Archive for the ‘Jay Dolmage’ Category

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Political Attack Ads

posted: 1.30.12 by archived

Last year, when I posted on the day after the Super Bowl, I suggested an assignment that asked students to rhetorically analyze Super Bowl commercials and then sort them by genre and sub-genre. This week, a few days before the Super Bowl, I’m suggesting an activity connected to an altogether different type of TV advertisement: the political attack ad. Yes, it is that time again, and I think it’s helpful to work on this type of activity now so that we are rhetorically prepared for the many, many ads that are to come.

For this activity, you need to be prepared to show video in class. Include some or all of the following steps.

1. I like to begin with a Canadian (CBC) interactive feature on the history of attack ads. This feature reveals to American students that attack ads exist in many countries and along many points on the political spectrum. Another great video is from on the attack ads of the 1800 U.S. Presidential campaign, and reveals the timelessness of the genre. And John Geer, the academic who has perhaps published most extensively on the genre, offers his own historical overview.

2. Then, I ask students to recall as many of ads as they can from their own memories. They might be able to come up with a long list, and even share details from the ads. But if they can’t, that’s okay—perhaps one feature of this genre of commercial is that they aren’t particularly memorable in the long term, or their rhetorical impact is more subconscious than overt. [read more]

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Favorite Week One Activity: Revisiting the Timeline

posted: 1.9.12 by archived

For many of us, the new semester has begun. As I usually do at the start of a semester, I wanted to offer you something really practical in this post. In the past, I’ve posted about activities that I have used in the first few weeks of every writing course I have ever taught. My favorite has traditionally been the “timeline,” an activity that not only incorporates multiple literacies, and can be used as pre-writing or invention for a personal narrative assignment, but is also a great “get-to-know-one-another” activity that breaks the ice in a new class.

I begin the timeline activity by asking students to take one sheet of blank paper and turn it sideways., I instruct each student to write his or her date of birth on the left side of the paper and today’s date on the far right side. Their work is then to fill in the space between these dates, chronologically: I ask students to write down all of the key events in their lives, filling in the space between their date of birth and today. They can flesh out the details of some of these key dates on the page, or choose an event (or a few events) and then write about them on a separate piece of paper. I let students know, before they begin, that they will be asked to share these timelines.

I instruct students to tape these timelines up on the wall and browse one another’s pages. I then ask them to take turns explaining their timelines, thus giving a brief tour of their lives. This process helps them to see that their lives have a “narrative” form—the important things that happened to them can be laid out chronologically, and each event helps to make each student the person he or she is today. Sharing these timelines is also a good way to jog everyone’s collective memories. When we see other stories, we are reminded of our own.

I also see this as an activity that makes writing more accessible. For students who may be most comfortable talking through their stories, they see that, if they simply write down what they just said, they have created some great material for a narrative. With this in mind, I give students a few minutes before the class ends to transcribe the tour of their timeline for themselves. [read more]

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Mediating Occupation

posted: 11.28.11 by archived

This week brings further evictions and relocations of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. In Oakland, these evictions turned violent. On occupied college campuses, these evictions have also been ugly—campus police pepper-sprayed student protesters at UC Davis and assaulted a professor and students at Berkeley. I am certain that these events have become matters of intense interest and discussion—and perhaps action—on your own campuses and in your own classrooms.

In this post, I want to look briefly at some of the ways that the OWS movement has been shaped through unique genres of writing and visual rhetoric—and to suggest ways that these emergent genres say something important about the movement. Perhaps there are ways for other teachers to use these texts to discuss the issues as well. It feels reductive to take the energy of the movement and the emotion of these events and reduce them to a series of observations about rhetoric. But my hope is to show that rhetoric has been and will continue to be central to the direction of the protests, part of the effort to communicate even amid violence.

