Rhetoric and Writing in the Public Sphere: An Introduction/Chapter 12: Identity and the Public Sphere

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Body Image in the Public Sphere[edit | edit source]

Attractiveness: Sarah Palin[edit | edit source]


In the 2008 Election, Republican candidate, John McCain chose Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain referred to her as “the running mate who [could] best help [him] shake up Washington." [1] She was quickly remarked as being beautiful and it became common knowledge that she was the third place runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant in 1984. It was predicted that Palin would help McCain gain success among women voters, but she actually proved to be less influential with female voters. According to the Center of American Women in Politics (CAWP), 56% of women voted for Barack Obama, where only 43% voted for McCain. But why was she strongly disliked by women? In a Time Magazine article entitled, “Why Some Women Hate Sarah Palin” Belinda Luscombe reported that the reason why Palin is disliked is because she does not pass the Abbotsleigh Ladies College test. The test includes a prettiness factor, a confidence factor, and the possibility that she could embarrass other women. In these categories, she is too pretty, too confident, and she could in fact embarrass other women. Luscombe claims that women, in the public sphere, don’t like other women that exude these characteristics. Evidenced by the Abbotsleigh Ladies College test and the women involved in public spheres, Palin would have had more luck at the polls with female voters if she were less attractive. It was also said that Palin would be unsuccessful at the polls because she was “too good looking for politics, she [would] never be taken seriously,” which brings up the age old stereotype that being beautiful means you are unintelligent. [2] Typically, 57% of managers would say that it would be easier to get hired if the job candidate was attractive, but that does not seem to be the case for Governor Palin. [3] To counteract this argument there is an article on Telegraph, which illustrates an experiment conducted to see whether or not voters vote for the more attractive candidates on purpose. Their findings supported their hypothesis and said that, “both men and women favored those they found more attractive.” [4] For example, John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was known as quite the ladies’ man and had numerous affairs, but was still known as one of the top 5 favorite presidents. [5] With these two arguments a question arises. There have only been two women to be nominated for the party candidate in the Presidential and Vice-Presidential seats. Those two women were Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Palin in 2008. Neither one of those women were successful at the polls. So, perhaps, voters are scared of pretty women in major offices like President and Vice-President, but not in minor roles where there is less publicity and control involved. Specifically, voters did not want Palin, the beautiful candidate, to be Vice President of the United States.

Weight: Chris Christie[edit | edit source]

Chris Christie 2011 Shankbone

Chris Christie was elected to be the 55th governor of New Jersey in 2010 and has filed to run for reelection of governor in 2014. Since he became governor, the thought of Christie being elected for another term and the possibility that he will run for president has been made a common topic of conversation among public spheres. According to an article from the New York Daily News entitled “Chris Christie’s weight doesn’t bother New Jersey voters: poll”, 66% of voters think that Christie deserves another term, but only 41% think he would make a good president. Unfortunately, the major thing that is holding Christie back is his weight, which is often portrayed in the media in a negative light. While no one knows his exact weight, he is constantly being observed and it has been said that he is considered “extremely obese.” [6] Some people even suggest that he should lose weight even if he does not plan on running for president: “Chris Christie needs to find some way to lose weight. Like everyone else, elected officials perform best when they are in optimal health. Christie obviously is not.” [7] Christie has acknowledged his weight problem and has acknowledged it from a health standpoint. Christie describes himself as “relatively healthy by all objective indicators”, but he also said, “If I weighed less, I’d be healthier.” [8] But, like many other Americans trying to be more healthy Christie says, “I’m really struggling, been struggling for a long time with it.” [9] But, voters do not seem to be sympathetic. Journalist, Michael Kinsley says, “We don’t yet know much about Chris Christie. He certainly makes all the right noises about fiscal discipline and seems to have done well so far as governor of New Jersey. Perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first.” [10] Kinsley also suggests that “fat people are lazy and undisciplined.” [11] In the public sphere today, being overweight is linked to not being able to perform to the best of one’s ability and they are “automatically assumed they're lazy and unmotivated.” [12] Someone lazy would probably be unreliable and slow to act when it comes to major issues and citizens do not want someone like that as there president. According to Neil Postman, historically, “it would appear that fat people are now effectively excluded from running for high political office.” So, citizens in the public sphere see Christie as an unhealthy man and immediately judge him as lazy. Therefore, he cannot be their president or even their governor again. [13]

