Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rhetoric and Symbols

As we discovered in class during the bug, vegetable, mom activity (you know the one where I told you to write or draw these things on a piece of paper and most everyone refused to step on "Mom"), symbols have power beyond being merely well symbols (a symbol is something that represents an idea, actual thing or process, but is not the idea, thing, or process itself). We ascribe meaning to symbolic things and sometimes come to see those symbols as representing the thing in itself (e.g. responses such as "I'm not stepping on my mom!"). One of the definitions of rhetoric that I offered was the study of human symbolic activity. Rhetoric is interested in symbolic activity for this exact reason - symbols come to stand in for real things and we go to a lot of effort to preserve symbols. In their blog No Caption Needed, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites analyze visual rhetoric and how it relates to democracy and citizenship. In this brief post, they discuss the use of symbols in protest and how they come to stand in for something else. Here is the link:
http://www.nocaptionneeded.com/2011/10/symbols-of-change-when-nothing-is-changing/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NoCaptionNeeded+%28NO+CAPTION+NEEDED%29

Questions to consider:
1. Can you think of some other examples of symbols and what they represent and what happens when these symbols are threatened/distorted/changed? (For example, in class I mentioned how burning the American flag is a symbolic act that evokes very strong responses from people because its seen as unpatriotic.)
2. What do you think is Hariman and Lucaites' criticism(s) of the broom protest in Brazil? What is the broom protest standing in for?
3. Why do symbols matter?
4. What happens when symbols come to stand in for social protest/change/revolution?

9 comments:

  1. The article argued that those in power know they need to protect the symbols(such as the bull) because they are the protesters/demonstrators most effective weapon. I believe this will lead to a more effective way of protesting and we are seeing the start of that with the Occupy Wallstreet movement.

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  2. Symbols are important because if you don't stand for something you will fall for anything. Symbols matter because they relate to culture and it represents what you are, who you are, and what you stand for.

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  3. Symbols are a way of showing how we feel about something, rather than just talking about it. When people burn the American flag, it sends a stronger message rather than just talking about how they feel about their issues with America. One of my personal favorite use of symbolism is at the end of the movie "Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince," when Dumbledore dies, the students hold up their lit wands in a symbol of their respect for him. Messages sent through symbols can be much stronger than those sent through words.

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  4. Symbols are a representation of what we believe in. For example, a vegetarian believes in not eating meat; or having a alien poster in ur room can signal to people that u believe that they exist. Symbols tell others more about ourselves and what we stand for and are very important when it comes to expressing ourselves.

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  5. What would words be if there wasn't any meaning behind them? There couldn't be anything in this world without the use of symbols, or anything to talk about or discuss or define, or live. Language in itself is defined as symbols that are put together to express a point. Each letter itself is a symbol, and added together with other letters form a different symbolic meaning. Wether it is with the English alphabet, or hebrew, or Chinese or Japanese, it is a function of symbols that make a point. As humans, in our cultures we assign and form meanings to certain symbols, or certain words that can mean more or less to us, for example. The word Tea. Leaf juice, boiled leaves that make a drink. In america, the most basic form of tea would be cooled tea. In Britain, it would be most likely referred to as afternoon tea, that is served hot with sugars, milk, or something else. In Texas, and the other lower states of the US, it would mean sweetened tea that is served cold with ice. In the northern states it would be unsweetened tea. There is different meanings all of the same word, the same symbol for different relative countries. And to those who say words do not mean anything are gravely mistaken.

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  6. I think that symbols mean nothing if you can't "back them up" in a way. Symbols can be a huge factor in the way people see us and how people think about us. Communication would be harder without symbols because our language has 26 letters (symbols). But we create the meaning for these symbols.

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  7. Symbols help people to express how they feel, without necessarily digging themselves into a hole. Looking at the broom protest in Brazil, Hariman and Lucaites say that the brooms stand for sweeping up the corruptness that is the Brazilian government. I'm not too familiar with Brazil's regime, but I get the feeling that if someone actually said that the crooked government needs to be eradicated, then he or she would probably be executed or exiled.

    Having symbols stand in for social protest/change/revolution gets people talking and beginning to realize that, "Yeah, maybe it IS time for change. We've lived this way long enough." If a person was to destroy a symbol, the people who believe in said symbol might see that person as an enemy; "If you're not with us, you're against us" kind of thing. Looking at the burning of the American flag example, the individuals who burn the flag could be seen as unpatriotic, or even a terrorist. Although they are not physically killing anyone, their burning of the American flag, a symbol of national pride, can still be seen as barbaric.

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  8. I think symbols are important and that you should know the meaning behind them, especially considering others tend to judge based on their ideas of what a certain symbols means. This can be true in something as seemingly meaningless as jewelry. An example of this would be a time when a friend gave my older sister a necklace that she (and my sister) thought was simply a pretty design. My sister found out that it was actually a symbol in witchcraft, after being asked about it by a practicing witch. My sister was giving the impression that she was involved in this particular sect because she was unaware of the symbolism.

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  9. I'd like to begin by saying that I stepped on "my mom" so I amy have mommy issues (haha) or I didn't catch that it was supposed to have a symbolic meaning and that I wasn't supposed to step on it. And I think symbols hold different meanings for different people. In other word one may see something as a symbol while another doesn't. Not saying I am a traitor or unpatriotic but if I saw an American flag burning I don't think I would become over the top angry and want to beat a person down for burning it. I mean who knows they could have been burning it because they live on the streets freezing to death and they need to set something on fire for survival.

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