7:01. What the video does is

to put the key words in the video along with the speech itself, which catches the audience’s

attention. For instance, the producers took out the words like “crowded” “hot” “slow” “love”

“fellowship” and made these words appear in the audience’s eyes as a book does. The

producers did this to appeal the audience and give them a moment to think about those words.

These five written words and the background audio version of the speech emphasize and
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contrast that how a different thinking way can affect people’s perspective toward life.

Without being told explicitly by the video or Wallace, the audience can know that Wallace is

trying to persuade them to change their “natural default setting” thinking way. This technique

really makes full use of the advantage of video as one of the medium, which really helps the

audience to understand and get the rhetor’s main message easily.

The other way that a video develops is to mirror the real world, which helps the

audience to associate themselves with the content of the video and then get persuaded by the

rhetor. To be specific, videos, better compared to the text, audio version, can set scene

according to the content of the work to replicate a real world in front of the audience’ eyes.

And those scenes originated from the daily lives are familiar by the audience. As a result, the

audience can associate themselves with the content and then get the main idea of the whole

video. The video version of the speech, This is Water, also takes the advantage of this

method. For example, this video first sets a male character. He is waked by the annoying

default alarm music on the phone, goes to work as a majority of normal adults live their lives.

Those small things like the shower nozzle, the coffee, and the bags on the hero’s hands in the

video represented the daily mundane life that we all have. After a day of tiring working, all he

wants is to have a dinner at home. Unfortunately, there is no food in the refrigerator. He has

to drive to the supermarket, however, the traffic is very bad. In that part, the video uses a

driver’s view and adds the hooks of the cars to intensify how bad the traffic jam is. When he

gets in the crowded supermarket, he totally freaks out by finding what he wants from the

thousands of the items on the crowded aisles. There is one scene in which the hero has a hard

time to open the plastic bag. When I first watched this video, I cannot help to laugh because

those small things and annoying moments are common in our lives. And I really want to say,

“I have been there! I can totally feel the way as you do”. It is those scenes that helps the

viewers to fit themselves in the content of the video. As the video goes, it offers us a different
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thinking way toward our daily mundane lives to escape from the boring and annoying

routine. This kind of way to present the speech really intensifies the effect on people since it

brings the audience themselves into the content. g

In conclusion, the popularity of certain thing cannot accomplish without the medium.

So we need to take advantage of the charactertics of the medium like the written version and

the video do.

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