Blogging with an Eye for Rhetorical Analysis

Introduction to Rhetorical Critiques

Though you may not have known the name for it, as a blogger you have probably done a rhetorical critique of digital texts at some point in at least one post. When you look at an online video, article, website, forum, etc. to analyze an author's background, intended audience, topic, purpose, occasion, reasoning and evidence, structure, style, and rhetorical strategies such as ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), or logos (logic) you are in fact engaging in a rhetorical analysis. Then when you compare this information with another similar digital text through purpose, author, topic, etc., to argue which is more effective or if they are equally effective, you are in fact performing a rhetorical critique! There are good ways and bad ways to go about doing this however, and the following example will show a guideline for you to refer to for your own blog. The topic is centered on food politics but keep in mind it is only an example. You can do your own critique over whatever topic interests you for your own blog.

For definitions of common rhetorical terms, this is a great link used to help teachers understand how to use rhetoric in the classroom that defines different rhetorical strategies and situations: Teaching Rhetoric.


A Rhetorical Critique of Sustainable Food Online Videos

These are the two videos used for the example of how a rhetorical critique can look.

The Meatrix
Chipotle: Back to the Start

“In simplest terms, sustainable agriculture is the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare. This form of agriculture enables us to produce healthful food without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same”[3]. This is a good definition of sustainable food and why it is so important that it prompted the creation of online videos such as the ones about to be discussed. The two digital texts I intend to critique are “The Meatrix” and “Back to the Start”, both of which are animated online videos exposing the dark side of factory farming in promotion of sustainable farming through similar rhetorical strategies and situations but with varying degrees of success. I will cite excerpts from “Compose, Design, Advocate” by Wysocki and Lynch which focuses on visual communication to further my claims and highlight the similarities and differences between the two digital texts. The differences are most stark when one compares the individual style, audience, and somewhat their purpose. Besides these areas both videos make very strong claims with sound reasoning. Ultimately, though, despite the similarities between the two videos I found “The Meatrix” to be more rhetorically effective due to its more compelling and explicit claims.

This is in large part due to the fact that the makers of “The Meatrix” appear more credible because their sole goal is to educate others about the benefits of sustainable food while “Back to the Start” was created as a commercial for a fast food restaurant and although they obviously see sustainable food as important their main goal is to make money. Delving more into the authors’ respective backgrounds, starting with “The Meatrix” with “Back to the Start” following will show this quite clearly. The former video was created by an umbrella company called GRACE Communications Foundations whose Sustainable Table program received a grant in 2003 from Free Range Studios to make the animated movie. Their commitment to educating others about factory farming and providing knowledgeable information about sustainable food solutions is what earned them the grant and the creators of the video are clearly biased thusly. This is evident in the disturbing facts and language used throughout the video. The latter video, “Back to the Start” is actually a Chipotle commercial funded by the Chipotle Mexican Grill fast food chain. It uses the popular Coldplay song from where the video’s title originates but has the equally well-known singer Willie Nelson cover it and has no dialogue barring the soundtrack. Therefore the viewer must infer the underlying meaning and claims the video makes about “food with integrity” which is the company’s slogan and focuses on sustainable farming over factory farming methods. That being said, it is fairly obvious the Chipotle commercial had a much bigger production budget than “The Meatrix” since it was geared toward making people want to eat their food rather than solely educating viewers. This is one way I mentioned the videos differ. While both are aiming to connect with an audience concerned about where their food comes from, Chipotle is also looking to sell a product through the “Back to the Start” commercial, due to their Chipotle logo being used at the end of the video so the viewer is sure to know who made the commercial. And even though it is on YouTube it is mostly intended for an American audience of people who eat fast food and perhaps aren't as overly concerned about where the food comes from despite the company's bias towards sustainable food. The creators of “The Meatrix” however, expand their audience to “festivals, conferences, meetings, events, and local gatherings while thousands of DVDs have been given to teachers, students, parents, and individuals worldwide”[3].

So even though on the surface the two videos seem to have the same purpose, truly only one has no underlying motive such as selling food and this is part of the reason why “Back to the Start” is less rhetorically effective I feel. Now, if it were between a McDonald’s ad which is not known for having sustainable food methods and Chipotle that would be a different story. As it is one could argue the only reason Chipotle released such a commercial is because there has been a shift in American culture that is interested in where their food comes from and how it effects them but regardless Chipotle is still simply pushing their product in a way that alludes to the fact that if you eat their food you won't have to worry about where it came from. The reasoning behind making “The Meatrix” seems much clearer since they have no other agenda than informing people about the dangers of factory farming.

