Sunday, November 30, 2014

Digital Media- Making All of Our Words Last Words

I've often imagined what the last thing I will say will be. Will it be inspiring and heard by many, or will it fall on deaf ears due to its mediocrity? I certainly want to say something like the character Roy Batty's last words in the science fiction film "Blade Runner."

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion... I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... time to die."

Here, he uses his last words to paint vivid pictures of the wonders he has seen in the universe. I, on the other hand, certainly do not want to speak last words that resemble those of Pancho Villa:

"Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something."

I started thinking about how my last words would be communicated, either through writing or speech or through digital media, and I have chosen to examine the last of these three. I have written previously about how digital media can be terrifyingly permanent and can be lost in abundance. I would like to examine this in a new light, particularly in the context of Facebook. I came across this page which discusses what happens when a Facebook user dies. Apparently, unless specifically requested to do so, Facebook does not delete the pages of its users if they pass away. In this way, all of the words we write on Facebook or any other social media site are our last words. Once we leave the world, so to speak, they remain. This may be a morbid thought, but it creates a fascinating idea that we may be writing and taking pictures for what will become our own memorials. In fact, Facebook may include pages from more deceased users than live ones, according to the aforementioned article, by the year 2100. The permanence of these pages, which eventually become memorials, gives us a great amount of power. Now, we have the ability to carefully choose what words will be read by those who come after us. We may decide which pictures people can see and what amusing anecdote may describe our personality in the best light. Essentially, we can both ensure that we will not be forgotten and choose how others will remember us. We have been given an incredible power, and we must learn to integrate it into our lives, because every word, sentence, and picture of a drunken pirate we post on Facebook will be left to the world after we leave it. As Randall Munroe, the author of the linked page, said,

"The basic pieces that make up a human life don't change. We've always eaten, learned, grown, fallen in love, fought, and died. In every place, culture, and technological landscape, we develop a different set of behaviors around these same activities. Like every group before us, we're learning how to play those same games on our particular playing field. We're developing, through sometimes messy trial and error, a new set of social norms for dating, arguing, learning, and growing on the internet. Sooner or later, we'll figure out how to mourn."

We not only live our lives on the internet, but we leave our lives on the internet once we die. So, the next time you decide to post something on social media, consider not only how you are using this digital media to live your life, but how you are using it to leave a memorial of your life for others.

Ferguson and Manipulative Language

Rhetoric and Civic Life: Ferguson

            “There’s no difference between language that convinces and language that manipulates. It’s only when manipulation is obvious, then it’s bad manipulation. What I do is every bit as manipulative as some magician doing a magic trick. If I can wave this red silk handkerchief enough in my right hand, I can do whatever I want with my left hand and you’re not going to see it. When you’re writing fiction, everything is manipulation. I’m setting up the situation specifically so that you’ll laugh at this point or cry at this point or be nervous at this point. If you can see how I’m sawing this body in half, then it’s bad manipulation. If you can see how I’m sawing the lady in half, then it’s bad manipulation. If you can’t see how I did that, then it’s good.”
-Aaron Sorkin, Hollywood Writer
Creator of The West Wing and Sports Night

            The goal of the criminal justice system is to find truth. Under the adversarial system of law in America, two opposing sides argue a case in front of a jury of impartial citizens and the hope therefore is that from competition, truth will arise and justice can be righteously served. However, as Sorkin dually notes, language is always manipulative, and whether that is a good or bad thing is left up to the receiver of the message. In the case of whether to indict ex-officer Darren Wilson for the killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown, both the prosecution and defense attempted to manipulate the Grand Jury, and the result of said manipulation was the decision to let Wilson walk free. Now, the interesting thing about this case is the unusual role the prosecution played.
            In the video below from MSNBC, reporter Lawrence O’Donnell describes a document the assistant district attorney handed out to the Grand Jury. A document detailing a law on “what force is permissible and when in making an arrest by a police officer.” This document was a 1979 Missouri Law ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1985 due to a section entailing that it was legal for police officers to shoot fleeing subjects simply because they were fleeing. Due to those words and the rhetoric of the district attorney, the standards for which the case was perceived were altered. Weeks later, the district attorney acknowledged the illegality of this section of the law, but did not specify the exact section in the document that was illegal. If all persuasive language is manipulative, then is this alteration of evidence positive or negative?
            Another topic the video highlights is the district attorney’s inability to answer a simple question from a Grand Juror regarding the power of the federal Supreme Court in comparison to that of Missouri statutes. Her answer of “you don’t need to worry about that” is rhetorically powerful, especially when considering the answer is a very straightforward “yes.” This could point out preconceived and contradictory beliefs of the prosecution, and also the “bad manipulation” in its obvious manner.

