2/24/18: In Regards To "New" Rhetoric Found In Microblogging

Instead of focusing on a Twitter or Instagram feed operated by an online DIY label, I'm going to briefly respond to a Master's Thesis written by Jeffery C. Swift of Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) entitled: "Twitter Rhetoric: From Kinetic to Potential"--and apply his basic ideas to my own explorations of social media rhetoric.
https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=3532&context=etd

The bottom line of Swift's thesis is that the use of Twitter as a rhetorical platform has spawned a new form of rhetoric altogether, which he terms "potential" rhetoric (and the traditional form of rhetoric we are all well-acquainted with he refers to as "kinetic"). He uses electricity as a metaphor for the distinction between these two forms. He writes, "Traditional rhetoric is akin to focused electrical transmission: one-time strategic transfer of energy in a particular moment...The new kind of rhetoric, on the other hand, is more comparable to preparation for a future transfer of electricity through the construction of an electrical power grid..." (Swift, 2). He goes on to suppose that traditional rhetoric's mission is to change an addressee's mind the very moment the rhetorical message is delivered, whereas new "potential" rhetoric's mission is to merely construct a rhetorical message and basically leave it to be found by addressees whenever they happen to stumble upon it (hence the electrical power grid metaphor). So, in Swift's mind, the kairos of any given rhetorical situation--within the Twitter realm--can potentially stretch on infinitely.

Partly, I agree with Swift. As opposed to a State of the Union address or a meeting at the workplace (or anything that would occur in a designated time or place in the physical world), a rhetorical situation in the digital plane exists (to begin with, at least) in the same way that the hypothetical tree that fell in the woods with no one to hear it exists. It starts without a set audience. It's alone to begin with (and may end up being alone forever if its overall message fails to captivate addressees--which is often the case on the Twitter platform). Once the Tweet button is pressed, the responsibility to disseminate the rhetorical message is largely shifted to potential addressees. It's up to to followers or non-followers to happen upon it, to receive electricity from the power grid, to be captivated.

The problem I see, though, with Swift's metaphor is that rhetorical situations on Twitter are pretty "kinetic" (rather than "potential") if you have a good number of followers (especially followers who actually follow you out of genuine interest). And though the kairos of a rhetorical situation may still technically be nearly infinite (being that you can scroll back weeks or months or even years in your Twitter feed if you're really that bored), the immediate still takes precedence (due to both the high frequency of tweets any Twitter user is subjected to [that number being incredibly high the more people the user follows] and the very nature of a Twitter user in general [it's called micro-blogging for a reason--each tweet, for the most part, being nothing more than a drop in the river in the end]). Unless you're the POTUS or Taylor Swift or Elon Musk, your tweets will rely on "kinetic" potential rather than "potential" potential.

In regards to DIY online music labels though, there seems to exist a sort of symbiotic co-existence between the "kinetic" and the "potential". When you take into account the overall rhetorical message that all online labels share ("We sell good music you've never heard of and you should most definitely purchase it--either digitally or physically"), both forms of rhetoric work together to help the labels grow (or at least survive). When a label releases a new album or multiple albums at a time, an online label will undoubtedly rely on "kinetic" rhetoric to reach as many potential customers as possible. It's time-sensitive (at least to begin with)--being that most self-sustaining labels (or even major labels, really) rely on album sales to finance future albums. And unless you only plan on releasing one album a year, "kinetic" rhetoric is paramount to selling copies within the time-span of a few weeks to a month. However, "potential" rhetoric plays a seminal role in the overall vibrancy of an online DIY label--meaning, it works to maintain the identity of the label as a whole rather than sing the praises of a particular album. Tweets are never deleted by the platform itself (but can of course be removed by admins or the Tweeter if the situation calls for it), so they build up over time and ultimately bind with each other and become part of one singular historical document--an artifact with character (and yes, a heavily reinforced rhetorical message).