Why Are We Like This?[edit | edit source]

With evidence to show that citizens in the public sphere take into consideration what the presidential candidates look like before they vote for them, the question of why we care about others appearance so much comes to mind. In Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, he suggests that the media, particularly the television, is changing us. He says, “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even popular notice.” [14] Now, we all know that to work in show business you have to look the way that the business you are working for wants you to look because, like Postman says, “For on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery.” [15] With our minds so warped with the knowledge that we are receiving from crooked television why wouldn’t we follow what they say about how we are supposed to look? When we see flawless men and women that are happy, in a relationship, with lots of friends, and a great job on television, why wouldn’t we want to look the same way that they do? Not only has the television corrupted citizen’s view of beauty and happiness among other things, but television has even made them unable to see past the way politicians look long enough to see if they are going to be good candidates.

Future Implications[edit | edit source]

In Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason”, he tells us that reason is being overtaken by more powerful techniques such as propaganda. Citizens need to question what the government and the media is doing, and then act on those questions. Specifically, if citizens continue to judge candidates for major offices by the way that they look, the public sphere will continue to dwindle away leaving capitalism to further take over. This has happened because citizens pay more attention to candidate’s appearance rather than the things that they have to say. The public sphere needs to be reawakened and to do that we need to go back to speech and writing, which Postman says is the “primal and indispensable medium.” [16] If we are to succeed in this endeavor we need to make immediate moves to return to the laws set up in the United States Constitution. We cannot be afraid of the government and if we continue to be afraid, we will lose any hope of democracy.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The citizens of the United States have been proven to vote according to their opinions about how candidates for high offices look: Senator Sarah Palin is “too pretty” and Governor Chris Christie is too overweight. Women are judged more than usual when they are running for high offices and men, though they are not judged as harshly on their appearance, are considered lazy if they are overweight. This is not only extremely judgmental, but it is damaging the public sphere by overruling the legitimate democratic questions.

References[edit | edit source]

Identity Conveyed Through Fashion in the Public Sphere[edit | edit source]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Fashion has frequently been used both directly and indirectly to convey distinct messages, promote movements, and create awareness. Whether they are seen as a positive messages, like a t-shirt with a big yellow smiley face, or as negative messages, like a t-shirt with ‘X’s’ all over it, each piece of fashion an individual chooses to wear holds purpose. Through many different mediums, they take their unique styles and attempt to endorse and/or make a change for the better. In some cases though, these messages can be perceived as wrong, promoting a cause or idea that others may deem immoral—generating controversy as a result. A person can wear a Bob Marley shirt if he or she supports the Rasta movement he motivated from Jamaica, and those who wear a breast cancer awareness shirt do so to raise awareness for a problem experienced by millions of individuals. In the 21st century, people strive to promote social, economic, and political reform through fashion, and a majority of the time the outcomes are extremely beneficial.

Rasta Movement and Bob Marley[edit | edit source]

During the 1930s, the Rastafari movement, also known as Rasta, evolved in Jamaica. For Rastas, smoking cannabis, commonly referred to as ‘weed’ or a ‘spiritual act’, is a sacrament that cleanses the body, heals the soul, and brings pleasure to the mind. Due to the fact that “cannabis remains illegal in Jamaica and most of the world it has caused friction between Rasta’s and modern societies.” [17] Bob Marley’s “music was derived from his firmly rooted commitment to Rastafarian beliefs and its attendant lifestyle." [18] Today, people connote Bob Marley with marijuana usage and therefore, it is not always a positive image individuals exhibit as they dress themselves in attire promoting him. In a meeting that was held at Penn Manor High school, students were told by their student program director “if you find yourself wearing a hemp necklace, pacifier, mushroom beads, or even a Bob Marley t-shirt you are a pothead." [19] Students became enraged as they felt this comment to be stereotypical and judgmental. As students actively used Facebook as their way to post comments with their reactions, one student, Luke, says, “they are jumping to conclusions that people that wear Bob Marley and Hemp are potheads they should let us wear what they want and not get accused as such." [20] This situation correlates with rhetorical matters because students are being presented with a message, and each student is left to interpret this message—whichever perception they choose to take on. When presenting a message such as this, the audience to which it is being presented needs to be taken into careful consideration; “rhetorically oriented discourse is composed in light of those who are going to hear or read that discourse." [21] It is clear the audience interpreted this particular message to be stereotypical and shameful. This idea, originally established to show pride for the African heritage is now embodied as something with a negative connotation.

