Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Rhetoric of Graffiti...hypothetically.

Banksy's "Brinngg"
D’Angelo, Frank. “Sacred Cows Make Great Hamburgers:  The Rhetoric of Graffiti.”  College Composition and Communication 25.5 (1974):  173-180.  Print.
Like “Oscar Mayer Ads Are Pure Baloney:  The Graffitist as Critic of Advertising,” an article that D’Angelo published a year after this one (see my previous blog entry), this article addresses the means in which the aims of graffiti parallel those aims of other forms of communication.  While his subsequent article compared graffiti to the work of critics of advertising, this piece puts graffiti in comparison with proverb writing. 
D’Angelo explains that both proverbs and graffiti, at least propositional graffiti, are  “concise, direct, pithy, and incisive” (173).  While the two types of writing have similar traits, graffiti is said to make its point through “ridicule” rather than “folk wit” (173).  The author argues that because graffiti’s approach is entertaining, it can be an effective vehicle for teaching students style.
He suggests that while rhetoricians of the Middle Ages used proverbs to teach style, our contemporary cultural equivalent for teaching stylistic matters might be found in works of graffiti.  As a result, his article first comments upon multiple rhetorical strategies used by graffiti artists, and then discusses how those techniques operate as instruments of satire.  Specifically, he examines following techniques (which he calls “figures of style”): allusions, puns, irony, alliteration, rhyme, antithesis, parallelism, apposition, and parody.
In the end of his article, D’Angelo begins to explore the means in which these observations might be applied to the teaching of writing.  While the promise of this application was of most interest to me in selecting to read this article, it is the portion that is least developed.  This discussion of application accounts for one paragraph of the article—the concluding paragraph.  In this paragraph, D’Angelo states that the analysis of graffiti can be useful in linguistic and social criticism, and that it can help students understand stylistic choices.  He suggests that we help students understand their rhetorical choices more thoroughly through the analysis of these choices and by urging them to make their own such choices “conscious and meaningful.”   
Much in the way that I felt after reading his piece on the graffitist as critic of advertising, I am once again underwhelmed by the evidence D’Angelo provides to convince his reader.  The article contains multiple “graffitos,” an apparent blending of the word motto and graffiti, which provide examples of how a graffitist might write a proverbial statement with a satirical undertone.  However, there is, once again,  no proof that any actual graffiti has taken place in this manner.  In this article, like his other, the graffitist still seems theoretical.  In addition to the lack of evidence, that graffiti operates in this manner, the piece begs for further elaboration into why graffiti is an effective tool for introducing linguistic and social criticism and how it can be of used to help students understand rhetoric choices in a practical manner.  The practitioner in me wants examples, lesson plans or at least a detailed praxis oriented discussion.

The Graffitist as Critic of Advertising
...at Least Theoretically

Banksy's "Because I'm Worthless"

D’Angelo, Frank. “Oscar Mayer Ads Are Pure Baloney: The Graffitist as Critic of Advertising.”  College Composition and Communication 26.3 (1975):  263-268.  Print.
In this piece, Frank D’Angelo makes the argument that graffiti artists sometimes operate as critics of advertising.  He explains that they reveal the subliminal messages made by the
advertising industry.  Of course, these artists construct their critiques through edgy parodies of the ads, rather than using genres that other critics of advertising might select.

