H1 Class 1.1

Jul 2

The Power of Images

We're used to thinking of rhetoric in terms of verbal expression, scrutinizing political speeches and news coverage for evidence of bias. But our thinking is also shaped by images. Caricatures influence us in an obvious way, holding something up for us to ridicule. Realistic drawings and photographs are far more subtle, purporting to depict the world as it is, even as they offer a selective sample.

This semester in Rhetoric we will focus on the power of images, movies, monuments and other visual artifacts. I will give some rudimentary instruction in the art of photography. And at the end of the term you will produce a short video essay.

In preparation for our first class, I have a brief HW prompt for you:

  • Watch this 4:30 clip from Newsy.com on a 2019 museum exhibit on the role played by Chinese workers in building the Transcontinental Railroad back in the 1860s. I'm particularly interested in the concept of erasure, as discussed by both the exhibit curator and a Stanford professor. Is it worse to be rendered invisible (as for example Chinese workers left out of the iconic photograph celebrating the joining of the Western with the Eastern railroad network in 1869)? Or is it worse to be caricatured, as witness the political poster shown at 2:41 in the video? Or, indeed, am I posing a false dichotomy in asking those questions?

Keep your response short: 3-5 sentences at most. At the same time, try to ground your response in specific details from primary sources presented in the video or in short but salient quotations from experts interviewed in the video.

In Class

Monuments and Myth

The French phrase “mise-en-scene” refers to everything that’s captured by the camera on a movie set: lighting, acting, props, scenery, etc.

Here’s a Handout from the UNC writing center characterizing Mise-en-scene analysis:

Mise-en-scene analysis is analysis of the arrangement of compositional elements in film—essentially, the analysis of audiovisual elements that most distinctly separate film analysis from literary analysis. Remember that the important part of a mise-en-scene analysis is not just identifying the elements of a scene, but explaining the significance behind them.

  • What effects are created in a scene, and what is their purpose?
  • How does the film attempt to achieve its goal by the way it looks, and does it succeed?

Audiovisual elements that can be analyzed include (but are not limited to): props and costumes, setting, lighting, camera angles, frames, special effects, choreography, music, color values, depth, placement of characters, etc. Mise-en-scene is typically the most foreign part of writing film analysis because the other components discussed are common to literary analysis, while mise-en-scene deals with elements unique to film…. Rewatching the film and creating screen captures (still images) of certain scenes can help with detailed analysis of colors, positioning of actors, placement of objects, etc. Listening to the soundtrack can also be helpful, especially when placed in the context of particular scenes.

Some example questions:

  • How is the lighting used to construct mood? Does the mood shift at any point during the film, and how is that shift in mood created?
  • What does the setting say about certain characters? How are props used to reveal aspects of their personality?
  • What songs were used, and why were they chosen? Are there any messages in the lyrics that pertain to the theme?”

(Source: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/film-analysis/ )

Here’s a video introduction, with a somewhat different emphasis, by Mr. Finley of RTHS:

Idealizing the South

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