RhetoricLee Speaking
The Whitewashing of Amanda Gorman

The Whitewashing of Amanda Gorman

February 18, 2021

Black women remain subjects who must recite power to have any power even though the power of the reciter is never the power of the subject who originates the lines to be recited. 

Amidst the praise that critics have rightfully heaped upon “The Hill We Climb” since January 6, only a few critics, mostly Black women, have noticed how her language testifies to American slavery, 1619-present.

For example, Gorman’s opening lines contain several middle passage metaphors, including “the loss we carry,” “a sea we must wade,” and “the belly of the beast.” Middle passage metaphors keep alive in language the memory of the ships that slaughtered most of the stolen Africans they trafficked to America for centuries.

Critics have overlooked or misunderstood these lines because middle passage metaphors aren’t taught in “classic” education.

Gorman also writes: “we the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.”

“She imagined, she wrote, a country and a time,” summarizes a critic for The New York Times.

But Gorman isn’t imagining. Gorman is testifying to her reality in two registers. In one register, it is wonderful that a Black girl is reciting for the president. But in the second register, that girl cannot be president. In the first register, she stands next to the first Black woman Vice President in American history. But in the second register, that Black woman can only be Vice President.

One signal that Gorman is speaking in two registers is the missing verb between “we” and “the successors.” Grammatically, the passage should read, “we are the successors.” But it does not. Because the verb, the action, is missing. America is not acting on its promise of equality.

Another signal is the phrase “only to find,” which Gorman inserts between her dream of becoming president and her reality of only reciting for one. The phrase “only to,” as in, “I awoke, only to find,” expresses surprise and disappointment. Gorman is surprised and disappointed that the country that tells her she can be anything she wants to be is also the country that ensures she can only recite.

Recitation is simply to repeat out loud.

Gorman demonstrated in “The Hill We Climb” that she is uniquely skilled at using language that speaks to two audiences simultaneously: those who want to fight for true abolition and those who want to whitewash America’s ongoing enslavement of Black citizens.

It’s unfair that Black speakers have to accomplish this sophisticated code-switching to get a national audience. But it’s also a testament to the artful skill of Amanda Gorman.

Resources used in this episode:

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/the-whitewashing-of-amanda-gorman/

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Smut Yr Mouth: Dirty Talk Like a Rhetorician

Smut Yr Mouth: Dirty Talk Like a Rhetorician

February 2, 2021

In honor of National Sex Ed Day on February 2nd, I’m teaching you how to talk dirty! You’re welcome.

Let me tell you who this episode is for. It is for people who are excited about the idea of dirty talk, or sexy talk, or explicit talk but have no idea how to start or aren’t sure if their partner is receptive or have had a bad experience or been turned off by stereotypes in the media. It is for people whose sex life has gotten stale but role playing and expensive toys and one-size-fits-all costumes that fit no one seems overwhelming, expensive, and just like a lot of work. It’s for people who think have fantasies about different sex acts--doing it in the butt, group sex, being ravaged by a handsome pirate--but don’t necessarily want to do the actual acts. Maybe you don’t have access to a pirate. Maybe group sex is a hot fantasy but in reality terrifying and very unsafe. Or maybe you have hemmerhoids and butt sex is just off the table.

Like any kind of speech, sexy talk is amazing because it can create an experience in your mind that isn’t necessarily happening in an actual physical act. When it comes to sex, we are way too obsessed with the acts. Because the act sells. You gotta buy costumes and toys and porn and so on. And you also get to sit in your house, masturbating alone, thinking about how your partner won’t XYZ, self-loathing for feeling that way, and that self-loathing drives your consumerist behavior.

But sexy talk is free. Sexy talk can bring any experience you would like to have in the whole world right into your brain so you can enjoy all of the sensations and titillations without ever having to spend a dollar or open a butt crack. And all you need is a sex vocabulary, a little bit of courage to talk about it, and your big beautiful imagination.

The formula for great sexy talk: 

“I want to…” Alternatives include “I like it when...” and “I’ve always fantasized about...” 

Step two: Add a verb. Lick, suck, smack, grind, rub, caress. No 19th century romance novelist nonsense like “fondled”

Step three: Add body part: asshole, mouth, feet, pussy, eyes, slit, hands, cock, legs. 

Step four: Add precise adjectives that cannot include “awesome” or “cool.” You may have the adjective “amazing,” as in, “your hips are amazing” but only if you mean it.

Step five (optional):  liberally sprinkle in some curse words. 

