We are moving on to consider the role of rhetoric in identification and division. But we are not done talking about performance. We’ll keep relating back to performance all semester. There are many connections to make between Goffman and Burke, and as we explore rhetoric and identification this week, I encourage you to explore and discuss those connections in examples on your team blogs.
Here is one example of the relationship between identification (Burke’s topic) and performance (Goffman) with significance for all of us. Watch the following short video from the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.
The film focuses on women and certainly we can find a long history of research and evidence that women are affected by body image concerns. But let’s be clear: men experience the same concerns about body image–maybe to a lesser degree, but men still have anxieties over their bodies, weight, and appearance. Think of all the exercise products, hair-growth products, etc. targeted toward men. Not convinced? Here are a few articles that migh help: Media Assault on Male Body Image and Enhancing Male Body Image. In my opinion, men don’t talk about these things because it isn’t “manly” to feel insecure and it isn’t “tough” to have those anxieties … which is another conversation about identification and performance altogether.
But to the point … how is it that we come to identify ourselves with being “ugly” or “fat” or “unattractive” or “too big,” “too skinny,” “too pale,” “too dark,” “too whatever…“? Burke’s ideas help us think about that question. We receive a regular influx of messages from television, magazines, friends, family, etc. that create a collective meaning for ideas like “beauty” or “sexy” or “attractive.” If those messages don’t often include us or people who look like us, then we don’t “see” ourselves in that definition or in Burke’s terms, we might not “identify” with those things. In other words, we are “divided” from these characteristics. If we don’t identify with those images, terms, ideas, then we often feel we are NOT those things.
Once we realize our identities, we perform these identities. When the young woman in the video feels “fat” she constantly feels she needs to pull her shorts and skirt down lower to cover her “fat” legs. Another young woman described doing sit ups every night. Our performances in large part are driven by the ideas and characteristics we identify with. If I feel “fat,” I might put on a front of trying to work out regularly. If I have learned to identify myself with “unattractive,” then I might perform in ways that confirm or create a reality of feeling unconfident and insecure. The ways in which we always perform are directly related to the identities and characteristics we are rhetorically encouraged to identify with.
“Things won’t change until we change them”
Here’s a preview of things to come in this course and another reason why the “rhetorical view” is so important. The more we fall into the “standard view” of communication, the more likely we will simply accept our created definitions of “beauty” or “sexy” or “attractive” as natural or pre-existing (as if those meanings are just “real” and exist independent of the way we communicate about them.) We are more likely to feel like we can’t do anything about it.
But Peters reminds us we have the ability to find new ways to communicate and we can create new worlds and Isocrates praises the power of communication to build societies. The significance of these ideas is that we can change our messages and change the ways we identify and change our performances, etc. We can learn to pay careful attention to the complex and broad range of communication that shapes how we think, what we value, and how we behave, and we can realize our ability to intervene and change things and make new meanings.
Here’s one more short commercial from Dove that points to the profound impact that a simple performance or communication might have. From the standpoint of the unseen young woman who can only see what’s “wrong” with her, we see how negative identifications adversely affect our performances. From the standpoint of the young man we see how a simple “performance” might dramatically change the “reality” for this young woman.