So, with that in mind, every Tweet/Instagram post that may have served as a "kinetic" rhetorical message to begin with ultimately becomes a "potential" rhetorical message after a certain amount of time has passed. The kairos exists in multiple planes, as do the rhetorical messages that inhabit its realms. A good album may have came out five years ago--which you had no idea existed until yesterday. You would never have heard about it had you not been scrolling through Twitter/Instagram and happened upon the original release post from five years before. The timeliness aspect may not mean what it did originally (especially since the cassettes have more than likely sold out by now--being that most small releases consist of no more than fifty to one-hundred copies)--but the underlying rhetorical message still remains (this is a good album and you should buy it).


4/12/2018 -- In Regards to "Pepper Spray Cop and the American Dream: Using Synecdoche and Metaphor To Unlock Internet Memes' Visual Rhetoric"

In the article named above, Heidi Huntington delves into the methods/philosophy/effectiveness/etc of political Internet memes. Though this has nothing to do with DIY cassette labels on a surface level, the skeleton beneath the meat of her argument is identical to the skeleton beneath mine.

Huntington touches on the overall functionality of the meme, and how it depends on numerous factors in order to be totally successful. The bottom line, according to Huntington, is that context marries the creator and the viewer. Obviously, without a shared understanding that allows the punchline to succeed, the meme is obscure nonsense at best. This is rhetoric 101.

A more interesting point that Huntington touches on though, is this:

"Additionally Edwards (2004) has argued that iconic images, such as the flag being raised over Iwo Jima, become a type of metaphor and can be recontextualized for symbolic association. These remixing practices of visual arguments are also central to the rhetorical or persuasive communication characteristics of memes. It is the juxta- position of text and image, or of multiple different images, and the associations among them that forms the meme’s argument." (Huntington, 80).

When you consider an iconic image in this sense, you can--in a way--compare an image of this caliber to the hashtag. The image becomes something more than just an image; it in fact carries the weight of a word or words. It, metaphorically, is transformed. New meaning is prescribed to it--based on its overarching cultural significance. Its original form is forever altered--leaving it a temple instead of a mantra whispered alone in an empty room.

text

Consider this image. It's not a meme in the classical sense, but any Instagram post can be considered a meme in the right context. Especially if there is a motive--other than pointless self-satisfaction. Literally, it's a picture of me holding padded envelopes which contain cassettes. Metaphorically though, it's obviously much more. How many packages am I holding? Three. What a pitiful amount of sales--really. This could be seen as a failure to anyone who considers themselves to be a business man/woman. It's not like it's a "here's the first dollar we ever made" kind of thing. I've been trying to sell cassettes for a while now. I'm past that first-couple-of-days stage. However, when it comes to the dissemination of underground music, selling three copies is (in the most paradoxical sense possible) a good thing, a success. You don't want TOO many people growing fond of your underground label. Then it loses its charm. Its meaning. This photo speaks to much more than just the underground act of mailing obscure cassettes to strangers via the post office. It speaks to the entire aesthetic of the underground ethos itself. The beauty of failure. The victory of the strange over mass-defined normal. It's anti-capitalism. It's a love letter to the lost innocence of childhood. It's a grown-up lemonade stand. It's Lucy offering psychiatric help for a nickel.

Huntington, Heidi. "Pepper Spray Cop and the American Dream: Using Synecdoche and Metaphor To Unlock Internet Memes' Visual Rhetoric Studies" Vol. 67, No. 1, January-March 2016, pp. 77–93


4/22/2018: In Regards to "Ethos, Pathos and Logos in Facebook. User Networking: New <Rhetor of the 21st Century"

-- I.Berlanga,F.García-GarcíaandJ.S.Victoria Madrid / Málaga (Spain) -- Comunicar, n. 41, v. XXI, 2013, Scientific Journal of Media Education; ISSN: 1134-3478; pages 127-135 --

I came upon this scholarly article today--which not only touches on various aspects of what I've been discussing as of late, but also on some new ones I have not previously considered. The authors of this article focus on Facebook and what they call the "new rhetor" of the 21st century. They say "new" mostly because rhetorical situations on the Internet (in particular social media platforms) are much more complicated/diverse/multi-faceted/layered than "classical" rhetorical situations (TV commercials, public speeches, classroom lectures, etc.). However, though the Internet has totally redefined rhetoric, there still lies within its mutated form a semblance of its original self.
The authors of the article touch on that aspect as well.