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/smut-yr-mouth-dirty-talk-like-a-rhetorician/

The podcast is now on Vurbl! Check it out https://vurbl.com/station/2IxsVEt2KqP/

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Resources used in this episode:

The Myth of Dr. King’s Absolute Nonviolence

The Myth of Dr. King’s Absolute Nonviolence

January 18, 2021

The Myth of Dr. King’s Absolute Nonviolence

There is a story about Dr. King, apparently true, that during one of his Christian leadership conferences a man jumped out of the audience and started punching him repeatedly in the face. King just stood there. When King’s supporters tried to interfere, King told them to stay back. He was getting the absolute shit knocked out of him and he kept saying “‘Don’t touch him, don’t hurt him.’” It wasn’t until King was clearly in mortal peril that people finally intervened.

Now people love to cite this story as King’s absolutely Christian-bound commitment to non-violence. The takeaway message we get is that King championed non-violence ABOVE ALL ELSE because violence is anti-Christian. It gets equated with “turn the other cheek” from the Bible, in which no matter what violence is being brought unto you, you turn the other cheek because the worst sin is the sin of violence and everything else is kind of second tier. 

That shit is great for White people. Do hundreds of years of violence, the most abhorrent kinds of systematic violence you can think of, but not have to deal with any fallout because the greatest good is not being violent. It’s a genius tautology. And the ability to credit it to King, because King did preach non-violence, makes it not only legitimate, it makes it downright fucking emancipatory.

Except it’s not what King preached. King preached non-violence IN THE FACE OF VIOLENCE, not non-violence as an absolute good. 

This episode will look more at King’s doctrine of non-violence using The Umbrella Academy and with a reflection on how King couldn’t have imagined the Black Lives Matter protests in the first place.

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/the-myth-of-dr-kings-absolute-nonviolence/

*Learn more at https://rhetoriclee.com 

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*Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, on Google Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Youtube, on Spotify, or via RSS

*Take 20 seconds to leave a short review and 5 star-rating (I’ll even take 4 stars, I’m not greedy). Reviews help future #rhetoricnerds find the show!

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Resources used in this episode:

Pro Black Anthems 2020 Ranked by Cliche

Pro Black Anthems 2020 Ranked by Cliche

January 5, 2021

When you’re talking about anything pro-Black in America, you’re going to run into a crossroads between making Black culture accessible, translatable to White hegemony or making it about elevating and celebrating Black culture in its distinctness from Whiteness. There is no right answer here. It’s just an ever-present decision.

One of the ways that tension gets navigated is the degree to which a text uses cliches. From comforting reassurance and quippy banality to unsettling juxtaposition and strong signifiers of unapologetic Black empowerment, this list of pro-Black Anthems of 2020 demonstrates the variety of ways that speech (in this case song) can challenge, undermine, shape, and respond to the ongoing work of civil rights.

Depending on your criteria, my number 5 might be your number 1 but in the end the point of the ranking isn’t really the ranking; I’m not the Oscars. It’s a thought experiment to demonstrate the tensions constantly plaguing civil rights protest and it also demonstrates the pros and cons of cliches as a rhetorical strategy. 

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/2020-pro-black-anthems-ranked-by-cliche/

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Alternative lists of pro-Black protest songs

Other resources used in this episode:

Suddenly Nothing Changed: Why Epiphanies are Cliche

Suddenly Nothing Changed: Why Epiphanies are Cliche

December 22, 2020

With New Year’s fast approaching, we are all in store for our usual turning-of-the clock epiphany. Suddenly, everything changes and, at that moment, we just know.

Except not. Epiphanies are cliches that keep us from doing the hard work of understanding how persuasion happens. The epiphany collapses the event that happens with our response to it as opposed to the rhetorical figure peripeteia, which marks an event as an opportunity for change.

Joe Biden used both epiphany and peripeteia in his 2020 address at the Democratic National Convention. This episode will explore how these rhetorical strategies allowed Biden to navigate his thorny history with Civil Rights advocacy and what worked and didn’t work in Biden’s speech.

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/suddenly-nothing-changed-why-epiphanies-are-cliche/

*Learn more at https://rhetoriclee.com 

*Follow the show on Facebook and on Instagram @rhetoriclee for more teasers, highlights, and awesome graphics

*Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, on Google Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Youtube, on Spotify, or via RSS

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Resources mentioned in this episode:

I Come to Eulogize Kobe, Not to Praise Him

I Come to Eulogize Kobe, Not to Praise Him

August 25, 2020

Back in January, basketball legend Michael Jordan gave a eulogy for other basketball legend Kobe Bryant after Kobe died tragically in a plane crash with his daughter Gianna. Commentators praised the speech because it was “tearful,” “moving,” and “heartfelt.” 

