Pink and Pepsi

Here are two more examples that continue the conversations about identification, belonging, performance, etc.

Apparently real “men” can take anything except Diet drinks … so Pepsi had to come up with a diet soda–for men. Now this message alone might not be significant. But when we think of the “body of identifications” or wide range of messages that present a “dull daily reinforcement” we get a better sense of the scripts or fronts that we create for men (and women) to reenact and recreate. “Belonging … is rhetoricial” and we learn that in many cases if we want to “belong” we’d better play our “roles” to meet other people’s expectations.

When we have a “rhetorical view” of communication and we start to pay attention to the messages that create identifications and divisions and the messages that move us to behave, believe, and perform in certain ways, we also develop the ability to intervene and invent new ways to communicate.  I believe that’s what Pink attempts to do in “Stupid Girls” … she wants to create a different body of identifications that encourage women to identify with different roles and select different fronts and put on different performances.

How do you see Burke and Goffman’s ideas relating to these clips? Or to any other examples you’ve found? [I’ve used gender as an example because it’s often something that most of us can relate to and recognize easily … but we can apply and think about the same theories and ideas when we think any of our identities and performances: race, sexuality, class, religion, profession, organization (think especially about Greek organizations) …]


From performace to identification: Beauty

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.

From Peters to performance (Goffman)

Check out this short article about the necessity of “lying” … It is related to Peter’s point that we cannot avoid imperfect communication and in fact it is a very good thing we can’t communicate perfectly.

The author writes:

Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: My name is Lisa, and I am a liar, though a good marketing consultant could probably finesse the word into something a bit more palatable: “Reality Stylist” might be good, or “Pinocchiotologist” could work. My mother insists that, at the end of the day, what I am is a storyteller — and she might have a point.

So I sugarcoat and I gloss over, and I rationalize and, yes, I sometimes fictionalize my little story.

So far, we’ve spent some time setting up a “battle” of ideas over communication and rhetoric. From Plato forward we’ve had many discourses (cultural “conversations” if you will) that emphasize the attitude that “rhetoric” is generally bad or dangerous because it can mislead or misrepresent. And from this position, we might be more likely to criticize this author for “fictionalizing” her stories.

But now we want to explore the other side of the “battle” over rhetoric–the side we probably aren’t as familiar with (even though it goes on around us every day). We will begin to fill in what a “rhetorical view” of communication means. And we will start creating more answers to the question “What else does communication do beyond transmit ideas?”

One question we could ask about this article is: “Is this really lying?” If we’re always seeing things and talking about things from a certain perspective and if there is no such thing as “truth or fact as they actually exist” (Lanham) then is “rhetoric” necessarily bad? … or like Peters says, is our imperfect communication–including rhetoric–a “handsome condition” and “blessing?” This week we’ll read about “performance” and consider the question “When aren’t we performing? When aren’t we wearing a mask?” And how do our performances also create identities and realities?

This article quotes Joan Didion who says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That message is similar to a point Lanham makes in “The Rhetorical Ideal of Life.” Lanham explains that with a “rhetorical view” we will realize that our “capacity to make up comforting illusions is as infinite as the university [we are] flung into. Naked into the world [we] may come, but not without resource.” ( 8 ) In other words, rhetoric, performance, “storytelling” are all necessary features and valuable resources for our lives shared with others. Like Isocrates and Peters believe, these aspects of communication allow us to connect with one another and create new beliefs, worlds, and culture.


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?