Monday, June 28, 2010

Helpful Hyperviolent Analogy or Politically Naive

M.I.A.'s "Born Free": A Controversial Talking Point

From what I've heard of the debate, M.I.A's "Born Free" has been criticized for the graphic depiction of the genocide of redhead males; the Huffington Post noted that the video could serve as an analogy:
The video shows U.S. soldiers rounding up redheaded men and boys and bussing them to the desert where they are brutally beaten and killed. Whether it's a comment on the absurdity of genocide (of which MIA saw plenty during her early childhood in Sri Lanka) or a challenge to the idea of "other" in Arizona's immigration law, it is startling even in the context of recent genre-bending music art-films.(Huffington

While I'm reminded of the symbiotic relationship between artists and critics because of the mixed-reception the video has received, I'm of the opinion that creative endeavors are meant to inspire reactions and provoke thought. Parents might not want their young children watching this kind of video; however, adults sometimes need to be prodded out of their comfortable apathy to consider issues that they do not encounter in their daily lives.

In "Simulacra and Simulations,"(props to William Nericcio's book for turning me on to Jean Baudrillard) Baudrillard brings up the issue of simulating violence and the danger that it presents because of how simulation can be difficult to discern from reality:
"“it would be interesting to see whether the repressive apparatus would not react more violently to a simulated hold up than to a real one? For a real hold up only upsets the order of things, the right of property, whereas a simulated hold up interferes with the very principle of reality. Transgression and violence are less serious, for they only contest the distribution of the real...There is no "objective" difference: the same gestures and the same signs exist as for a real will unwittinglyfind yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality”(175-176) 

Baudrillard's explanation accounts for why people who do not understand the root of what M.I.A. is representing feel as disturbed by the simulation in "Born Free" as though it were real violence enacted, even if only symbolic. The messages sent in representation serve to remind how us of ideas in the public discourse because the representation wouldn't be as persuasive were it not associated, or conflated, with a shared referential meaning. Can we forget Cartman's movement against redheads?Click on picture or link to Cartman's presentation on Gingervitus

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's Not Racial Profiling

Save the Earth, Ban NASCAR
Aristotle teaches us that there are only a certain number of themes/topics that come up and that the ways that these topics are debated can be identified when we're aware of the rhetorical strategy. It wasn't very long ago that immigration wasn't the issue in the Arizona spotlight, but the economy grew worse with the house-crash, so Republican politicians scurried to blame someone other than the deregulation loving 'libertarians' who targeted minorities with their toxic home loans.

So, Arizona got behind SB 1070 because Republicans know they can get re-elected when they come out against Mexicans, Mexican Americans and undocumented migrant laborers.

Entonces, I propose we change the topic. Instead of focusing on "illegal immigration," how about we focus on the pressing environmental of our nation's dependency on oil. While British Petrol has come up with very few solutions other than to put an American face on the publicity campaign, President Obama advised that we think about alternatives. What might happen if the state were to outlaw all recreational and entertainment forms of transportation?

Call the Bill: BP 10W-30
NASCAR, motor-cross, dune-buggying, ATVs, power boating, funny cars, Formula One--they could be taken off roads, tracks, trails and rivers to stem the excess burning of fossil fuel.(A cropped photo of my brother, one of the few Mexican Americans negatively impacted by banning NASCAR)

Take the gas guzzlers from the Indianapolis 500, turn Talladega into a scrapyard, drop bundles of Kawasaki motorcycles into the BP oil spill--Cap it up with a giant ball of metal forged from the carcass of Dale Jr. and Kurt Bush's chassis.
(apparently from website)

The a historical/cultural link to the Anglo-Saxon smugglers, whose tradition was carried on by Appalachian moonshiners informally racing for bragging rights, might be reexamined in a move to show how this law targets a particular group. "A Brief History of Nascar: From Moonshine to Dale Earnhardt Jr" Arguments about 'what part of illegal don't you understand' might be rethought for the bias for the privilege the refrain protects.

Or maybe more viable forms of energy will be released to the public? But that's like hoping that immigration reform might actually come about from arresting hard-working undocumented people.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rhetoric of the Non-Essential Argument

The Chewbacca Defense

Speaking to my summer school class about the link between forensic rhetors in ancient Greece and their role as hired advocates before judges, I found myself referencing the Chewbacca Defense from South Park. In Book 1 of Rhetoric, Aristotle privileges rhetoric over narrative because it cuts out all unnecessary introductions and other elements that Aristotle found to be extraneous to persuasiveness before a judge and small jury. The term 'red herring' is what we often use to categorize this kind of rhetorical strategy that purposefully attempts to change the argument.

The context for the Chewbacca Defense was the distinction I made between the conciseness of Aristotle's definition of forensic as opposed to the long, drawn-out kinds of opening and closing statements seen during the O.J. Simpson trial. Given that the trial took place during 1994, 18 year students do not have the same experience with what seemed like weeks and months of courtroom coverage. But I referred to the South Park episode with a parody of Johnnie Cochran speaking of non-essential information during a court case as a strategy to show that the accused was so innocent that Cochran need not discuss the actual case. Instead, he focused on a tangential argument as an appeal to logos.

In the indie film Rocket Science about a young stutter who wants to join the debate team at his high school, the opening scene shows a debater deploying a similar strategy to the Chewbacca Defense. At about Minute One, the young man stops and says something to the effect of, "Other than repeat something you already know, I will give a moment of silence..." Because debaters are timed, this rhetorical strategy can be effective in oratory because it appeals to a confidence, or ethos of the speaker. Modern debate also demonstrates the salience of copiousness to rhetoric.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Aziz Ansari: Teaching as Play

Pop Culture as Social Commentary

Like other social justice related issues, British Petrol's irresponsibility that has led to continued devastation to the environment has become something that people know is bad, but might be feeling tired of talking about. This comes up with all issues of race, class and gender, so I was glad to see Aziz Ansari use humor to bring BP back into the consciousness of those feeling weary of the topic. I named this post 'teaching as play'(paideia/paidia) after a presentation on Plato and Critical Pedagogy that I gave at this year's New Directions conference; in the presentation, I advocated the strategy of humor to engage with issues geared towards critical consciousness. Like a classroom of bored students, the MTV audience was more willing to listen to Ansari sing about BP than it would've be had he gone with a Michael Moore-eque tirade.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Dangerous Example of the Bootstraps Myth

Mexican Immigrant Returns for Mayoral Race in Mexico

(photo by Janet Jarman for The New York Times)

From the New York Times:
"The candidate, Juan Navarro, is a Mexican immigrant with homes in Queens and New Jersey, and his electoral goal is an office 2,200 miles away: the mayoralty of the small city of Serdán, Mexico. Mr. Navarro, a legal resident of the United States, has made his expatriate identity a major theme in his platform, saying that his experiences as an up-by-his-bootstraps immigrant have taught him hard lessons that would make him a sensitive civic leader in Serdán, his hometown."

The Danger

I'm all for hometown boy makes good stories, but we see how success stories for people of color can become a part of the bootstraps myth when politicized. It's difficult to say whether Juan Navarro champions himself with the bootstraps myth, or whether he has been labeled by this terminology by others. However, whenever someone is isolated as an example of having pulled themselves up by his or her bootstraps, the people who have either directly or indirectly contributed to Navarro's success are dismissed. We could benefit from hearing more about his family, or perhaps about the community in which he lived while in the U.S that helped him succeed.