            Outside the seeming misconduct of the prosecution, it is clear that word-play becomes especially important in recounting what happened the night of the shooting. Where liberal news sources everywhere describe the case as “White cop guns down unarmed black teen,” conservative speakers point out the call-to-action mannerism of such a phrase. The phrase has a hidden agenda of bringing to light the structural racism underlying the case. The same goes for Darren Wilson’s description of Michael Brown in his testimony as a “demon” and how he “felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” This use of descriptive language paints Brown in a negative light to the point of dehumanization. Once Brown becomes a demon or monster, our empathy for the teen dissipates into an inability to put ourselves in place of Brown, and rather that of Wilson.
            Language is very manipulative, and whether that manipulation is good or bad is left up to the digression of the audience. What are your thoughts on the events in Ferguson in terms of manipulative language? 

Kairos Musings

Earlier in the semester, we discussed the essential components of a rhetorical situation, upon which our commons projects are based. With the presence of both exigence and an audience, a fitting response can be formed within the constraints and affordances that bound the situation. In particular, the fitting response, the be-all and end-all of the rhetorical situation (for it is the product that all the factors culminate to), requires decorum and kairos, or the ability to say the right thing(s) at the most opportune of moments.
Any convincing argument must have kairos. Necessity and/or haste may circumvent decorum (think of any disheveled man who has just rushed from there to here with some message of great importance), but the timing and the eloquence of kairotic responses is what actually convinces people.
The most clear-cut example I can offer is a brief scene in the Harry Potter series, during which Harry attempts to convince Professor Horace Slughorn to relinquish an unaltered memory. Harry's private conversation with Slughorn is guided by the luck potion he's drunk, which in one instance prompts him to speak a certain something, and in another prompts him to wait and allow Slughorn to mull over his options, and through these minute alterations in how he would normally speak, Harry is successful in his endeavor where he might have failed. Additionally, to find real life examples, one needs to look no further than romance, in which the wrong things said at the wrong time leads to an awkward silence at best and violence at worst, whereas a charmer can win over the heart and mind of his or her beloved with just the right gesture or wordplay.
Kairos is ever more relevant in today's world, in which we have the ability to produce a simultaneously instantaneous and everlasting message. Heinrichs himself mentions that timing is integral to appealing to an audience. It is also one of the determining factors in choosing the best medium to express a message, depending on the audience's expectations and how long the message should last (pg 238).
Ironically, it's been observed that having an instant reply via text or social media has spoiled us by making silence an unpleasant experience. We've all had that experience, where the conversation drops off right in the middle, as one person or the other has to deal with real life, and to the other the silence may come off as being ignored or snubbed. People used to wait months for a hand-written letter with outdated news and warm wishes. Some would say this demonstrates a breakdown in culture, others point out that it might well be just a harmless side effect of extraordinary new technologies. Personally, I'll say it is what it is, and wash my hands of the debate. But what I do think is it is imperative to think before we speak, and also to think when we should speak, and in doing so opportunities will undoubtedly present themselves in greater abundance.

Clouded Debate

               At the November 17th debate between the British National Debate Team and the UNL Debate Team at the Lied Center, the two sides discussed if social media is a threat to human creativity.  I was quite impressed with the eloquence of the debaters, and it was very clear they had a lot of experience in debate.  However, I left feeling perplexed as to whether I actually enjoyed the debate or not, and I would like to present a review of the debate to explore the reasons behind that.

