Jiajia Song (Lorraine)

Prof. Tae Sung

Writing 39B

1 May 2017

Making Use of the Features of Medium

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

rstanding Media: The Extensions of Man, “Thel medium is the message”. By this, he indicat

es that a medium iteself can affect the society not only by the content carried by the medium

but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. I agree with this idea because each mediu

m has its own characteristics and making use of those characteristics intensifies the influence

of the content to the audience. The popularity among the general public of the commencemen

t speech, This is Water, cannot accomplished without the impact of the two versions of the

speech, the written version and the video. David Foster Wallace first presented this speech on

the commencement at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005 to inspire those graduating students.

At first, people only can access this speech through the audio version of the speech. In 2009,

the year after when David Foster Wallace committed suicide, this speech published as a book

by Little, Brown and Company. After a few years later in 2013, the Glossary, a small video

production company, made a nine-minutes compressed video version of the speech, which

receive more than four million views less than one month when it first released. In this paper,

using the two versions of the speech as my evidence, I will argue that making use of the

characteristics of each medium helps the content that the medium carries to better reach and

affect its audience. I will first analyze how the written version of the speech uses its character

istics as a medium to reach the audience well and convey message to them. After that, I will f

ocus on analyzing how the video version uses the its characteristics to do so.

In the first 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 making use of typesetting to affect the audience and effectively convey the


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

the original script, which helps to intensify the emotion beneath the content, which can

effectively get the message out to your audience. In an actual speech, it would be offensive

and informal if the speaker uses profanity. As Lisa B. Marshall, a public speaker in the article,

Can I Use Profanity in a speech or Podcast? published on the website, Quick and Dirty Tips,

suggests that you are risking a backlash and alienating your audience when you use swear

words in a public speaking. However, using profanity in the written version seems less

offensive and indeed helps the audience easily feel the emotion that’s underlying the text. As

a result, they are likely to get the point that the rhetor is making.

For instance, there is one part in the speech about how people look at the world when

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

center of the world.” Originally, in the actual speech 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 without any swear words. Because this speech is for high-

educated graduating students at Kenyon College. It would be improper to use those words in

such kind of a formal occasion. However, in the written version, the publisher added swear

words into it. 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). The

words like “fuck” “goddamn” explicitly expresses the dissatisfaction that person has, which

the audience can feel the intensity and emotion that those words are carrying. And the readers

will not think it is impolite because those words really represent their thoughts to their daily

mundane lives. After that, the readers can continue to read to know more about how to get rid

of this dissatisfaction. So as David Foster Wallace indicates, we need to alter our “default

setting” thinking way. As a result, adding the swear words in the written version serves as a

good opportunity for audience to know the emotion of the content and get the main point of

the rhetor.

As the other characteristics of the written version, typesetting can help the audience to

meditate on the content and understand the main point of the rhetor. Unlike the audio version

and video, listeners need to pause for a second to think and cannot taste the content of the

speech like a reader does since the speaker goes so fast. However, a book itself gives a good

way for the readers to reflect on the content since they can stop for a moment any time when

they are reading. The typesetting of the book, This is Water, putting one or two sentences in

one page, really makes use of this feature of a book as a medium. I also did some researches

about the readers’ perspectives toward this typesetting of the book. From the customers’

review about this book on the Amazon, by typing “one page” in the key words box, I find that

there are thirteen-one reviews in 170 reviews talks about the book’ typesetting. And about

two thirds of those readers compliment this typesetting and comments that each sentence

needs time to sink in, needs plenty of time for rumination. As one of the reader points out that

this typesetting makes the speech like a poem, and read it almost like an incredible waterfall

of wisdom. From those comments, we can know this typesetting really helps the audience to

understand the content by ruminating the content. It is because of making use of the specific

characteristics of the written version that the book effectively reaches the readers and convey

the message to them.

The video version of the speech also impresses the audience and convey the main

message of David Foster Wallace as the written version does as I previously talk about. In

second section, I will analyze how the video accomplish that those effect by two ways,

which are the characteristics of the video as medium: 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

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 who lives a daily mundane life.

The video creates images for audience by setting that he is waked by the annoying default

alarm music on the phone, goes to work. 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. From those scenes presented

by the video, many viewers find and comment on the Youtube that the film indeed helps them

to understand what David Foster Wallace is saying in his speech and get his point.

It is those scenes that helps the viewers to visualize the content of the video. As the video

goes, it offers the readers a different thinking way toward our 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 into the content.

In conclusion, from the example of two different versions of David Foster Wallace’s

speech, we can know that making use of the specific characteristics of medium helps the

content that the medium carries to better reach its audience and get the points that the

originally rhetor wants to send.