Blogging With Genre In Mind

Blogging as a Genre

"In perceiving an utterance as being of a certain kind or genre, we become caught up in a form of life, joining speakers and hearers, writers and readers, in particular relations of a familiar and intelligible sort" -Bazerman

Genres help us define who we are. As stated above by rhetorician Charles Bazerman, genre can be a powerful analytical tool in locating an audience and a purpose for writers, and more specifically, for bloggers. Understanding how blogs operate as a genre is so important because blogs function to ultimately build communities around certain ideas.

The accessibility of both creating and consuming blogs has been one of the highlighting features of online digital rhetoric. With its increased accessibility to anyone with a computer, there is also an increased opportunity for writers without credibility to voice their often inadequate opinions. Through an understanding of genre analysis, you can stand out as an informed and credible blogger.

In their article "Blogging as Social Action," Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd recognize the unique genre of blogging as they write, "The confessional nature of blogs has redrawn the line between the private and the public dimensions of our lives (Weinberg 2002). Blogs can be both public and intensely personal in possibly contradictory ways. They are addressed to everyone and at the same time to no one. They seem to serve no immediate practical purpose, yet increasing numbers of both writers and readers are devoting increasing amounts of time to them. The blog is a new rhetorical opportunity" (Miller). With this new opportunity and understanding of how it functions rhetorically, you will have an edge in the blogging world.

Genre in Action: Video Blogging and the Phenomena of TEDTalks

Genre analysis helps not only in defining a topic, but it also can help provide a structure and audience that already exists. For example, video blogging is a genre within blogging. Video blogs are one form of online expression through which the "writer" directly addresses their audience. Within this genre is the sub-genre of of TEDTalks, a study of which can shed some light of the benefits of having a rhetorical understnading of genre and how it can help you become a more effective blogger.

In 2006, the phenomenon of TEDTalks entered the web as a new genre of digital communication. It exists today as a platform for progressive inspirational speakers to promote their ideas through short videos, often arranged according to topical themes. Founded in 1984, the mother company TED began as a nonprofit to promote the mantra “Ideas Worth Spreading” through series of conferences. The organization brought together speakers on technology, entertainment, and design for years, but it wasn’t until the production of online video recordings of the talks that TED gained its viral fame. According to the website, “TEDTalks began as a simple attempt to share what happens at TED with the world … the reaction was so enthusiastic that the entire TED website has been reengineered around TEDTalks” (“Riveting”). Because the talks have had such a social influence, their identity as an online genre is well established through the consistent structure, the prestige of speakers, and the innovative subject matter. As a genre, TedTalks facilitate an online space for forward-thinking producers and consumers of ideas: a modern-day ancient Athenian stage that makes philosophy “cool.” An analysis of TEDTalks within the sub-genre of video blogging will help bloggers see the benefits of writing within a well-established genre, as it provides both structure and credibility to relatively unknown "writers."

Genre Structure: Author, Audience, and Purpose

The authors/producers of TEDTalks are public speakers, both professional and amateur, that are given 18 minutes to communicate their “idea worth spreading.” The videos open with a montage of images of other Ted talkers swirling around the screen to form a globe that fades in the background of the tagline “TED: ideas worth spreading.” The shot then goes to the conference stage, showing the usually full audience and the speaker waiting to begin their talk. This primary shot establishes the initial ethos of the video. By showing previous speakers, there is already a sense of community as we are given glimpses of Al Gore, Bono, and other notable speakers, literally revolving around TED. The sharp imaging and graphics matched with the celebrity images sets a tone of credibility for the entire genre.

Within this basic structure of TEDTalks, the rhetorical purpose is ultimately to enable the social action of making philosophy accessible and appealing to a contemporary audience. The backbone of philosophy takes root in ancient Greece and the classical rhetoric of the likes of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. In many ways, the genre of their discourse informs the style of TEDTalks. In “Genre and Identity,” Charles Bazerman notes this classical ancestral genre as he writes, “The communicative model of politics and citizenship grew out of the situation and practices in the agora – an eloquent defense of one’s interests and honor before other citizens who sit in judgment … a persuasive appeal to carry a deliberation of leaders forward to a new level of wisdom” (Bazerman 22). This style of promoting and defending ones beliefs is almost an exact description of a TEDtalk in that a speaker uses rhetorical appeals in an open forum (the stage) for the overarching purpose of spreading innovative ideas. The reason this works for audiences today is the same reason it worked in ancient Greece. The speeches were delivered by society’s elite – the ones that had the education, experience, or prestige to manipulate with their words. Like TEDTalk speakers, they had hopes of influencing a subsequent action through their public speeches through their modernity and prestige.

