In class I asked, “How does magic work? How do magicians make an audience suspend their disbelief and accept the “impossible?” How does David Blaine convince his audience that he’s levitating?



Magicians know how to make things seem as if they’re real. They create perceptions and diversions so the audience will see the illusion from a certain perspective and accept the performance as real–even if we know it’s impossible.


Penn & Teller explain some ways that magic works in this clip we watched in class …




As I’ve explained, this course attempts to change the way we think about communication and ask “What else can communication do?” beyond sending messages or transmiting ideas clearly and precisely. One way to approach that question is to think of communication as “magic:” an interactive encounter that makes reality seem as if it is a certain way and that helps us see things from certain perspectives. We regularly communicate in order to do some of the things that Penn describes in the video above.

  • “Simulation”: to “give the impression that something that hasn’t happened, has;” or to give the impression that it has happened in a certain way. How do we do this through communication? What are some examples where we try to change impressions or appearances?
  • “Misdirection”: to lead attention away from something. How do we use communication to direct our attention elsewhere? This may seem like a bad or manipulative feature … but is it necessarily a bad thing?
  • “Switch”: to secretly exchange one object for another; or to change the terms we use for something; or to change the perspective from which we view something. How do we change meaning and reality simply by using different words or symbols? What are some examples where we make a “switch” with communication?

These questions help us move closer to understanding the “rhetorical view of life” that Lanham describes in this week’s reading. You need to know how this way of thinking about communication and the world differs from the “serious” view of communication or the standard view of communication that treats communication as a tool that merely describes reality as it exists outside of communication. The debate between Plato and Isocrates over the role of communication is the same debate Lanham discusses. How is his “rhetorical view of life” similar to Isocrates’ praise of communication?


Time to start blogging!

Several of you have already gotten started on the blogs with your own posts and comments. “Thank you!” to those who have jumped right in and kicked off discussions. I know this assignment is different than what most of you have done before, but from my experience, once you get going this semester it will prove to be good learning resource.

If you still haven’t contributed to your blog yet, now is the time to start. Don’t delay … this assignment is not something you can “make up” in the last few weeks of the semester.Again, you don’t have to worry about writing a “perfect” post. As long as you’re trying to work through the ideas of the course and connect them to experiences and interests in your life, then you’re on the right track (and I’ll give you some guidance if it looks like your posts need some detail or focus.)

Check out some of these posts and discussions in case you’re still not sure what to write about on this blog. Maybe these will spark some ideas. These posts from your classmates are just a few examples of the many ways to start talking about the complexity of communication.

If anyone still has questions about this assignment or how to write a blog post or any other concerns or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

“What we’ve got here is — failure to communicate!”

You’ve probably heard this famous line from the movie Cool Hand Luke (1967).

We often think of communication as something that either works well or fails; we’ve either communicated clearly and perfectly or we get frustrated by problems with miscommunication; we’re either skilled communicators or flawed communicators. When we think of communication from the “transmission model” perspective (arguably the way most of us learn to think about communication) we usually think along these lines. We think we only need to study how to use the tool or machine of communcation clearly and carefully.

On the first day of class, we drew simple pictures of how we think communication works. Most of them looked a lot like the “transmission model”:


OR, like this:

Someone has an idea or message, we put it into a simple, clear “package” of words or pictures, send that information through communication, and another person opens the “package”  to discover the idea or data. If anything gets in the way (“bad” communication, “noise,” lack of clarity, etc.) then “what we have is — failure to communicate.” That is what we’ve called the transmission model of communication or the standard view of communication.

We see messages everywhere that encourage us to think about communication in this way, not just standard communication textbooks.  Think of cultural messages that talk about or present communication this way (for example, commercials, song lyrics, movies, etc.). Then on your team blog provide some examples of the many ways we are taught to think of communication as a TOOL or machine to transmit messages as clearly, noiselessly, and trasnparently as possible. As you discuss and comment on your group’s examples, think about whether those examples take any of the broader ways of thinking about communication that Chandler mentions into account.