One of the first points outlined in the article that stood out to me as this one:

"When analyzing communicative processes on the Internet, we face certain theoretical problems which stem from online communication’s own features. This communication is interpersonal and collective, syn- chronous or asynchronous –in combination of both modalities for social network interactions–, which breaks with linearity and requires, based on its virtuality, new approaches for its constitutive elements. The commu- nication subject, or in this context the user, becomes relevant in the face of the traditional model: interper- sonal communication shows important differences in the structure of sending-receiving. By user, we mean someone taking an active part in the Web, as sender or receiver, as actor or mere spectator." (pg. 128)

I may have mentioned something in regards to this before. But oh well. Participating in social media means many things (rhetorically), but most importantly it means that you (as Walt Whitman once said) contain multitudes. You are no no longer just an addressee. You are no longer just a rhetor. You are no longer just someone passing by who doesn't really give a shit. No, once you step through the threshold, you are many things all at once. You are part of it all whether you like it or not. When you respond to a post, you are both acknowledging the rhetor (which in a way makes you an addressee--being that you are confirming that you were acting as a 'member of the audience') AND contributing to the rhetor's exigence/warrant/enthymeme (which in a way connects you to the rhetor in such a way that you metaphysically 'become one' with him/her and thus add to the original rhetorical situation). Your comment, along with numerous others, becomes part of a collective force which ultimately creates a warrant of sorts (which could be any of the following: Hurry and post something clever so that you are part of the original audience who 'gets' the highly-relevant, tongue-in-cheek post first--or Read through the comments and think to yourself 'My God, what a bunch of idiots' and post something contrary and [in your mind at least] much more clever/fitting--or simply admit to yourself "Damn it, I want to be a part of this too!" and post something as simple as a 'For sure' or 'Been there' or a TFW kind of meme).

Furthermore, following this same thread of rhetorical logic, you can surmise that a social media profile (Facebook profile, Instagram profile, Twitter profile, etc) becomes in itself a singular, monolithic rhetorical situation (being that it's all contained in one space). When someone (a user) clicks or taps on your profile, they skim through your feed, your photos, your posts and experience it all as one rhetorical address. A garbled, free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness, silent explosion. It's constantly expanding. You can even see it change in real time these days--with nothing more than a click of the 'refresh' button.

Another segment that I found interesting is this one:

"As far as pathos is concerned, Facebook’s very nature makes it the dominant factor within the social network. Facebook walls are clearly oriented towards empathy and affective relationships. That is the reason for naming them «friends» (along with all the semantic depth of the term) all those who enter the micro-net- work even briefly. Pathos mainly supports communica- tion: adhesion feelings or happiness, congratulations, and is much accentuated by smileys (emoticons). Image and video reinforce text. These stimulate recei- vers, prompting plenty of adhesion gestures: «like», congratulations, sentences expressing admiration, which constantly underline the reaction provoked, and which indicate the sender as the true persuader: the user has decided to include such images that initiate and reinforce the discourse." (pg. 132).

What's most interesting about this section is that it not only supposes that pathos is the underlying driving force of online rhetorical situations, but it also reinforces the previous point (responses to posts ultimately become part of the original rhetorical situation). The user "decided to include such images that initiate and reinforce the discourse". This line says it all. The addressee is metaphysically transformed into the rhetor (or at least a living, utilizable extremity of the rhetor).
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