Examples of Effective TEDTalk Video Blogs

The three categories of “TEDtalkers” can be divided according to the TED acronym: intellects (technology), celebrities (entertainment), and artists (design). There is, of course, a great amount of overlap in these categories, but they function to feature the different “authors” the genre attracts. No matter what the topic, the charisma of the speaker must prevail to make the talk appealing and consistent with the “cool factor” of TEDTalks.

The first category of speakers, the intellects, transforms typical scientists or technologists into relatable and charismatic speakers, joining the audience with technological intelligence that might not have been accessible before the genre of TEDTalks. The intellects focus on developing new technologies and attack inspiration through scientific knowledge. One TEDTalk given by Shyam Sankar, a data-mining innovator, talks on the future of interactions between humans and computers. He explains the complicated concept created by J.R. Licklider in a way diverse audiences can relate. He states, “Licklider encourages us not to take a toaster and make it data from Star Trek, but to take a human and make her more capable.” While this talk could have easily been weighed down with technical terms and slides of data, Sankar explains it logically into a microphone attached to his ear, conjuring the image of a rock star. The audience is compelled to listen because he appears to be cool and uses rhetorical strategies based in logos.

Check out Shyam's talk:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shyam_sankar_the_rise_of_human_computer_cooperation.html

While technology adds to the logical credibility of TEDTalks, the category of entertainment adds to the appeal of ethos within the genre. The celebrity speakers attract audiences that might have never heard about TED, who become part of the community after getting approval from their favorite celebrities. In other words, “if they think philosophy is cool, then I should too.” A perfect example of a celebrity establishing credibility for this genre is the TEDTalk given by writer Elizabeth Gilbert. As author of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert’s audience includes primarily women, individuals left damaged after divorce, or general readers of self-help novels. In her talk, she recognizes the rarity of the wildfire success she experienced, but uses the fame of the book to make a statement about the nature of genius. She explains the need to disembody genius from the creator through an understanding of it through the lens of pre-Reniassance philosophy. She claims, “Ancient Greece and ancient Rome. People did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then. Okay, people believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings.” This idea that a genius is not a creator but rather a presence that comes to a creator, according to Gilbert, takes a the emotional pressure to create off the artist. The talk has a powerful philosophical punch, but the likelihood of audiences paying attention increased due to the celebrity of Gilbert. She uses her fame to teach a modern lesson in philosophy, and it’s popularity is self-evident in the 4 million views on the TED website alone.

Check out Gilbert's talk:

http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

The final category of TEDTalkers is the category of “artist.” These are the speakers that decorate the genre with an appeal to pathos. They add both variety and style to the philosophical videos in a way that the more technical talks are limited. Slam poet Sarah Kaye provides and example of this sub-category within the genre through her TEDTalk “If I Should Have a Daughter.” She begins her talk with a spoken word poem to introduce her topic of the importance of poetry. She says in her opening poem, “She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard. In the face. Wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.” Her appeal to emotions through her poetic rhetoric drives audiences in a much different way than logic or celebrity ever can. In this way, the artistic element of TEDTalks makes philosophy more interesting and accessible.

Check out Kaye's talk:

http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_kay_if_i_should_have_a_daughter.html

Genre is largely defined by the structure it commands and the social action it enables. Revolving around these two elements is the sense of community. Bazerman writes of this, “You develop and become committed to the identity you are carving out within that domain … In these ways genre shapes intentions, motives, expectations, attention, perception, affect and interpretive frame” (Bazerman 14). The genre of TEDTalks fits right in to this description as it draws individuals in to form an audience that craves self-improvement. It provides a platform for philosophical creation, pitched to the audience as trendy. Whether through the venues of technology, entertainment, or design: individuals are told by the community that philosophy is not only socially acceptable, but cool in the TED culture. This social action not only gives credibility to the genre as form of digital communication, but also an undeniable philosophic agency that is keeping people talking.

How the Genre Analysis of TEDTalks Can Help You Be a Better Blogger

Just like the individuals who create videos for TED, you can use a well-established genre within blogging to communicate more effectively. From fashion to politics, there are genres out there for everyone. Through an analysis of TEDTalks, you can see the advantages of writing within a genre. You have more structure, an established audience, and a sense of community that already exists. We are writers working to influence life through blogs, and genre analysis helps bring us one step closer to that goal.

For another specific example of how genre influences blogging check out Blogger and Reader Interaction, which details how to effective write a food blog.

For More Information on Genre How It's Done

Bibliography
1. Bazerman, Charles. “Genre and Identity.” Rhetoric & Ideology of Genre. Cresskill, NJ:
Hampton, 2002. Print.

2. Miller, Carolyn R. Shepherd, Dawn. "Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the

Weblog" Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs (2004)

3. "Riveting Talks by Remarkable People, Free to the World." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p.,

n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ted.com/>.

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