               The UNL debate team argued against social media, claiming it is harming the human creative realm.  They argued that due to the simplistic nature of social media, conversations are not as deep and people are using a rather shallow form of expression.  Social media is about attention, and material that will get attention is not exactly stoking the fire of creative spirits.  No one is recreating great ideas.  They recreate the ideas that have been proven to get many likes.  Also, social media users are limited to a like button.  The like button does not give the creator an idea of good and bad, and this exchange of ideas that would possibly go on in person or even on a blog is what encourages new ideas to form.  They touched on the idea of a filter bubble and how the polarization of ideas on social media is not allowing people to be exposed to ideas very different from their own.  Finally, they talked about how social media makes people less free to express themselves because of threats of cyber bullying.

               The British debate team argued that social media is helping peoples’ creative spirits.  They talked about what it means to be creative and how even such things as a remake of Beyoncé dancing are forms of expressing ideas and emotion.  Anything a person posts could be a creative art.  In addition, social media allows more interaction among people who wouldn’t normally be connected, and it is a means to share non mainstream ideas.  One of the women gave an example of the echo chamber made by FOX news and how this information source doesn’t present the less popular ideas that can be voiced on social media.  Social media also allows a person to reach such a larger audience.  The whole world could potentially hear someone’s idea, and the line is blurred between producer and consumer.  They said how people now have the means to build on previous art and engage in it more than ever.  The privileged class is no longer the only voice in presenting ideas and art.  Finally, they said because of the anonymity of social media users don’t have a fear of being ridiculed and therefore can express creativity more freely.

               Both of their arguments were very well supported, and when the whole speeches are stripped to the basic facts as I just did, it would be hard to say the debate wasn’t successful.  However, I think both of their discussions about social media and creativity were clouded by an attempt to finesse their debates with too many rhetorical devices.  It was very clear all four of the speakers were very well versed in rhetoric, and instead of letting their arguments survive off of the facts, they laced them with a lot of ethos and pathos just to win over the audience.  For example, when either team got up to speak, they made an extra effort to thank all the people involved in putting on the debate.  It shows they care, and it is a very good strategy.  However, both teams mentioned it multiple times like they were trying to prove that their team is more thankful than the other team.  The British team used pathos when they attacked the upper white class for controlling the creative realm hundreds of years ago.  Most of the audience could then connect with what she was saying and realize they would have no voice without social media.  Both teams specifically catered to the audience and mentioned pop culture references such as an Instagram picture of a pumpkin spiced latte or Beyoncé.  It seemed a little overkill how much the debaters tried to relate to the audience to increase their ethos.  The British team also tried to lessen the UNL team’s ethos by questioning their knowledge.  For instance, a UNL team member jokingly talked of the invention of microwave pizza in response to a question he probably had deemed irrelevant at the time.  When the British woman responded, she said her opponent couldn’t even come up with the invention date of microwave pizza.  All the rhetorical devices were effective, but I would’ve much rather listened to an argument based on fact.  It wasn’t a political debate.

               I also did not enjoy how much both teams concentrated on a definition argument.  The debate almost turned into what should be deemed creative instead of if social media is affecting that creativity.  It was an easy way to distract the audience away from the core issue.

               Finally, based on my own knowledge of the issue, I wished the teams had concentrated on certain issues more than others.  I do believe social media is infringing on creativity, but I believe this because of facts about filter bubbles and not what the UNL team concentrated on.  Polarization on social media sites causes a person to see things similar to himself.  If he is only seeing things he already believes in, yes he might be pleased with the feeling of being right, but nothing is there to challenge his ideas or inspire him to come up with something different.  Creative inspiration for art or ideas has to make a person look at something differently, so looking at the same stuff all the time will not do much.

               I left the debate wanting more.  The persuasion was impressive, and there were time constraints on the teams.  However, I thought they appealed to the audience too much in trying to win us over.  Then again, this was the first formal debate I have been to, so maybe I was just expecting something different.  As in ancient Greece, part of the purpose was entertainment.  The audience has to feel like they are involved in the argument and not being spoken at.  Also, I knew the issue a little better than most just because of the nature of our class, so I could see where the arguments had holes or where the debaters had to leave out supporting facts in order to get on with their speech. 

