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This is my entry this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This week's topic is "Polemic."

Hi, everyone! You probably all know me already, but for those who don't, are you hiding under a rock? Seriously, though, I'm Sham Flannery, and I host unbelievably popular shows on both cable television and talk radio. I am thrilled that your professor asked me to speak to your Video Production class. Professor Greer tells me that this semester you'll be producing your own shows to air on the local cable network, so I'm here to tell you a little of what I know. You probably won't be as successful as me, but who knows?

Now, they call me a pundit, but I like to call myself a truth-teller. And I'll tell you a little truth right now. I'm not interested in arguing; I know I'm right! (LAUGHS) What I'm interested in doing is getting my version of the truth ingrained into people's heads. That's the only real way to change the world. Trying to "convince" somebody? You're wasting your breath.

Let's start by talking about some ancient history: Aristotle. Try bringing that name up on a cable news show, and you'll see how quickly a guest's eyes will glaze over. That's OK: their lack of knowledge is my advantage.

Aristotle said that all arguments can be won by using one of three appeals: logos, ethos and pathos.

Now, according to Arostotle's stuffy arguments -- did you notice what I did there? Sounding like the "common man" by putting down intellectualism? You'd be surprised how effective that is. Anyway, as I was saying, Aristotle talked about logos, or logic, saying you could convince people by making strong, clear claims; providing strong evidence; and acknowledging the arguments of the opposition. Clearly, Aristotle was in lala-land.

Logical arguments are overrated. Do you think that even half of my audience has the patience to listen through a half hour of logical arguments? Do millions of people show up for the National Debate Club Championship? (SNORTS LOUDLY) Yeah, right. Look, I provide plenty of facts and figures to back up my arguments. I bring stacks of paper with me into the studio, so that I can point emphatically to them. At my direction, my graphics person prepares graphics with statistics on them. It's hard to argue against a bar graph. My production assistants dig up damaging quotes that I can use against my enemies. Some of them are even more damaging if you leave off the second half of the sentence.

But here's the thing. None of that matters. The truth is -- and I'm here to talk about the truth, right? -- the truth is that I can produce evidence to back up any point I want to make. When necessary, I can bend the facts a little to fit my purpose. I can always come up with "facts." But you know what matters even more than facts? Repetition. Don't believe me, ask John Kerry what it's like to get Swiftboated. The more often you repeat something, the more it rings true.

I'm not going to waste much time talking about Aristotle's second appeal: ethos. He seemed to believe that an audience is more likely to side with a speaker if he establishes himself as well-informed, confident, sincere and honest, and humane and considerate. Let me break it to you gently: the nice guys don't win. Not on the football field, or in politics, and definitely not on cable television.

Rather than bending over backwards to make yourself seem like a bleeding heart softie "good guy," you need to make the other guy look bad. Accuse them of distortion, unfairness, and dishonesty. Rail loudly against their loose morals and intolerant ideas. Proclaim that you stand on the shoulders of Justice itself, while your opponent wallows in a pit of indecency. You might think that's going too far, and you know what I tell you? It's not far enough. Not in my line of work, baby.

Am I getting you riled up? Am I upsetting you? Or are you secretly hoping you get a chance to high-five me later? That's called pathos, and it's the final appeal. An appeal to pathos is an appeal to the emotions. Aristotle said that if you do it well, you can reinforce logical arguments and create a bond with your audience. He recommended appealing to such higher emotions as idealism, beauty, humor, nostalgia or pity. Yes, well, he had it part right.

Emotion is very effective, he's right. But he left out a few. Appealing to beauty and nostalgia: how quaint! Appealing to fear can be much more effective. You don't believe me: look at the ads for the presidential election. Sure, they started out all nice and optimistic, talking about how their guy is a great leader, blah, blah, blah. But as we get closer and closer to the election, you see nothing but negative ads, all of them trying to convince you what sort of fresh hell you'll find yourself in if you elect the wrong guy.

According to Aristotle, if you use all of his appeals well, you'll convince your audience. Unfortunately, you would probably also put them to sleep. Like it or not, if you want to be a success, you'll want to forget about Aristotle and listen to Sham Flannery. (POINTS AT HIMSELF WITH A JERK OF THE THUMB) Hey, I promised you the truth, didn't I?

Any questions?

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( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 25th, 2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
I think your buddy Sham is in charge of the news channel...
Jun. 26th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
He may well be. Or someone like him. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Jun. 25th, 2012 09:13 pm (UTC)
Fear and negativity seems to be a common way to convince people of almost anything. This is a fun take on the topic!
Jun. 26th, 2012 01:08 am (UTC)
Thank you! Neither side is immune to using that technique, either.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 26th, 2012 01:08 am (UTC)
Thanks! I thought this was a less pedantic way to approach the subject. Otherwise, I feared I'd put people to sleep, just like Sham says. :)
Jun. 26th, 2012 01:02 am (UTC)
I think you hit the nail on the head here. :)
Jun. 26th, 2012 01:07 am (UTC)
I've watched enough cable news to be familiar with the techniques. At first I was going to write this piece as myself, talking about the Aristotelian appeals, which we taught to English 15, freshman composition courses when I was a grad student. But I liked the idea of turning them topsy-turvy instead.
(no subject) - jem0000000 - Jun. 28th, 2012 04:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 26th, 2012 02:12 am (UTC)
I. Love. This.