I agree that Jordan’s speech is AN example of a eulogy. But I disagree that it is a model for ALL eulogies. It praises Kobe for a bunch of different attributes, all of those attributes are probably what anyone would select if asked to give a eulogy for Kobe Bryant, all of those attributes are positive, and they get thrown in with a few insider anecdotes  (we know all about anecdotes from episode 14), and, of course, a few jokes.

But a eulogy can and should be SO much more than that. Jordan’s central values for Kobe are passion and competition but there’s another value I want to pull out: being a pain-in-the-ass, a nag, someone so focused on the details that they don’t let up. And that’s what I want for Jordan’s eulogy; if he wants us to be more like Kobe, then I want that to mean being more of a pain in the ass.

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/i-come-to-eulogize-kobe-not-to-praise-him/

Episode 15 of RhetoricLee Speaking is part of The Big Rhetorical Podcast Carnival 2020: The Digital Future of Rhetoric and Composition. Be sure to check out the other podcasts participating in the carnival this week: 

*Learn more at https://rhetoriclee.com 

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*Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, on Google Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Youtube, on Spotify, or via RSS

*Take 20 seconds to leave a short review and 5 star-rating (I’ll even take 4 stars, I’m not greedy). Reviews help future #rhetoricnerds find the show!

*Have mixed feelings about the show or think I may have stepped in it? Let’s discuss on social media or at rhetoriclee@gmail.com

Fake it Till You Make It: Ethos and Code Switching in The Walking Dead

Fake it Till You Make It: Ethos and Code Switching in The Walking Dead

July 28, 2020

Of all the leaders on The Walking Dead, which is a show that takes place in a zombie apocalypse, I would choose the flamboyant, Shakespearean Black man with the giant tiger. Why? Because he, who goes by the name King Ezekiel, is the most rhetorical character. 

 

When I say that Ezekiel is the most rhetorical character, I mean that he is the most aware that meaning is something that has to be created--that there is no such thing as the “right” belief or the most “authentic” person. There are just different performances of reality and authenticity.

 

And that’s the focus for today: what does it mean to be a rhetorical character? gonna talk about a word you may have heard around the way: ethos. Why Ezekiel’s rhetorical qualities make him the best leader, especially in a zombie apocalypse. And also my complex thoughts on the cliche:

Fake it till you make it. 

I also push back against this obsession with “who” your leaders are…”who” really is Trump and “who” really is Biden. The habits of a leader give you more than enough information to make a decision. Sure, you can wait for the deep conspiracy theories to be proven right. You can spend all of your time asking about the underlying truths of “who they are.” Or you can just look at their decisions, as a pattern. You can ask, “let’s suppose this is all just one giant act. If this is the leadership act they’ve chosen, are they the person I want as my leader?”

 

In that case, I would want King Ezekiel, because his behavior reveals who he thinks human beings are: highly imaginative creatures in need of myth and larger than life narrative that inspires them to a community of belonging.

 

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/fake-it-till-you-make-it-king-ezekiel/

 

*Learn more at https://rhetoriclee.com 

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*Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, on Google Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Youtube, on Spotify, or via RSS

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BONUS: Juxtaposition and the Obama-Trump Inaugural Photos

BONUS: Juxtaposition and the Obama-Trump Inaugural Photos

July 26, 2020

Quick announcement after a long hiatus!

 

A lot is going on in the world. It’s a wonderful and terrible time to be a rhetorician #blacklivesmatter and #stillpodcasting

 

RhetoricLee Speaking will be back soon with a new episode feat. King Ezekiel of The Walking Dead. 

 

In the meantime, head over to the podcast Rhetoricity hosted by fellow rhetorician Eric Detweiler and check out a new episode featuring several analyses of juxtaposition (putting two things side by side to make an argument), including one from yours truly about discriminatory design in the Obama-Trump Inaugural photos. https://rhetoricity.libsyn.com/

 

Here's a little more from Rhetoricity:

 

This episode of Rhetoricity features contributions from four rhetoric scholars: Kati Fargo Ahern, Ben Harley, Lee Pierce, and Rachel Presley. Their pieces address questions asked by previous guest Damien Smith Pfister: "What juxtapositions in rhetorical studies have you found fruitful, generative, aiding in the process of invention or theorizing, and/or what juxtapositions ought we have? Is there a juxtaposition of two things that we ought to explore but we’re not currently exploring?"