               Beyond the content of the debate, I walked away with one very big impression.  Rhetoric can be dangerously manipulative if the audience isn’t well informed.  Humans are creatures of emotions, and very rarely do they just listen to the facts.  I recognized how the debaters were trying to sway my emotions, and perhaps I felt slightly offended that they were confident in manipulating the audience.  I think this issue of a naïve audience could improve if people attended more debates.  However, since this isn’t all that possible, people only need to realize the rhetorical devices that affect them every day.  Then they can recognize why they are being persuaded during conversations or presentations that really matter.   

               One last note:  It was pretty cool to listen to people debate in British accents.   

Instant Gratification Taken Too Far: Technology's Effect on Language

Ever since the first humans discovered their ability to communicate, language has been an exceedingly powerful tool in the way we have dealt with situations. As times changed, our communication did too. Cave paintings became grunts and grunts became words and our words have become eloquently put together speech. Over time, words have destroyed cities and established governments. They have created relationships and bonds and kept centuries of history alive. However has this cultural evolution into a new age of technology affected our ability to communicate in a negative manner? Our language skills have seemingly taken a turn for the worse as the message we are trying to send quickly takes precedence over the detail and emotion behind it. Long gone are the days of long written letters in exchange for a much quicker and more convenient text message. The intent of our communication has also changed. More often than not, we say things because we “can” rather than because we “should”. While these new type of technologies such as text messaging or social media may satisfy our need for instant communication, they bring upon more consequences than we may have imagined.
Bigger, faster, stronger. That has forever been the goal of the human race. With more technology, there is an influx of new ways to communicate meaning we have the ability to contact anyone, even those across the world, in less than a second. While this new found ability has its obvious benefits, it may also cause us to forget the value and power that words can hold. Let alone the toll it has taken on our spelling and grammatical skills and memory, under this new blanket of protection, we have seemingly also become desensitized to the abuse of language. Common websites such as Facebook or YouTube have strings of hurtful demeaning comments made by people hiding under the anonymity of a username. While some may argue that this anonymity allows people to express themselves openly, we often times forget we are talking to an actual person rather than a megapixel screen.
The human love for instant gratification has clearly had a negative effect on our language. No longer do we read the whole novel because why bother when SparkNotes exists? While I too am guilty of this, the consequences of these newfound shortcuts can be severe. Despite various studies throwing evidence of the benefit of books in our faces, we continue to take the faster and easier way out. There is something to be said about completing a task full and through without taking a shorter route. In essence, to most, a handwritten letter will always hold more meaning than the same thing typed in an email or Facebook message. Perhaps, we as a society need to put instant gratification aside and take some time to fully realize the impact that words and language can have. 

Net Neutrality, Cyber Monday, and Activism?

            In class we discussed the controversy surrounding Net Neutrality. With the impending decision by the FCC, politicians and websites have urged citizens to take a stance. They have done so through a myriad of media advocating for their side.  Large Internet service providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, have tried to appeal to the ideologies of the free market system to back up their claim. For advocates of Net Neutrality, they have utilized hyperbolic statements about tyranny and the loss of liberty.
 Although both sides of the debate have predominantly tried to appeal to the politics of the American people, it hasn’t been decisively effective. So if we want to open up a fruitful discourse about Net Neutrality, politics may not be the way to get peoples attention. And what gets most people’s attention this time of year, and this upcoming week in particular? Shopping. The sometimes-violent frenzies at shopping malls on Black Friday depict American’s hunger to get the best deal possible. Bargain hunting has become a rush and reward, and shoppers are not finding the best deals in brick and mortar stores anymore. As a medium for sales, the Internet has increased in popularity for consumers. Economists report that the drop in Black Friday sales would be made up by Cyber Monday. The chart below is a projection of the percentages of sales made on Cyber Monday.