The key medium of OWS has been the camera-phone video. Perhaps the most striking feature of so much media coverage of OWS has been the prevalence of what might be called “sousveillance”—instead of surveillance from above, the movement has been documented from within, and from the ground, by protesters and bystanders with mobile phones. Instead of relying on news media to cover events, images are quickly captured and disseminated online; the news media actually comes to rely on this footage for their own coverage. This also flips the traditional relationship of surveillance, allowing the “public” to watch the authorities and hold them accountable for their actions. The above videos from Davis and Berkeley are prime examples.  These videos had been viewed almost 5 million times as of November 21.  In the videos, the positioning of the camera operator, what they choose to focus on, and where and how the images are disseminated become key considerations for defining this emerging medium and genre.

One example of the circulation of these images has been the remix. Stills from the Davis pepper spraying have been superimposed over canonical works of art, and then moved virally around the Web. See, for instance, the image below that shows an officer dispassionately spraying the U.S Declaration of Independence (a remix of John Trumbull’s famous oil painting).


This remix reframes the event back across history, making an effective and indelible statement. [read more]

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Categories: Jay Dolmage, Visual Rhetoric
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More Politics and the English Language

posted: 10.24.11 by archived

My post last week found me apologizing for coming off a bit like the language police, and for delivering the post from a soapbox. Yet I really do care about the politics and the ethics of language choices, and so I hope that the post was received in this spirit of engagement.

I also want to extend some of that discussion, and link it to the NCTE Orwell and Doublespeak Awards. I sit on the nominating committee for these awards, and I want to ask you today for your nominations, which I will then take to the committee.

The Orwell Award for a Distinguished
 Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language “recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse.” The Doublespeak Award “is an ironic tribute to public speakers who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-centered.”

In the past year, who do you think has done the most to advance honesty and clarity in public discourse? And who has done the most to impede and obscure?

These awards have been around since 1974. Recent winners of the Orwell include Michael Pollan, Jon Stewart, Seymour Hersh, and Arundhati Roy.

Recent winners of the Doublespeak include Glenn Beck, the Tobacco Industry, and (twice) George W. Bush.

If there are individuals you think should be nominated, please let me know by posting a comment.

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Politics and the English Language

posted: 10.17.11 by archived

One of the realities of life for most teachers is that we sit in a lot of meetings. I meet with groups of distinguished academics or community leaders about once a week. The discourse is sometimes a bit contentious, sometimes a little boring, but always smart and fair and democratic. In these meetings, I am surrounded by people whom I respect and admire. Yet several times over the last few years, I have been surprised and upset by something a colleague said. Adults who care quite a lot about social justice, who understand prejudice in a deep way, still use words like “moron,” “idiot,” and “retard”—and I am shocked every time I hear them.

Listen, I’m not the language police. I am all for freedom of expression—but I am also all for examining the impact of what we say.

Some terms are truly distasteful.  “Moronic” is a word with a long and terrible history, as are the words “retarded” and “idiot.” Yet, it seems like these are all words that we’ve decided it’s now okay to use—for some reason, we even think they are funny.  Call some thing retarded, moronic, or idiotic, and someone is likely to laugh and agree with you.  Adding this word as a descriptor is a way to condemn whatever you disagree with and to add a slightly subversive edge to your comment.

Hopefully, we know that it is not okay to label any person with these words. But then why do we use them words at all?

To be labeled a moron in North America for most of the last 150 years meant that you would be institutionalized and perhaps sterilized. To be labeled a moron, an idiot, or retarded meant that you were not treated as a full person—in the legal sense or the conceptual sense. These labels, we clearly now understand, were the product of the worst kind of racist pseudo-science.

As I said, why do we use these words at all any more? [read more]

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Writing About Food Redux

posted: 9.26.11 by archived

In the readings section for How to Write Anything, there are several essays that examine food: food as site of family or cultural tradition, food science and economics, and even reviews of food. I have also posted a series of assignment ideas relating to food in past BITS blogs:

Narrative: Personal Food History

Research Paper: Where Does Food Come From?

