Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Say What?

What do Big Bird, the number 47, Batman, and marijuana have in common? They are all important topics in the 2012 election! Or so Internet memes would have us believe. Memes do a great job of simplifying "arguments," or, more accurately, any dumb thing a politician said, wore,  or smiled at. In doing so, memes successfully create fallacious arguments either for or against political candidates. This phenomenon is linked to what Arizona State professor Dr. Aaron Hess calls "vernacular spectacle." Hess believes that the general public is attracted to spectacular arguments (which are usually fallacious) and largely ignore sound arguments that take time to process and understand. This tendency is amplified on the internet. Hess's study in 2008 dealt with viral YouTube videos, but in our interview with Dr. Hess on October 23rd, he stated that the tenor of the 2012 election has lead more to memes than to videos (although videos are still very influential). An example of 2012 viral YouTube videos utilizes the same oversimplification techniques that memes do; the makers of this video took one phrase out of context and used it to build an entire fallacious argument against Obama.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Slogans and Polarization

Slogans: Polarization Cut Short?

Can Skimming a Slogan Change Public Opinion?
Dwight Eisenhower used the slogan "I Like Ike"
in 1952 and it has become one of the
most recognizable slogans to date. 
       Throughout history there has always been a need for political figures and businesses, alike, to get a message across in a few simple words: a slogan. In politics there has been an evident shift in the format and wordings of slogans in the political realm. Is this because of a demand to reach the public faster and more often with less depth or is it to draw them in to learn about the real issues and values of a candidate?

     Along with political figures using slogans for their own promotion, there is also the idea of businesses or networks, such as YouTube, using slogans to intrigue people to post their own ideas and debates that do effect the politicians as well. Visual debates can be lumped in with the issues of depth-lacking arguments as well. Arguments or opinions based purely on images can be as dangerous as ones made by slogans because of their emptiness and polarized nature. 

Episode 4: Interview with Dr. Aaron Hess

We recently interviewed Dr. Aaron Hess, assistant professor of Communication at Arizona State University, Downtown Phoenix. He reflected on his recently published article, "Democracy through the Lens of the Camcorder: Argumentation and Vernacular Spectacle on YouTube in the 2008 Election," published in Argumentation & Advocacy.

In this episode:

*How fallacies polarize
*Why 2012 is less divisive and derisive than 2008
*How memes have taken over
*What's up with YouTube comments
*How are algorithms fueling polarization

Below the jump...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can I Pay For My Free Speech in Cash?

             As of today, there is only a week and a half before I regain control of my television. Granted, not total control, (there are hours of Pawn Star marathons and Cupcake Wars that I can sadly do nothing about) but come November 6th, a small amount of sanity will finally return to screens which have been dominated for months by political advertising. Between American Crossroads and Priorities USA, I’m even starting to miss the Sham-Wow, and am completely ready to see an end to this year’s election cycle.
            It goes without saying that the 2012 national and state races have been a slog, and citizens everywhere are looking forward to the excitement of their results and the relief of their conclusion. Of course, one of the largest factors in the volume of campaigning surrounding this fall's contest is the tremendous amount of money involved. In my last post, I explored the new entities called Super PACs and the rhetoric they produce with their millions of pooled political dollars. While not the sole cause, Super PACs (and their cousins, 527 groups) have thrown fuel onto the fire of an already heated cycle, and have ballooned election spending which has been on the upscale for several decades. My research left me wondering if there was any possible better way to elect our public officials. This time around I decided to look into public financing of campaigns, a long advocated concept that I believe could make elections fairer and help to civilize discourse.

Where's the Beef?

     In the spring of 1984, the Democratic primaries were heating up. Senator Gary Hart had gained the lead in the polls by criticizing his opponent, vice president Walter Mondale, as old fashioned. The younger and less experienced Hart was seen as more hip and ready to make changes to the current political climate. He used his image as a new style politician, and subversive rhetoric to polarize people against the current vice president. 

     During that same time, Wendy's fast food chain was launching a new campaign. This new ad campaign simply asked "Where's the beef". The advertisements and commercials were widely accepted and found their height in popularity during the height of the 1984 primaries. 

    Mondale realized he needed something to change the tide. He found what he needed during a debate when Hart was speaking for new style politics in accordance with his campaign against Mondale's old fashion ways. Mondale countered by saying "when I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of the ad, 'Where's the Beef'". 

A slogan was formed that became the basis for Mondale's campaign. It turned the tide too as Mondale took the lead and eventually the bid in the presidential primary. The slogan worked wonderfully as it polarized people both against Hart and against his ideas. The slogan questioned Hart's resume and experience; it asked if this man, who came out of Colorado without ever being heard of before, has the credentials needed to be president. It also asked Hart to focus on his policies and what he would do, rather than the flaws of the current political climate. It was an ideal polarizing slogan as well because it called for Hart to give up his own polarizing campaign, a call for moderation, while polarizing people against Hart at the same time. It said nothing for Mondale's claim, all it did was take away from Hart's.

    This year Wendy's returned to their old ad campaign with this commercial. 

Perhaps this could inspire voters today to wonder where the beef is in the current election. To wonder if there's more to a candidate than saying why his opponent doesn't deserve the election. Candidates could have advertisements promoting their own 'beef', rather than trying to destroy the credentials of their opponent. I see this slogan, used to degrade another candidate initially in 1984, as a call for moderation in the current political environment. I believe that if more candidates focused on themselves and their policies, rather than trying to say why not to vote for the opponent, that it could lead to a much more moderate nation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interview with Dr. James Klumpp

Our third interview is with James Klumpp, Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland. Dr. Klumpp is an internationally renown scholar of argumentation, social movements, and polarization. In this episode:

*Occupy and Egypt as contemporary examples of polar-rejective identification
*Why movements need continual energy--and how they re-energize through communication
*Why the medium matters
*How the way our leaders learned rhetoric in the 1960s affects contemporary rhetoric
*On the variant attractions of unification and polarization

Below the jump...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I've been looking for a quick way to uncover biases in the news I take in.  I found an interesting study that attempts to quantify media bias by source.  Notably, it was created by two conservative professors (who have been criticized for their method of scoring), but it looks like an interesting piece to consider and could perhaps be used as a point of reference.