            The increase in online shopping, unknowingly, puts consumers in the middle of the battle for Net Neutrality. Here’s how: many of the Cyber Monday deals are given to shoppers that can click the mouse first and scoop up the reduced priced goods. However if the service providers can throttle websites like Amazon’s servers, any Amazon user that tries to purchase an item will not be quite as fast. In is this game of seconds, throttling can mean the difference between getting that 50-inch flat screen at 60% off to only 20%. If Net Neutrality proponents can make the case that it would affect everybody’s pocketbooks, they would have a much better chance at pushing the public’s awareness and outrage over the issue.        
Ultimately, revoking Net Neutrality can affect the bottom lines for consumers and companies. This puts a seasonal spin on the issue and will show how far the implications of Net Neutrality are. Although this is a tenuous and merely correlational approach to the issue, it can lead to a larger and broader discussion about a free Internet. Personally, I enjoyed the video that we made in class, with its gotcha journalism, but sadly too many Americans have little interest in politics to seek it out. And as a major tenant of precise rhetoric, knowing the audience is integral to persuasion. Thus a light and popular video or article about holiday shopping and Net Neutrality would be the bait to lure in prospective supporters. As well, bringing these two things together plays on one of the fundamentals for all rhetoric: kairos. An announcement concerning Cyber Monday in June would not be very helpful, but a well-timed article in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday would most likely rile up prospective buyers.
 As earlier stated, Net Neutrality unknowingly affects many consumers, so any rhetoric should strive to include them. Essentially, it would be powerful to redirect all of the energy spent on Black Friday to activism against the ISP’s and FCC. Even though the plan may be circumstantial, it, nonetheless, highlights the need for Net Neutrality in a myriad of situations.


Visual vs Textual Means of Communication and Entertainment

      Books and other written works have been around for ages and ages. Books that are thousands of years old are still read today, books that are over fifty to one hundred years old are made out be classics and held in high esteem. These forms of written communication, entertainment, and storytelling are almost timeless. Written works are not the only form of storytelling and entertainment, in the present, or in the past. Another form of the art of portraying a story is through plays and through acting. Plays have been around also for extensive amounts of history. Some of the plays that were created long ago, such as Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet have been around, performed as they were written, for centuries. Books and plays have been around, in generally the wording and way they were created through the ages. What makes these forms of storytelling so resistant to time? Before we answer that question directly, we need to look at some of the ways we now have to tell stories.
     In the Twenty-First century, and even way back through the Twentieth century, other mediums of storytelling were invented. The biggest and most prevalent creation was the pre-recorded visual depiction of a story which could be shot at different times and molded together. That creation came to be known as the movie. The popularity of the movie grew and grew into the incredible entertainment industry of today, that rakes in vast amounts of money. Movies are a great way to visually represent a story that would otherwise be made into a book or a play. New movies are being created all the time to continue the industry making money and also to keep viewers interested. If new movies are not made, people quickly become bored with movies as the movies become older. A movie as a story is good to be told once, or for one generation, and then for the most part aren't of use any more. "That's not true", one might say, "Movies like Snow White, King Kong, and West Side Story were made as movies long ago and are still watched today." That brings up a strong point, but the problem with that line of thinking is that the original creation, the movie that was first made about the story has become obsolete. Movies are only good for a small chunk of time until they become useless and have to be given up or remade to still hold interest. What is the difference between movies and books/plays? Why does one stand the test of time and the other fade away after a few years? 
      Movies, books, and plays are all forms of telling a story to an audience. The same story could be told from all three of the different perspectives, but last better as a book or play than as a movie. The difference that creates this inability of a movie to last through the years is technology. The one thing that makes a movie so great is also the aspect that causes the demise of the product. The general trend with technology is extremely simple to follow and easy to understand. A new invention or update comes out and is able to be purchased or acquired, the product (movie, game, software, even hardware) is highly bought for a few years, a new movie, a new computer, or updated software comes out, and the old version is obsolete and almost worthless. Technology works in that vicious cycle of being the newest, best, and most sought out tech for a few years and then becomes completely worthless just down the road. Through looking at how movies are bought and watched, it is easy to tell that the bane of technology versus time transfers into the realm of communication and entertainment. Movies as communication are not able to last well, because they are a form of technology. Books and plays on the other hand, can last for an extremely long time due to the fact that they are not based upon technology or the new version. Technology has served to help destroy our communication and ability to story-tell well.

