RhetoricLee Speaking
The Evil of Banality + Nazis + The Blacklist

The Evil of Banality + Nazis + The Blacklist

March 24, 2020

Cliches are rhetorical weapons of mass destruction. 

In 1963, Hitler’s second-in-command, Adolph Eichmann, was tried for war crimes in Jerusalem. In attendance at the trial was Hannah Arendt, a philosopher and journalist and also a Jew who managed to escape Europe during Nazi occupation. 

Arendt, who is brilliant, unsurprisingly made a lot of brilliant observations. Foremost among them was the degree to which Eichmann’s ability to put six million people to their horrifying deaths depending on his ability to think in any nuanced or creative way about what he was doing. Arendt’s report on the trial gave birth to the phrase “the banality of evil,” which means, quite simply, that the most depraved acts are authorized by the most superficial ways of thinking.

In her words, “The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think; that is, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication with him was possible, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words of others, or even the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.

Now, obviously, plenty of people go about their days using all manner of cliches and do not turn into Adolph Eichmann. The point isn’t that banality automatically yields evil but rather that evil is not possible without the insulation from critical thought that banality provides. 

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Rock Bottom Girl + Brittany Runs a Marathon

Rock Bottom Girl + Brittany Runs a Marathon

March 16, 2020

This is RhetoricLee Speaking, Episode Five. Brittany Runs a Marathon... and I run into real trouble believing she only ran it because she hit her rock bottom.

Nothing demonstrates the seduction and disappointment of the rock bottom cliche better than the movie, Brittany Runs a Marathon, released last year on Amazon Prime. The movie tells the story of a hot mess millennial who, “hitting her rock bottom,” turns her life around and runs the New York City Marathon. The problem with the narrative is that there’s nothing about a “bottom line” that inherently motivates people to change. Why? Because bottom lines are RHETORICAL constructions; they’re made up. My bottom line is your Tuesday and there are heroin addicts shooting up blown out veins who are like, “bottom line? Where.” 

We keep the rock bottom fantasy alive because it allows us to believe that if we just keep doing what we’ve always done--which is precisely avoiding practicing new ways of thinking--we will eventually fuck up badly enough that the rock bottom will arrive and that will just MAKE us run the mile or put down the bottle or call the lawyer. 

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Girl, Stop Challenging People + Rachel Hollis

Girl, Stop Challenging People + Rachel Hollis

March 10, 2020

Girl, Stop Challenging People + Rachel Hollis

This is RhetoricLee Speaking, Episode Four: Unless you’re a CrossFit instructor, or an affronted 18th-century Duke, stop challenging people; I’m talking to you Rachel Hollis.

The phrase “I challenge you” seems like it’s almost become a prerequisite for getting into the motivational life coach entrepreneur market these days. With every sentence I’m being challenged to have gratitude, stop procrastinating, and live my miracle morning. And all of those examples just come from Rachel Hollis of “Girl, Wash Your Face” and RISE Podcast. Hollis isn’t the only example; she’s just the example currently toasting my muffins.

The challenge cliche constructs an “ideal” listener who does not include me because I am not a person who enjoys rising to a challenge. I associate challenges with unproductive criticism, winners and losers (of which I am always on the loser team), and a lack of meaningful connection. I associate the word “challenge” with being forced to do things because someone else decided they were for my own good. 

Now, certainly no verb choice is going to make someone get out of bed at 5am and write a novel. My point isn’t that there’s another verb out there with magic powers; my point is that you could try other things to get different results rather than putting all of your rhetorical eggs in the “challenge” basket.

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Stick to Your Script + Rick and Morty + Four Weddings and a Funeral

Stick to Your Script + Rick and Morty + Four Weddings and a Funeral

February 25, 2020

This is RhetoricLee Speaking, Episode Three: If you took the time to write it, don’t throw out the script; it’s not going to end well. You think it’s gonna be all Rick-at-Bird-Person’s-Wedding but it’s probably gonna be more Maya-at-Ainsley-and-Kash’s-Wedding.  

“Throwing out the script” is a familiar cliche in television and movies; that moment when, in a fervor of authenticity, a person ditches their preplanned remarks and, to bring in a second cliche for kicks, decides to speak from the heart. In almost every case, that speech from the heart turns out to be the right choice: eloquent, precise, and usually life-altering. Throwing out the script continues to be a classic fantasy moment because it allows us to believe that our true intentions need not the artifice of language; our heart’s desire always finds the right words. But that fantasy doesn’t hold up to experience. You can have scripted remarks that are all the more heartfelt for their careful crafting and impromptu remarks that are utter and total bullshit. 

You know what’s way better than speaking from the heart? Taking the time to thoughtfully craft what you plan to say. Put the shit that’s in your heart down on paper. Look at it. If it’s a cliche--which it will be--throw it out, write something better, and speak from that.

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Love Me AND Hate Me + Mitt Romney + Shakespeare

Love Me AND Hate Me + Mitt Romney + Shakespeare

February 25, 2020

This is RhetoricLee Speaking, Episode Two: Being hated is not a virtue and Shakespeare never said it was, just ask Mitt Romney. 

In the immortal words of William Shakespeare: “Love me or hate me, both are in my favor…If you love me, I’ll always be in your heart…If you hate me, I’ll always be in your mind.” Except Shakespeare never wrote that. The quote lives on because it rehearses a worn-out sentiment masquerading as an interesting thought. The quote seems to be rejecting the love/hate binary because it re-articulates both love and hate as manifestations of investment or attraction. But, when you use it in response to criticism, it just winds up keeping you from making any improvements. If you’re saying something worth saying, then you should be somewhat loved and somewhat hated to varying degrees by most people. No one has demonstrated that better than Republican Senator Mitt Romney. Having recently been the only Republican to vote for President Trump’s impeachment, Romney has elicited an ambivalent love-hate response within many individuals across the political spectrum, including the host of this podcast.

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Believe in Anything but Yourself + Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Believe in Anything but Yourself + Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

February 13, 2020

Believe in Anything but Yourself + Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

This is RhetoricLee Speaking, Episode One: Ferris Bueller wants you to believe in yourself and that’s a bad idea, even if James Clear says it’s not.

In the notorious opening monologue from the 80s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Bueller charms the pants of his audience with a well-packaged cliche: “believe in yourself.” But it’s a trap. You are supposed to see Bueller’s obvious superficiality for what it is; when you take it up as some kind of profound insight about the human experience then you are revealed to be the one without substance. In the premiere episode of RhetoricLee Speaking, your host, Dr. Lee Pierce (she/they) unpacks the superficial logic of the Bueller’s monologue, why it’s so easy to miss, and tracks the “believe in yourself” cliche from self-aggrandizing musician John Lennon to self-help guru James Clear. Along the way, Lee introduces you (or re-introduces you) to the r-word, rhetoric, which is the study and practice of how we use language and how language uses us.

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