D’Angelo’s article walks through various types of appeals that are made through advertisements and explains how graffiti artists might critique those appeals.  The author examines, for example, appeals to sex, adventure, and, fears and anxieties.  For each type of appeal, the author provides examples of an ad that uses the type of appeal in question, explains the type of subliminal message at work, and then suggests the type of response a graffitist might have.
For example, D’Angelo discusses the Virginia Slims ads that included a the line “You’ve come a long way, baby—Virginia Slims” and argues that the word choice (come, long and baby in particular) is meant to be sexually suggestive.  He then says that the graffitist wishes to make the audience aware of the subliminal sexual message by creating a parody of the original such as “You’ve come a long way, baby—Vagina Slims.”
This article is useful in depicting the means in which graffiti might accomplish tasks similar to those who select other genres for expression.  However, the article falls short in terms of building credibility for its argument through evidence.  While the author cites specific advertisements to deconstruct, his treatment of the graffiti artist is less specific.  Has an artist ever actually made the above parody of the Virginia Slims ad?  It’s unclear.  He speaks throughout the article of a nameless graffitist and the way in which this individual (presumably male) might treat or parody various ads, but gives no evidence that actual graffiti artists ever have parodied ads.  His argument is disconnected from the practice of graffiti and seems to only imagine a theoretical graffitist. 
Rather than providing evidence of this connection, he ends his article by saying that we ought to “study the appeals and the language that advertisers use to shape public tastes and desires and to look carefully at the graffiti which criticizes these appeals” (268).  His rationale for this recommendation is rooted in his sense of morality and a hope that graffitists can bring about social change by unveiling immoral usage of rhetorical appeals.  While he seems convinced that graffiti can “save” us (--of course I still believe it will be Rock 'n' Roll, not graffiti…), the strength of his article comes from its ability to draw our attention to how graffiti artists respond to exigencies that other communicators also address.  I believe it leaves contemporary readers in a position to seek out examples to serve as evidence for his claims, and to consider what this might mean for the composition classroom.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Graffiti As a Case Study for a Revised Writing Model

Edbauer, Jennifer H.  “(Meta)Physical Graffiti:  ‘Getting Up’ as Affective Writing Model.”  JAC 25.1 (2005):  131-159.  Print.

Jennifer H. Edbauer expands compositionists’ understanding of writing models through her analysis of graffiti and affect. She attempts to use graffiti writing as a case study to argue that traditional models of rhetoric and composition are lacking.  In particular, she aims at demonstrating how the rhetoricity of texts results from an interplay between signification and affect, despite the fact that affect is often neglected in traditional characterizations of what writing does.  She reveals the role of affect in writing through her analysis of “three familiar topoi—context, style, and signification” (134).   This analysis reveals how the concept of affect is inherently tied to what writing does and how it should not only exist in the theoretical discussions of composition, but also in conversations about praxis.

Edbauer explains how context is often examined by considering the circumstances that brought about a particular instance of writing.  Rhetorical scenes, she explains, are the product of conversations within discourse communities.  However, she maintains that we ought to consider that which “calls” one to write in addition to that which “culls” one to write.  She explains that being “culled” means being “involved in the writing, which allows for the ‘call’ to get heard in the first place” (139).  It refers to the way in which viewing graffiti might captivate a viewer and to the bodily sensation, the affect, that causes a rhetorical scene to “strike” an individual.

In discussing style, Edbauer explains that it addresses “certain rhetorical goals by answering the call to write” (142).  Drawing from Strunk and White she indicates that style is a matter of being distinguished.  For the graffiti artist, accomplishing this task is done in opposition to the suggestions of Strunk and White—through overdoing it.  By “getting up” their work in as many places as possible, they create an “aggregate of sensation” (144).  In this way, the style of graffiti artists is seen as experiential. 

To introduce the idea of signification and affect, Edbauer builds upon one answer to the question “what does writing do?”  Graffiti, she explains, has multiple layers of significations.  However, she explains that graffiti does something beyond signification—it creates a visceral effect outside of its meaning. 

Her treatment of these topoi demonstrate “’other processes’ that are present to the writing scene” (153) that our pedagogies have previously ignored.   She proposes that an affective writing model would serve to purposes—exploring the meaning and the impact of sensation that are brought about through rhetorical scenes. 

This article provides an example of how nontraditional rhetorical scenes can inform the composition classroom and deepen understanding of how composition practices take place.  In an age when new genres are quickly evolving and becoming important to public rhetoric (e.g. Twitter), I believe it is important to understand how we might evolve our praxis through consideration of what we might learn from the “strangeness” of genres we do not often invite to our classrooms.