The contributors respond to Pfister's questions from a variety of angles, touching on memoir, sonic rhetorics, everyday life, visual rhetoric, discriminatory design, cartography, and indigeneity. You can find the photos referenced in Pierce's piece here.

Sit tight and I’ll be back soon with the next episode of RhetoricLee Speaking!

*Learn more at https://rhetoriclee.com 

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*Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, on Google Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Youtube, on Spotify, or via RSS

*Take 20 seconds to leave a short review and 5 star-rating (I’ll even take 4 stars, I’m not greedy). Reviews help future #rhetoricnerds find the show!

*Have mixed feelings about the show or think I may have stepped in it? Let’s discuss on social media or at rhetoriclee@gmail.com

Anecdon’ts and Instafails: Social Media Marketing Cliche

Anecdon’ts and Instafails: Social Media Marketing Cliche

May 26, 2020

An anecdote is not a story. An anecdote is a quick, “this thing happened to me.” An anecdote is a one-dimensional series of facts that people call a story when they don’t know better. An anecdote may have had a point. It might even have some concrete detail. But the one thing it doesn’t have is the one thing that a good story can’t exist without:

Plot. Structure.

What’s missing from the anecdote is what we call in rhetoric “vicarious experience.” The whole reason stories exist is to trick my brain into believing that I have experienced something that I haven’t experienced. When I listen to a really good story, my brain processes the experience as it would if I had been doing the play by play of the story myself--not exactly, obviously, but approximately. 

Not understanding that isn’t really your fault, though. You’re getting a lot of superficial, profit-driven advice.

Like the platitude-fest called the Goal Digger podcast, created, not surprisingly by some social media influencer business guru person named Jenna Kutcher. Episode 13 analyzes the “storytelling” advice from Kutcher, reveals it to be just advice about anecdotes and Instagram captions, and discusses the importance of creating vicarious experience in your stories.

Then I leave you hanging until Episode 14 to learn how to write a really stellar story. But I do play you a clip from Fight Club, so we’re even.

Read the blog version

Watch the YouTube version

*Learn more at https://rhetoriclee.com 

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*Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, on Google Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Youtube, on Spotify, or via RSS

*Take 20 seconds to leave a short review and 5 star-rating (I’ll even take 4 stars, I’m not greedy). Reviews help future #rhetoricnerds find the show!

*Have mixed feelings about the show or think I may have stepped in it? Let’s discuss on social media or at rhetoriclee@gmail.com.

Some Pain, Some Gain: Cancel Culture, Persona, and Chris D’Elia

Some Pain, Some Gain: Cancel Culture, Persona, and Chris D’Elia

May 13, 2020

Corny-ass comedy: I'm here for it!

Comedian Chris D’Elia’s new standup, “No Pain,” which premiered on Netflix a few weeks ago and was unanimously a let down to everyone who analyzed it. D’Elia has been a mid-level stand-up for a while now. He really took off last year as the host of the podcast, “Congratulations with Chris D’Elia.”

At its best, “No Pain” transgresses and pokes fun at the expectation that people have to suffer to be interesting. That’s a totally worthy theme. D’Elia even jokes that when he tells people he has suffered, people suddenly find him interesting. This is the best of what comedy does--make fun of an implicit bias that you didn’t even know you have so that now you realize you have it. And the suffering artist is a pervasive and deeply problematic cultural bias--just ask Charles Bukowski or Robin Williams. Oh you can’t, they’re dead.

D’Elia won’t commit to just being the dorky nice guy stand-up comic. That’s why his voices and his persona are all over the place--he’s conflicted about his style even though, as far as I can tell, there’s no reason for him to at all throw in the hard flex other than what I’d guess is probably the stand-up-comic celebrity version of peer pressure. 

D’Elia has done me a favor because he’s written a stand-up in which his WORST material is when he’s ragging on how “nobody can say anything anymore” which means I don’t have to PC police him because the joke is even more NOT funny than it is offensive. 

And the worst part is, D’Elia could be a very good nice guy comic and the world could use some of that right now. You clearly have thoughts swirling around in that peer-pressured brain of yours that are worth salvaging. 

Read the blog version: https://rhetoriclee.com/some-pain-some-gain-chris-delias-no-pain-cancel-culture-and-personas/

Watch the YouTube version: https://youtu.be/EQ9Qn5Ai6wE

*Learn more at https://rhetoriclee.com

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*Take 20 seconds to leave a short review and 5 star-rating (I’ll even take 4 stars, I’m not greedy). Reviews help future #rhetoricnerds find the show!

Have mixed feelings about the show or think I may have stepped in it? Let’s discuss on social media or at rhetoriclee@gmail.com

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