The Undeclared Holiday of Advertisements

What a wonderful time of year it is! Thanksgiving has recently passed and Christmas is on the way. Our stomachs are full of Turkey, our gifts are bought for Christmas, and our favorite football teams are concluding their seasons. The weather in Nebraska is becoming chilly and the leaves have fallen. Along with the changes in weather and spirit, the changes in advertising are also around the corner. This occurs once a year and lasts from around Thanksgiving until Christmas. Companies put more finances into advertising and the majority of advertisements involve a cheery Christmas theme. The Undeclared Holiday of Advertisements has arrived.

Turn on your TV or radio and it won't take long for a commercial break. We, as the audience, are forced to listen to/watch the advertisements presented before us by the rhetors (companies producing the advertisements). What better way to get an audience's attention than to play on their emotions. With Christmas Break being the light at the end of the tunnel for students around the country, we love hearing Christmas carols, making a list of gifts we want, and wearing those hideous Christmas sweaters we get once a year. The spirits are high and marketing companies love that. As mentioned in Rhetoric in Civic Life, The key to appealing to an audience is identification. "Identification is a communicative process through which people are unified on the basis of common interests or characteristics." A common interest among the people of the United States is that we love the holiday of Christmas  (assuming we leave out Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch). By playing on this shared interest, advertisements are created to appeal to a wide audience.

 A new holiday has been created that lasts from Thanksgiving to Christmas and is not based on religion, race, or ethnicity. The Holiday of Advertisements is among us. According to, "The United States' retail industry generated over three trillion U.S. dollars during the holidays in 2013." This made up for 19.2 percent of all retail industry sales that year. How is it possible for such a dramatic increase in sales to occur so commonly around the same time every year? I believe an understanding of rhetoric can explain the reasoning behind this.

One way to explain the increase in sales during Christmas is by applying the rhetorical definition of performance. As defined in Rhetoric and Civic Life, performance is "All the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants." The commercials are the activity created by a certain company which attempts to influence the shopping habits of the audience. The performance causes an immediate response by the audience. For example, a simple car commercial will draw the attention of viewers interested in that car. I believe that car commercials that show Santa delivering a car or the car being gifted during Christmas draws the attention of all viewers. Instead of thinking "Wow, I could buy that car if I wanted," Viewers think "How awesome would it be if I was gifted that car." While it is highly unlikely to have a car gifted to you, you can more easily gift yourself (assuming the car is within your budget). While we generally think of a performance as being a theatrical work of art performed for an audience, the commercials we see daily are also performances.

A second explanation to the increase in sales is the identity behind the commercials. Rhetoric and Civic Life defines Identity as "The physical and/or behavioral attributes that make a person recognizable as a member of a group." I believe this relates to Christmas sales due to the theme that is so common in holiday commercials. The scenes involving a Christmas tree, Santa, etc. allow the viewer to recognize the product as being associated with the group of emotions that standards of Christmas (a time of giving, family, and joy). I encourage you to watch the video below to see what I would consider to bee a standard commercial by Best Buy.

This commercial combines humor with a wide variety of products to send a message to the viewer. Personally, the only thing I would give Best Buy after watching that commercial is a chuckle after the man slapped himself in the face over not buying a 4-D television. Now, take a look at a Christmas commercial by Best Buy

This commercial also adds humor combined with detailed information about the sale being offered on laptops. If I was wanting to buy a product such as a laptop from Best Buy, I would much rather buy it after watching the Christmas commercial instead of the standard commercial. The excitement shown by the wife holding a present under the Christmas tree reminds the viewer of the audience he/she feels when in the same situation. This commercial does a great job of using the identity of Christmas to influence the audience.

Companies around the U.S. have great success during Christmas and i believe that is mostly due to the advertisements. The "Holiday of Advertisements" concludes in my opinion with the Super Bowl. The one thing that is nearly as famous as the Super Bowl is the advertisements shown during the championship football game. Companies spend millions of dollars to produce the greatest performance of an advertisement to be shown during the Super Bowl. Think back on the previous Super Bowls. While you might not be able to remember who played or what the final score was, I'm sure you can remember at least one memorable commercial you saw during the game.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree that there is an undeclared holiday of advertisements between Thanksgiving and Christmas? What other ways are rhetoric used in retail sales? Lastly, is the money that companies spend during this time worth it? Feel free to leave a comment!

