November 30, 2017

The John Wayne Shot

My Carbon Trace documentary team is working on a film called Syrian Doctor (working title) about the mental health crisis in Syrian refugee children that has been called “human devastation syndrome.” (You can follow our progress on Facebook.)

Along the way we have done some humanitarian work (i.e. provided video) for the Syrian American Medical Society. For example, we created this mission recap video from the April medical mission to Jordan. Below is the climax of that video illustrating a bit of video rhetoric (ethos and pathos): something I call the John Wayne shot.

Imagine John Wayne. The actor? A specific character? My guess is the image that popped into your head was Marion Morrison in a cowboy costume walking confidently toward danger — to save the day.

The John Wayne Shot from acline on Vimeo.

That’s exactly the heroic image the John Wayne shot is supposed to invoke. Here’s what it looks like (at :18) at the climax of the video with doctors as the heroes.

November 29, 2017

I Bought A Digital Subscription

I just renewed my digital subscription to The New York Times this week.

Last night I added, for the first time, a digital subscription to the Washington Post.

I’m a sucker for that “democracy dies in darkness” tag line. Here’s what I actually think about such things. But this an emotional response, not an intellectual one.

And this is, IMO, dead on:

But such incredulity misses the deeper significance of this stuff. The brazenness of it is the whole point — his utter shamelessness itself is meant to achieve his goal. In any given case, Trump is not trying to persuade anyone of anything as much as he is trying to render reality irrelevant, and reduce the pursuit of agreement on it to just another part of the circus. He’s asserting a species of power — the power to evade constraints normally imposed by empirically verifiable facts, by expectations of consistency, and even by what reasoned inquiry deems merely credible. The more brazen or shameless, the more potent is the assertion of power.

(Obvious quibble from my theoretical perspective: rendering reality irrelevant IS a persuasive intention. But never mind.)

In a nutshell, this is one reason the press finds it difficult to cover President Trump. And it hints at the way forward.

My long-standing cure (one of many) remains unchanged: the rhetoric beat.

April 3, 2017

Pointing Cameras At People

My Carbon Trace Productions team and I will face many tough issues later this week when we begin filming in Jordan for our Syrian Doctor (working title) documentary. I’m betting the toughest part will be pointing cameras at people (because, from my experience as a news photographer, that’s usually the tough part). But not just people. Children. And not just children. Children suffering “human devastation syndrome.”

That’s a term coined by Dr. M. K. Hamza, a neuropsychologist who volunteers with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

That syndrome is the very thing we’re proposing to document, and we’ll be focusing on Hamza and Dr. Tarif Bakdash, a pediatric neurologist who also volunteers with SAMS.

Well, no. We’ll be focusing on children. The doctors play an important role, obviously. This story cannot be told, however, through a series of talking-head interviews. We have to be there, cameras in hand and pointing them at children and their parents (if alive) and their doctors.

“Pointing them” is pejorative. That’s what it feels like sometimes — on both sides of the camera.

The rhetorical situation demands visual intimacy. There’s only one first step to getting that. Get close.

You can follow our progress on Facebook and on Carbon Trace. I may also post a few things here, but not typical update stuff. I’ll try to illustrate for you the pain on both sides of the camera.

March 17, 2017

Rhetorica Update

A few things going on this spring (cuz, yeah, it has arrived in Missouri):

  • My Carbon Trace Productions documentary team has two projects in the works: 1) Student Debt (working title), and 2) Syrian Refugee Doctor (working title). For the latter, my team and I leave for Jordan in three weeks to begin filming. BTW, only 4 days left for our crowd-funding campaign for the trip. Click here to see the particulars and make a tax-deductible donation.
  • I am compelled to push this idea: Every journalist needs to begin asking this question of public officials: Do you mean that literally? That whole “literally” thing may be the gift that keeps on giving for the news media in the weeks ahead. I’m going to pull that thread a bit and see what happens. It’s related to the stenography issue.
  • Should Rhetorica become the site for an extended examination of the rhetoric of documentary film (and, perhaps, multimedia journalism, especially in its long audio and video forms)? Oh, no! Not another re-invention! 🙂
November 25, 2016

It Was Supposed to Make Us Smarter

There comes a moment every semester in my class MED130 Fundamentals of Media Convergence (because we couldn’t think of anything else to call it) when I tell students about two things I know to be true:

  1. Once you introduce a technology you can’t take it back.
  2. People will use technology for their own purposes and not necessarily the purposes imagined by its creators.

Think internet and porn.

Then again, think social media and fake news.

Apparently, the digital natives are having a difficult time with media literacy and critical thinking in the evaluation of information discovered online — especially as presented through social media.

What is fake news? Independent of rhetorical intention (e.g. satire, political manipulation, trolling, etc.), it seems to me that these are the essentials of fake news:

  1. Fake news imitates the time frame and time-bound nature of news. So the news-of-the-future skit on the old Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In show does not count as fake news. Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live does.
  2. Fake news imitates standard news conventions (if imperfectly) regarding presentation and style.
  3. Fake news is counter-factual. This might seem like pointing out the obvious, but that state of being requires a culture to operate with a shared body of facts (not a shared interpretation of facts). I think we left that state of being behind a long time ago.
  4. Snippets of crap taken from fake news posted on social media is not fake news. That’s your Facebook buddy being a dumbass. That your buddy posted a meme or truncated snippet of bullshit is your opportunity to point out what a dumbass he is; it is not your opportunity to believe anything. In other words, fake news is the original expression following the first three points above. Conversely, your buddy posting a snippet based on real news is not real news until you’ve done the work of checking it out. (So, yes, in our current media environment the discipline of verification is also essential to citizenship.)

