Saturday, June 27, 2015

Classic Daily Show Satirizes Apophasis in News: The Rhetorical Art of Asserting by Denial in Media

I'm not saying you're an idiot if you don't use this post to teach about my favorite rhetorical device, but I think you'll find this classic Daily Show clip from 1999 both hilarious and useful for making media literacy learners aware of apophasis, or assertion by denial, if you're not an idiot (see what I did there!). The comedy in the clip comes from correspondents ironically critiquing news media for focusing on critiquing news media, for example: "Media talking about media makes me sick." See if you can note each instance of apophasis in the clip, and I'll list my notes after the jump below.

I remember a philosophy professor explaining the power of apophasis in relation to the power of suggestion as he told us, "Don't think of pink elephants." And, of course, everyone did. Linguistic signifiers of negation may frame our understanding, but they do not negate our attention to the images we see or hear expressed. Becoming sensitive to persuasive rhetorical devices supports learners in developing heightened awareness of such media techniques, but I wonder whether this awareness has any mitigating effect on the persuasiveness of the message or whether it affects our view of a speaker's credibility. Once you start to notice apophasis, you see it and hear it everywhere, particularly in political discourse. And, as the clip above shows, you can use its simple irony to great humorous effect. However, I don't think I'd have learners practice using the rhetorical device themselves since it ultimately seems deceitful to me. Perhaps the way to go would be to start a discussion about how learners feel about the use of apophasis in communication--is it ethical, deceitful, effective, justifiable, etc.? Then, maybe you could use a tool like Mediabreaker to expose egregious uses of apophasis in politics, news, or advertisements.

Still, studying apophasis raises a perennial issue in media education about studying harmful media messages in order to recognize (to avoid) and perhaps mitigate them, a dilemma captured in Vance Degeneres's comment,
"I have a clip, but I should warn you, it involves shocking sensationalism that should not be shown except as an example of what not to show.
I suppose the solution to the pedagogical dilemma around whether or not to show bad media to "innoculate" learners lies in balance and shared agency. I think that we need to learn to question and recognize techniques in all sorts of media messages, and that we might be better off selecting texts for analysis and messages/modes for media productions collectively, with our learning group, or at least taking turns, with an eye for balancing our exposure to positive and negative models of communication, and for developing ways for determining such value. It's tough to keep learning open, collaborative, reflective, creative and critical, but I think it's worth the effort, not that I'm saying you're a lazy disgrace to the profession if you don't try to do so.

[AFTER THE JUMP, my list of examples of apophasis from the classic Daily Show clip above] 

I spotted six instances of apophasis in this satire of media watching media, how many did you see?

00:26 "Media talking about media makes me sick" -Vance Degeneres

00:47 "A shocking, never before seen consortium on sensationalism. I have a clip, but I should warn you, it involves shocking sensationalism that should not be shown except as an example of what not to show." -Vance Degeneres

01:13 "Did you see that? That was totally unnecessary." -Vance Degeneres

01:42 "W're working on a gentleman's oath to to stop pulling jail bar graphics over criminals unless they've been charged with a crime"--Mo Rocca [Shows jail bar graphics over Jon Stewart as he begins to say it doesn't seem like an important issue]

03:00 "I've signed a pledge not to lay Halloween sound effects under slow motion perp walks" --Steve Carrell [shows perp walk with Halloween sound effects]

03:20 "Yet another testament to how well we [media] are policing ourselves, "--Vance Degeneres. "As the Daily Show senior correspondent, I have to say I find this self congratulatory pomposity quite disturbing. Our responsibility is clear: dignity and restraint, nothing lurid or gratuitous [woman reaches out from behind shower curtain to caress his naked shoulders], report the facts and don't insert yourself into the story [a man appears from behind shower curtain to join the caressing]. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go freak on some bones." --Stephen Colbert

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