"Topic: U.S. Christmas Season." N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Rhetoric in Civic Life - Catherine Helen Palczewski, Richard Ice, John Fritch


How Your Knowledge of Rhetoric Can Help You Succeed During Finals Week


I am sure most of you are familiar with the term “persona” by now, but here is a little refresher: In the past, persona was used to describe a mask worn in theatrical performances. These guises were used to portray a specific character or mood. Flash-forward several hundred years, and the definition of persona still maintains much of the theatrical backbone as it did historically. Our textbook Rhetoric in Civic Life, defines persona as: “…the character, role, identity, authority, and image a rhetor constructs and performs during a rhetorical act” (Palczewski 150). At this point, you are probably wondering: How does this have anything to do with finals? Well, let me explain.

            Let’s take a jab at the historical definition of a persona. Think of yourself as an actor/actress, and finals week is your performance. Finals week requires a different kind of persona; you need to choose the correct “mask” to wear in order to succeed. Now this can be taken two different ways – literally and theoretically. Obviously nobody is going to go out and buy a theatrical mask to wear around finals week, but I do something of the sort, personally. Whenever I have an important test, I wear my favorite red polo hat that I have denoted as my “thinking cap.” Call me superstitious, but it works, and that finite sense of security can make all the difference in the world. I’m not suggesting you do the same, but perhaps find something along the same lines and try it out for yourself. In the more figurative sense, the right “mask” can be synonymous with the right mindset. It may be cliché to say, but if you put yourself in the right mindset to succeed, more often than not you will.  This leads us into the rhetorical definition, in which there are 5 major elements:

1. Character

Character, to sum things up, is the feeling a trust an audience has toward a rhetor. In the case of finals, you are your own audience. Nobody else is watching you, and you have to learn to “trust” yourself.

2. Role

Throughout the day, everybody takes on a variety of roles, whether that may be the role of student, friend, employee, and so on. During finals week, your primary focus should be on the role of student.

3. Identity

For the majority of us, this is our first go at college finals. Throughout the next few weeks, each of us will be constructing an identity that could very well stick with us through the rest of our college careers: “People’s identities are not fixed, but developed throughout the choices they make” (Palczewski 160). Do not let your “finals week identity” be hindered by poor decisions. Learn how to prepare well now, and it will carry on with you into the future.

4. Authority

In rhetoric, this is “a rhetor’s possession of socially recognized power” (Palczewski 163). To relate this to finals week: take command of your success, and go into finals week with an aggressive attitude. You should be excited to prove to the teacher what you know, rather than scared about what you don’t.

5. Image

Ever heard of the saying “dress for success”? If so, try it some time. Half the battle is feeling good about yourself. Just like a rhetor enters a speech dressed in proper attire, a successful student enters a test in the same way. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit/dress to each final exam, after all, it’s all about confidence and putting yourself in the right mindset.

            To wrap things up, I thought I might share with you my top five ways of relieving stress during finals week:

5. Make a task list

This may seem like an obvious “duh,” but in reality, it really does help. If anything, it puts all of the things you have floating around in that brain of yours in physical form, and helps put things in perspective. There is no better feeling than crossing off an item on that finals week checklist.

4. Study with friends

If you have a class with a personal friend, study for the final exam with them! Chances are both of you will be good at something the other is not, which can be highly beneficial. If nothing else, it’s always nice to know that you are not the only one suffering through the week.

3. Listen to music

This doesn’t even have to be while you are studying. Personally, I have troubles focusing on homework and listening to music at the same time. However, I always crank some Jack Johnson whenever I am on a study break, and it helps. A lot.  

2. Keep your study area clean

A clean workspace equals a clean mind. Organize your books and binders to your liking, and you will find yourself being much more productive.

1. Exercise

In a recent shadowing experience with a chiropractor, he told me this was the best advice he could give for finals. When you feel like you have the least amount of time for it, that is when it is most important to do so. Don’t believe me? Take a look here:

            If any of you have other things that help you relieve stress during finals week, feel free to respond!

May Clinic:
Rhetoric in Civic Life - Catherine Helen Palczewski, Richard Ice, John Fritch