As we explore ways of thinking about communication or our attitudes toward communication, remember that by communication we mean the whole range of words, signs, symbols, images, etc. that circulate around us everyday, including our performances, “fronts,” “expressive equipment,” behavior, style, etc.
We’ve talked about relationships already (E-harmony, love songs, etc.), and once again relationship tips provide an excellent illustration.
The Real Rules: How to Find the RIght Man for the Real You is a very popular relationship advice book. Right away we could guess that the book might take a “standard view” of communication (Lanham’s “serious premises”) because it’s talking about a “real you” and wants us to discover the “right” (or “perfect” or “true”) significant other. As if these things already just exist out there and we simply have to find them and communicate correctly. I’ve pulled out a few quotes from this book that demonstrate this narrower way of thinking about communication (my explanations are in red):
- “I dedicate The Real Rules to every woman who has ever been afraid to share her real feelings, desires, or concerns with a man for fear that he’ll tell her she’s too ‘needy and demanding'” (4). In other words, we shouls always strive to share our honest feelings and desires and share our true feelings (like the dream of “perfect communication” or “telepathy” or “discourses of therapy” or “clear, brief, and sincere” communication.)
- “I dedicate The Real Rules to every woman who has ever lost herself so deeply in trying to please a man that she doesn’t know who she is anymore” (4). In other words, there is a “true self” or an innate and stable identity that has always existed and we shoud merely discover it and preserve it.
- “I dedicate The Real Rules to every woman who dreams of having a relationship with a real man based on real equality – no games, no power struggles, just a loving, intimate, mutually respectful partnership” (4). This suggests that “games” or “manipulation” or things that Plato might call “rhetoric” or “flattery” get in the way of “reality” and honest communication.
- The Real Rules “are about becoming who you really are as a woman, and finding a man who loves you because of it” (13). The underlying assumption is a real you exists and discovering it is both possible and desirable.
- “Have you been tempted to try out some so-called ‘techniques’ you recently read in a book or magazine about THE OLD RULES in hope of getting a man to fall in love with you, or getting your boyfriend to propose?” She condemns “techniques” as though they are something fake or artificial–maybe something Plato would call “flattery”–something that hides the “true self.” But also remember that Lanham said everything is rhetorical. De Angelis attacks these “techniques” but fails to recognize that her own suggestions are also “techniques.” Remember Lanham: the whole range of ornament is rhetorical.
Another popular book is The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. This book offers advice that seems to realize how communication and performance invent / create / construct reality — in our terms, we could say the authors seem to have a “rhetorical view” about communication that recognizes the power and possibilities of what communication does in culture. For example:
- “Doing what you want to do [in a relationship] is not always in your best interest. On a job interview, you don’t act ‘like yourself'” (9). In other words, we must always be strategic in the ways we perform. Our behavior is communication, too, and it’s not always valuable merely to transmit our “true” feelings. We also have to realize that we aren’t totally in control of our identity. Our culture and our surroundings dictate the expectations for performance and the “fronts” we select.
- The author suggests, “the next time you are at a social event to stand back and watch” other women and “Observe how they have made self-contentment and independence an art form” (12). In other words, creating relationships and connections is an “art form”–a type of style or performance or rhetoric. You have to perform self-confidence in order to make people see self-confidence. In Goffman’s words, it has to be “dramatically realized” in order to be “real.”
Here are a few other relationship advice sites to check out. Look at the way they talk about human relationships and see if you can identify statements that imply certain attitudes about communication and what communication does. These all provide good samples for you to blog about and connect to the ideas from Plato, Lanham, Peters, and Goffman (and future authors as well).