Review: Restaurant Critic

Proposal: New Food Ideas

But I was inspired to revisit this assignment after reading a powerful multimodal personal narrative in Harlot online magazine. The essay, by Sue Webb, mixes recipes with song lyrics, pictures, and personal reflections to tell the stories of her relationship with her father. Webb also does some really interesting things with the layout of the Web page and with internal and external hyperlinks. I think this is a great example of a multimodal personal narrative, but also a good example of how students might add diverse content to personal narratives they have already written, as a way to remix and revise. [read more]

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New Narrative Interfaces

posted: 8.15.11 by archived

A few months ago I wrote about video game adaptations of great literary works. I have also written about the ways that our online presence tells a story about us, and how we can revise what that story says. This week’s post will be an appendix to both of those posts, offering a few more links and ideas. I suppose I continue to be curious about the new forms that narratives can take through multimedia—and also the ways in which these forms themselves shape us.

The first place I want to take you is the Intel Museum of Me. This site allows you to use your Facebook profile to generate an interactive virtual museum of yourself—a “visual archive of your social life.” The experience of moving through this museum, for me, was kind of freaky. There is emotional piano music and children singing; you see your friends, the most common words you use on your wall, the things you “like.” At one point, robotic arms are shown assembling all of the profile pictures of your friends into a composite image which, when you zoom out, is your own profile picture. This scene encapsulated the feeling of the experience for me: it is oddly both very personal and totally automated. I felt the museum both humanized my Facebook identity and totally alienated me from it. This museum is about me—but it is also about selling computers. (There is a lot to unpack here. Allan Sekula would have a field day with this.) I can’t wait to use this in the classroom and to see what responses students have to this. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage, Teaching with Technology
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A Conversation with Jay Dolmage

posted: 7.20.11 by archived

Hi, Bits readers! When we were at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in April we sat down with some of the talented authors who blog here on Bits to talk about writing, blogging, and online community. We hope you enjoy this chance to get up close and personal with Jay Dolmage!

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When Professors (and Politicians) Plagiarize

posted: 6.20.11 by archived

A few weeks ago I posted about graduation speeches. Well, the dean of medicine at the University of Alberta (Canada) has just been accused of plagiarizing a speech that he gave at a graduation reception June 10. Dr. Philip Baker has admitted there was a “failure to attribute the source of my inspiration.” Notably, he doesn’t use the word plagiarism. Yet students claim that he lifted the speech word-for-word from a speech given by the doctor, professor, and best-selling author Atul Gawande at Stanford University last year.

This is by no means the first scandal regarding a plagiarized speech, nor is it likely to be the last. You might remember that Vice President Joe Biden was accused of plagiarism in 2008. His defense was that he didn’t know how to cite the original source. “If I had intended to cheat,” he said, “would I have been so stupid?”

Baker’s and Biden’s “mistakes” are things we can talk about in class. They illustrate how serious (and sometimes complicated) plagiarism is and demonstrate that plagiarism isn’t just something that teachers drill into students, but a larger cultural phenomenon. I also think it’s important to examine the excuses, explanations, and repercussions. [read more]

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Food Rules

posted: 6.6.11 by archived

Today I am going to blog about food. Maybe because I’m hungry? I’ve blogged about food before. Specifically, I suggested a few assignment ideas based around food: a “personal food history,” a “where does your food come from?” research paper, restaurant reviews, and “new food ideas” based on McSweeney’s magazine’s popular series of reviews.

Also, in the readings section for the textbook How To Write Anything, there are several essays that examine food: food as a site of family or cultural tradition, food science and economics, and even reviews of food. Personally, I like reading and talking about food, and I find students do too.

Today, I want to suggest another assignment or in-class activity that centers around food.  Michael Pollan is the bestselling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and several other books investigating the environmental, ethical, and economic impact of food. Most recently, he published Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, containing a list of sixty-four “food rules.” Here are five of those rules, summarized:

  1. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  2. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  3. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.
  4. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. Always leave the table a little hungry.
  5. Families should eat together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. [read more]

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