While it is true both digital texts contribute to the debate that sustainable farming is beneficial, their individual use of rhetorical strategies is how I was able to determine which was more effective, with “The Meatrix” coming out the clear winner in almost every category barring its use of visual ethos. Interestingly, I would have to say “Back to the Start” had a better grasp of ethos simply because it was obviously a professional production in comparison to “The Meatrix” which while cute was not as polished. Wysocki and Lynch tell us how this is important when thinking about ethos is regards to visual texts because, “as qualities of ‘polished and professional’ are valued in our day and place: as a culture, we often value communicative visual texts if they get to the point efficiently and if they demonstrate that their composers know how to use their materials well”[6].

Stylistically, “Back to the Start” is definitely better but, that being said, “The Meatrix” is the clear winner when it comes to pathos and logos as well as reasoning and evidence. “The Meatrix” elicits clear emotional responses, at least on this viewer’s part, via disgust at the atrocities of factory farming and a feeling of wanting to correct these injustices by actively engaging in the issue. The narrator, Moopheus, uses strong language to really make pathos effective in such lines as, “In the mid-20th century greedy agriculture corporations began modifying sustainable family farming to maximize their profits at great cost to both humans and animals. Factory farming was born. Animals are packed as closely together as possible. Most never see sunlight, touch ground, or get fresh air”[4]. “Back to the Start” somewhat uses pathos in the sense that the song used and how Nelson sings it may pull at the audience’s emotions of sympathy but it is only semi-effective I would say. There is no dialogue to help connect to the visual though and this is where it fails. Without language logos is also less effective in the “Back to the Start” video.

Although the single-shot stop motion makes sure the viewers’ attention is directed where it should be, at times it relies on the viewer to make inferences based only on what can be seen and if one is not aware of the issues with factory farming some of the rhetoric may be lost in translation. For instance, there is a part where the pigs at the factory farm are being fed what appear to be pills[2]. Someone aware of the issues with factory farming might recognize this to represent the antibiotics fed to the animals due to their poor living conditions but which also contributes to the increasing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. If someone were unaware of this problem with the use of antibiotics on animals at factory farms would likely not understand the reference in the Chipotle commercial. As Wysocki and Lynch say, “You can never expect others to know everything you know—just as you hope others do not expect you to know everything they do”[6]. “The Meatrix” uses logos exceptionally well. They state their claims reasonably and clearly so their opinion is very explicit and doesn’t leave the viewer wondering what is going on. The use of a familiar pop culture icon such as “The Matrix” in a satirical way also helps viewers follow what is going on I think. Then there is reasoning and evidence which is about equal between the two. Both are against factory farming for seemingly the same reasons but “The Meatrix” gives firmer evidence for why the audience should be against it as well.

In conclusion, when comparing the rhetorical effectiveness of “The Meatrix” and “Back to the Start” I feel the former does a better job of addressing their opinion on the matter of sustainable farming even though the latter would seem to be the more put-together of the two. When it comes down to it though, Chipotle is out to sell food, not enlist the entire globe in the crusade against factory farming like “The Meatrix” is clearly meant to be attempting.


How You Can Incorporate This into Your Own Blogs

"[I]n a critique you evaluate a source text's quality or worth according to a set of established criteria. Based on your evaluation, you then assert some judgment concerning the text—whether the reading was effective, ineffective, valuable, or trivial. Critiques, then, are usually argumentative. Your goal is to convince your readers to accept your judgment concerning the quality of the reading"[5].

Things to Keep in Mind for Rhetorical Critiques

  • You should make a clear claim in your blog post about which digital text is more or equally effective, and why.
  • This claim needs to be based on a clear, detailed analysis of each digital text’s rhetorical situation and strategies.
  • Make sure you appropriately quote and/or describe visual details in concrete terms through examples from the digital texts or other sources that contribute to the blog post. [1]
Bibliography
1. Adapted from Basgier, Chris. "Paper 1: Rhetorical Critique". (4 December 2012). emma. E-doc.
2. Chipotle. "Back to the Start." YouTube. YouTube, 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMfSGt6rHos>.
3. GRACE Communications Foundations. "G R A C E." G R A C E. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2012. <http://www.gracelinks.org/>.
4. TheOfficialMeatrix. "The Official Meatrix I." YouTube. YouTube, 08 Nov. 2006. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEkc70ztOrc>.
5. Wilhoit, Stephen. A Brief Guide to Writing from Readings. New York: Longman, 2010. Print.
6. Wysocki, Anne Frances, and Dennis A. Lynch. Compose, Design, Advocate: A Rhetoric for Integrating Written, Visual, and Oral Communication. New York: Longman Imprints, 2007. Print.
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