Have you worked in news? Because you should. You'd fit right in with the 'cool' people...by which I mean the people who work FOR those people and make them look good, all while rolling their eyes.
Jun. 26th, 2012 02:43 am (UTC)
Yes, I did, actually. I was a Broadcast/Cable major as an undergrad but wasn't yet ready to move to a major city where all the jobs were. After going back to school to get a MFA in Poetry, I took a job as a reporter/assistant editor at a small newspaper with a circulation of about 6,000. My publisher said she had hoped I'd stick around and eventually take over as editor, but the weekly migraines took their toll. Ironically, that's when I moved to Philadelphia for a marketing job (another poor fit). Since then, I've primarily been doing transcription work and freelancing. I wrote business news for a while, but it made my brain dry up in my head. Nowadays, I mainly write entertainment pieces for Yahoo! but would love to find some more regular freelance gigs.

I have the wrong attitude to be in news; I'm not driven to find the next story, the next scoop. And I actually prefer that people like me. :)
(no subject) - alycewilson - Jun. 26th, 2012 02:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 26th, 2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
So true about the presidential ads.
Jun. 26th, 2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
Funny thing is: as much as people say they dislike negative ads, they still seem to work.
(no subject) - imafarmgirl - Jun. 27th, 2012 02:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 26th, 2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
Well, you may not be the only person to target the Murdochian empire this week, but I've enjoyed every such justified attack greatly, yours included. Well done.
Jun. 26th, 2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I deliberately made it non-specific, since I think the same faults can be found on both sides. But a certain network named after a long-nosed mammal was, indeed, major inspiration.
Jun. 26th, 2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
Darn you alycewilson, I hate voting for people right next to me in the polls...but I just can't resist. (Good stuff, I loved the character name.)
Jun. 26th, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks! The character name was a last-minute stroke of genius. This whole entry came together for me while driving home after dropping my husband at work, after a weekend of muddled thinking and struggling.

And since I always vote my conscience, and I liked your ranting diatribe, I'll vote for you, too, and we're even. :)
Jun. 26th, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
You've created quite the character here! You did a good job with his voice.
Jun. 27th, 2012 03:44 am (UTC)
Thank you. He's a cocky son-of-a-gun, isn't he?
Jun. 26th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
There's so much truth in here, it actually hurts. It shouldn't be true, but it is.

I really liked how you preented Aristotle's three components (which still make perfect sense), and then have Sham shoot down the first two. If people are impatient (or not very bright), or just not very ethical, the first two won't go very far.

It's the idea you win by appealing falsely to pathos that really gives me the shudders. This is the gameplan of virtually all pundits these days.

The more often you repeat something, the more it rings true.
And the superset of this is the Big Lie, where your falsehood is outragious, but saying it over and over again makes it seem (to certain people) as if it MUST be true, or wouldn't it just go away? Gah.

Well done. And you've got to love the character's name. ;)
Jun. 27th, 2012 03:45 am (UTC)
Thank you. And thank you, as well, for the detailed response. It's always great to get feedback from people about exactly what resonated with them. I'm notorious for watching my husband read things that are meant to be funny and then, every time he laughs, asking him why.
Jun. 27th, 2012 12:02 am (UTC)
Loved this--the voice, the playful tone, the use of Aristotle...a polemic about polemic of a sort...
Jun. 27th, 2012 03:46 am (UTC)
Glad you liked this. You can appreciate this: the original idea was to write as myself, wearing my former English teaching assistant hat. But I worried that would be too pedantic, so I came up with this angle.
Jun. 27th, 2012 03:27 am (UTC)
Makes me proud to be an American =/

Excellent entry!
Jun. 27th, 2012 03:47 am (UTC)
Thanks very much! (singing) Proud to be an American...
Jun. 27th, 2012 09:12 am (UTC)
You know, now I will always remember Aristotle's point here! Neat voice to carry that concept :)
Jun. 27th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
Good to know! Of course, you'll have to remember not to use the appeals the way that Sham recommends.
Jun. 27th, 2012 09:39 am (UTC)
Clever, and with so much going for it, it was on the spot, yet light, no wonder you have gone so far, and you are a special Mom....ahhh in awe. Keep being proud.
Jun. 27th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you! To be honest, I struggled with this topic and finally settled on an approach the morning it was due. It's kind of amazing it turned out as well as it did, considering my toddler was kicking me repeatedly while I was finishing up!
Jun. 27th, 2012 02:44 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this! It's a neat and creative angle for talking about Aristotelian rhetoric. Sham's voice is distinctive and amusing, and the speech itself rings true (is that only because there's repetition? Heh...). It's an insightful commentary on the state of commentary - sort of a meta-commentary, if you will. I love it, even while it depresses me. Great job. :)
Jun. 28th, 2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it. Believe me, I wish that what I wrote wasn't so true.
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