Fake news, then, isn’t a problem by itself. It can be wildly popular entertainment or cogently biting satire (here’s a good Black Friday example). Fake news is fun. It’s educational. I show the following video to all of my journalism students as an example of the problems caused by standard news form when you follow it uncritically:

The problem isn’t fake news. The problem isn’t even that people share fake news to social media.

The problem is a lack of media literacy and critical thinking.

Hmmmm… What to do…

November 7, 2016

A Quick Interjection in the Silence

Rhetorica, as a site examining media-political rhetoric, remains retired.

But I have to call your attention — whatever is left of my readership — to Jay Rosen’s current entry on PressThink. The whole thing is important, but this struck me in particular:

How can you say to readers: these people live in a different reality than we do… and leave it there? That is not the kind of story you can drop on our doorsteps and walk away from. It’s describing a rupture in the body politic, a tear in the space-time continuum that lies behind political journalism. I don’t think the editors understood what they were doing. But even today they would find this criticism baffling. We reported what people in this movement believe. Accurately! What’s your problem?

Back in the day, here’s what I wrote about facts as a liberal bias.

November 5, 2016

Into The Whole New Thing

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I dipped my toes into the whole documentary film-making thing about two and a half years ago when I began the Downtown project and turned my Carbon Trace blog into a production team site. To check all of this out, you can also visit the official production “company” site at carbontrace.net and start clicking around.

Well, I got hooked.

I turn 60 soon, and I’ve decided to dedicate what’s left of my career in academia to producing documentary films with my students.

That’s another reason I lost patience with the original mission of Rhetorica. Documentary film making is a lot of work and takes a lot of time and attention 🙂

Today I’ve begun some major revamps on all of my websites to prepare to take this new venture far more seriously. You can expect to see many changes. Soon. I only have a few more years left to work.

The Rhetorica Network will remain the umbrella brand. And I’ll post things here as it seems appropriate from time to time.

September 13, 2016

On Futility

I should have known better.

I was right the first time.

I dramatically cut back on blogging here (2010ish) in part because the effort seemed futile.

To that point I had created what I think is an interesting body of work (might even be a book in here somewhere). Several academic essays, a book chapter, and an encyclopedia chapter came from it. I achieved tenure at Missouri State University in part because of Rhetorica. There’s nothing like daily, written engagement to keep you focused and help you develop ideas.

Rhetorica began as “Timeline” — a blog at my Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2000 site run on the servers of the University of Missouri – Kansas City as part of a graduate project in rhetorical analysis. Rhetorica is one of the oldest, continuously-published blogs on the internet.

I am very proud of it.

I’ve attempted a few times to re-jump-start it — the silliest of those attempts being the “doom files” days. But that silliness actually said something important about where my head is and has been.

Blogging about the rhetoric of journalism and politics these days is simply an exercise in frustration and futility. Donald Trump is the final nail in a lot of coffins. Our civic discourse is damaged — potentially beyond repair. Political journalism doesn’t have the tools to help correct it because, frankly, political journalists are a big part of the problem and seem unable/unwilling to understand how and why. They are slaves to their master narratives and biases.

No amount of blogging is going to make the slightest dent.

Rhetorica will remain open as long as I have a credit card that works. And I will, from time to time, post things here.

But the main project is finally over. It’s really been over a for many years now. I wish I had had the grace to realize it and close the lid.

Here’s another “but” and a hopeful one: Carbon Trace Productions is now the main creative focus of my life — although not necessarily the associated blog 🙂 My 60s are going to be my documentary years!

Last year my team of students and I completed our first documentary short entitled Shared Spaces.

This past May we completed our first feature documentary entitled Downtown: A New American Dream. It is an official selection at the 2016 New Urbanism Film Festival in Los Angeles next month.

We also have projects working about the student debt crisis, the Trans-Siberian Rail Road, and homeless cargo-bikers who make their way picking through our dumpsters.

The Rhetorica Network will remain my main brand. I’m not sure what that means 🙂

August 15, 2016

An Amusing Aside

I’m finishing an essay — due today — for the American Political Science Association conference in Philadelphia. The title is “Race, Poverty, and Police: A Conversation.” Here’s what it’s about:

How might we understand #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter in terms of #allmenarecreatedequal?

It’s about memes and hashtags and the conversation we’re not having because we cannot have it.

August 11, 2016

When Stenography Matters

So I’ve spent a lot time here grousing about stenography.

But the candidacy of Donald Trump is changing the game of journalism a bit — including my game. It’s been easy to point out examples of the lazy reporting I call stenography. But with Trump, I now find it necessary to put a finer point on my grousing.

Let’s use this article in The New York Times as an example. Trump said about President Obama: “He’s the founder of ISIS.” And he said that ISIS “honors” Obama.

OK, so what’s a reporter to do with that?

It’s news. It’s news because a candidate for President of the United States said such a ridiculous thing. But there’s very little you can ask in follow up.

What question can you ask?

I suppose you could ask for specifics about how/why Obama founded ISIS (and risk sounding like a reporter for The Daily Show), but you’re as likely to get a cogent answer as you are to get a invitation to Trump’s next wedding.

And there you have an important distinction between stenography that is reporting the news and stenography that hides the news.

It isn’t stenography to quote the outrageous and let it hang in the air like a fart.

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