First Amendment/Hope For the Rastas[edit | edit source]

Looking further into this matter, more controversy with the First Amendment regarding both freedom of speech and religion has recently ensued. In the mid 1930s the Supreme Court ruled Cannabis as being a drug in every state, which in turn influenced people’s view on it. Because this plant was deemed illegal, it influenced many to associate it with something bad. In recent years, medical professionals have found extensive beneficial uses for Cannabis in treating many ailments. These medical professionals defended their case and began to recommend and prescribe marijuana for treatment. This recent development has arisen much controversy pertaining to the First Amendment because the “issue is simply the right of doctors to say-and patients to hear-something nice about the medical use of cannabis;” doctors are facing possible persecution because of these recommendations." [22] This dispute over the First Amendment violation has left the “justice department defending its position by arguing that a doctor’s advice about medical marijuana may just motivate someone to try and get his hands on some marijuana-in other words, to break the law." [23] Because of this new development in the legalization and substantial medical uses of marijuana, there is hope for a more positive view of these Rastas in the public sphere.

TOMS and Social Reform[edit | edit source]

In a more positive light, something as little as a pair of shoes can be representative of a greater cause. TOMS is a business to help change the lives of others. Their motto states, “It's a big job, and we don't do it alone. With our customers and Giving Partners, we're transforming everyday purchases into a force for good around the world. One for One." [24] Every time a pair of TOMS is purchased, a pair is sent to a child in one of over 50 countries to help them move forward. The shoes that TOMS provides for the children in need of them are specifically designed for them and “shoe distributions are often paired with education about hygiene and healthy behaviors." [25] As TOMS continues to thrive with their strong in-store community, and the progression of technology, they encompass an active online community as well as they “do a good job participating in key online social channels […] their blog is regularly updated as well." [26] They have a strong passion and vision in making change in the world. It is most interesting to think that by purchasing a pair of shoes, an individual can make such a difference in the lives of others—and by wearing them, you are conveying your interest in humanitarian efforts and the well-being of the less fortunate.

Timothy Dale and Consumerism[edit | edit source]

In Timothy Dale’s The Revolution Will Be Televised, he talks about people purchasing RED products at the Gap to fight global AIDS. He explains how “this act of purchasing forms an identity and establishes membership in a group." [27] Therefore, customers who decide to purchase TOMS “have a greater effect beyond the act of the purchase itself." [28] Dale’s main argument regarding consumerism and the public sphere is that there is a problem with it because people find that by simply purchasing a product they are truly making a difference in the world. By understanding that “a model of social change as effective only from the outside is limited because it ignores the necessity of cultural transformation in addition to the need to convince decision makers through social pressure." [29] Although, Dale makes the point of consumerism being a dissent in social activism, he also explains that there are positive outcomes. Dale mentions, “although it is helpful to be reminded that the system itself is flawed, this is not an independent reason to reject the use of consumer culture to spread ideas." [30] By purchasing a pair a TOMS, customers are showing signs of activism for a greater cause and a communication of ideas. This small idea of TOMS that has now turned into a worldwide movement, which has purposefully and thoughtfully been able to reach out to many of those in need. The act of expression does not necessarily need to take the form of direct appeals or dialogues but by rich elements that individuals can obtain ideas from.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Globally, fashion of today has made a really big impact on the way people view the world. Regardless of whether it be used to promote drugs or social reform, the clothing people choose to wear has a direct correlation to how they are thinking. Clothing manufacturers have caught on to the fashion trends of today and are always finding new ways to profit and to share the money to be made. No matter what day of the week it is or whom someone will interact with, a person’s choice of fashion has become the new, easiest, best way to broadcast him or herself to the world. As Bob Marley would say “free speech carries with it some freedom to listen,” and the people who have sought to believe in the movement he so passionately supported have carried out his words through a variety of mediums. As we move in to social reform with movements such as TOMS, individuals need to be aware of the fact that in order to promote social change, they need to do more than purchase a product. Yes, ideas are strung together to create prominent transformation with things such as consumerism, but in order to make a difference, you cannot just converse about it, you have to truly be about it.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. [“McCain taps Alaska Gov. Palin as vice president pick.” CNN Politics. 30 Aug, 2008. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.]
  2. [“Sarah Palin: Too Pretty for Politics.” MamaVision. MamaVision, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.]
  3. [“Poll: How Much Is Beauty Worth at Work?” Newsweek. The Daily Beast, n.d. 18 July 2010. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.]
  4. [“Voters 'prefer attractive politicians'.” The Telegraph. The Telegraph, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2010.]
  5. [“Americans’ Favorite Presidents.” U-T San Diego. U-T San Diego, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2007.]
  6. [Robinson, Eugene. “Chris Christie’s big problem.” The Washington Post. 29 Sept. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.]
  7. [Robinson, Eugene. “Chris Christie’s big problem.” The Washington Post. 29 Sept. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.]
  8. [Robinson, Eugene. “Chris Christie’s big problem.” The Washington Post. 29 Sept. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.]
  9. [Walker, R.D. “Fat People are Lazy and Undisciplined.” The Real Revo A High Capacity Assault Blog., 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.]
  10. [Walker, R.D. “Fat People are Lazy and Undisciplined.” The Real Revo A High Capacity Assault Blog., 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.]
  11. [Walker, R.D. “Fat People are Lazy and Undisciplined.” The Real Revo A High Capacity Assault Blog., 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.]
  12. [“Perception: Skinny People Aren't Lazy but Overweight People Are.” Science Daily. Science Daily, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2010.]
  13. [Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Viking Adult.: New York City, 1985. Print.]
  14. [Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Viking Adult.: New York City, 1985. Print.]
  15. [Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Viking Adult.: New York City, 1985. Print.]
  16. [Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Viking Adult.: New York City, 1985. Print.]
  17. ["Cannabis in the United States." Wikipedia. 23 April 2013. Web. 19 April 2013.]
  18. ["Bob Marley." Bob Marley. 2013. Web. 20 April 2013.]
  19. [“Bob Marley Fans Accused of Being Potheads.” Penn Points Online. 23 Oct, 2009. Web]
  20. [“Bob Marley Fans Accused of Being Potheads.” Penn Points Online. 23 Oct, 2009. Web]
  21. [Burton, Gideon. “Audience.” Silva Rhetoricae. Web]
  22. [Aronson, Barton. “Medical Marijuana and the First Amendment.” Center For Cognitive Liberty. 2003. Web]
  23. [Aronson, Barton. “Medical Marijuana and the First Amendment.” Center For Cognitive Liberty. 2003. Web]
  24. [“Our Movement.” TOMS. 2012. Web.]
  25. [“Our Movement.” TOMS. 2012. Web]
  26. [Jones, Ryan. “Stepping Out of a Comfort Zone: TOMS Shoes.” M-Cause. 2011. Web.]
  27. [Dale, Timothy. The Revolution Is Being Televised. 2010. Pgs 27-28.]
  28. [Dale, Timothy. The Revolution Is Being Televised. 2010. Pgs 27-28.]
  29. [Dale, Timothy. The Revolution Is Being Televised. 2010. Pgs 27-28.]
  30. [Dale, Timothy. The Revolution Is Being Televised. 2010. Pgs 27-28.]