Nathaniel Wright
WRIT 3671
Visual Rhetorical Analysis: “Liking isn’t helping”
The image being analyzed is part of an ad
meant to represent all forms of political “activism” voiced over social media that isn’t accompanied
by any real, concrete...
social mediaasopposedtoreal action.This ad campaignsoughtspecificallyto disruptthispattern.The
attemptwasto cause associat...
Works Cited
Blair,A.(1996). The PossibilityandActualityof VisualArguments. Argumentation and Advocacy.
Ehses,H.,& Lupton,E...
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Nathaniel Wright - Visual Document Analysis

Published on: Mar 3, 2016

Transcripts - Nathaniel Wright - Visual Document Analysis

  • 1. Nathaniel Wright WRIT 3671 Visual Rhetorical Analysis: “Liking isn’t helping” The image being analyzed is part of an ad campaign by Crisis Relief Singapore, a Christian foundation that works to assist countries in times of political and natural crises. It uses several rhetorical and visual tools to engage and persuade viewers, ultimately putting forth a compelling and effective visual argument, one which sends a message to online social and political activists everywhere. The Argument Anthony Blair offers a framework that identifies five necessary and explicit properties existing in all arguments. This structure can be used both as a test (does a potential argument contain all elements listed), and as a guideline with which to analyze, discern, and explain what an argument is claiming and how it is supporting that claim. Blair’s framework asserts that all arguments contain the following: 1) a claim, 2) support for the claim, 3) potential linguistic expression of the support, 4) potential linguistic expression of the claim and 5) an attempt to communicate the claim and the support (Blair, p. 24). Crisis Relief Singapore’s image, which I analyze using Blair’s criteria, features a severely injured child surrounded by people holding up their thumbs, with a small, single line of text reading “liking isn’t helping” in the upper left hand corner. This line of text, making a bold and straightforward declaration, can clearly be identified as the claim of the image, satisfying Blair’s first criteria. Of course, this claim, in a vacuum, is fairly meaningless, as it doesn’t specify what exactly is being liked, and what it isn’t helping. However, the visual elements making up the rest of the image simultaneously put the claim into context, and provide support for it. The two main visual elements of the image, the bedridden child and the thumbs surrounding him, combine to represent support for the main claim. First, the injured child, central to both the visual and the argument, is meant to represent, by way of synecdoche (a part representing a whole), the thousands of injured, sickly, and impoverished children that are suffering in the world today, ones which are central to many of Crisis Relief Singapore’s relief efforts (Ehses & Lupton, p. 11). The image again utilizes the synecdoche with the thumbs, which represent the thumb- shaped logo used to represent “likes” on Facebook (Figure 2). Generally speaking, the thumbs are Figure 1 - Crisis Relief Singapore's ad campaign
  • 2. meant to represent all forms of political “activism” voiced over social media that isn’t accompanied by any real, concrete action, such as donating money, volunteer work, etc. The interaction of these two symbolic elements manifests as support for the initial assertion; “liking isn’t helping” is demonstrated by the fact that mere support for a cause (the thumbs), while well intentioned, doesn’t actually do much, if anything, to combat the issues that they’re meant to address (the child). Figure 2 - Facebook "like" button, represented by the thumbs in the main image, which in turn represents all social media support that isn’t accompanied by action. The third andfourth elementsof Blair’sframeworkdemand the potentialforexplainingthe argument’s claimandsupportlinguistically.Inotherwords,forthisimage tobe consideredan argument,we shouldbe able toclearlyarticulate the claimthatit’smakingandthe reasoningthatit putsforth. The implicitclaimhere isacall to action,a demandaimedatthose in the worldwhocare, askingthat they expandfromsocial mediato make a real difference inthe world.Thisissupportedby the assertionthat merely voicingyoursupportfora cause or organizationisnotenoughtofurtherthat cause. Finally,Blair’sfifthexplicitelementof argumentationisthatthe argumentmakesaclearly demonstratedefforttocommunicate the claimandreasons.Seeingashow there’slittleelse inthe picture otherthanthe boy,the thumbs,andthe text,and alsoconsideringthe worldwide familiarityof the “like”sign,the argumentandsupportisexplicitlyexplainedtoreaders,containingalmostno ambiguitywhatsoever. Thisisespeciallytrue whenconsidering thatthe targetaudience of the image are internetactivists,whoalreadyare,bydefault,avidusersof social mediasuchasFacebook. The Rhetoric Beyondlookingatsimplyhowthisad constructsits visual argument,arhetorical analysisisa meansby whichwe can analyze howitattemptstomake that argument compelling.The classical Aristoteliandefinitionof rhetoricintermsof ethos (appeal tocredibility), pathos(appeal toemotion), and logos (appeal tologic) offersaframeworkwhichcanbe usedto analyze the inherentrhetorical techniquesusedinall arguments. (LaGrandeur,p.125) KevinLaGrandeurremindsusthatthe scope of these toolsare by nomeanslimitedtooral andwrittenarguments,andcan justifiablybe employedto understand visual arguments,likethe one beinganalyzedhere,justaswell (p.115). The internet,beingarelativelyimpersonal anddisconnectedmedium, lendsitself tothe subconsciousseparationof actionsfromconsequences. Inotherwords,forindividualinternetusers, howcertainactionsmake us feel oftenmattersmore thanthe actual effecttheyhave onthe otherside of the screen,since we’re unable tosee the actual impactthat we’re making.CrisisRelief Singapore undoubtedlysawthisas the reasonthatotherwise caringindividualsmightbe satisfiedwith a“like”on
  • 3. social mediaasopposedtoreal action.This ad campaignsoughtspecificallyto disruptthispattern.The attemptwasto cause associationbetween socialmediaactivists thatittargetsand those holdingup theirthumbs inthe picture,puttingviewers inasituationwhere,byassociation, they’re forcedto confrontthisinjuredboyface toface,realizingthe uncomfortable andironictruth:theyreallyaren’t doingmuchof anything. The ultimate goal of thisverypersonal approachisto invoke astrong sense of guiltinviewers, compellingthemtofeel personallyresponsible fornotdoingenoughtosupportaparticularcause. This sense of guilt,representingAristotle’s pathos oremotional appeal, isespeciallybolsteredbythe use of a sad lookingchild,missingaleg,layingatthe centerof the picture.While usingagrownman or a child witha lesssevere injurywouldconveythe exactsame logical argument,childrentypically invoke deeper senses of responsibilityandguilt,andthe factthat the childis missingalegonlyaddsto the sense of helplessness thathe givesoff.The thumbsthemselvesalsoaddtothissense of guilt,creating,bywayof antithesis,astrongcontrastbetweenthispitiableinjuredchildandthe signalsof joyousapproval all aroundhim.Since the image aimsto putthe viewersinthe shoesof those holdingupthe thumbs,it attemptsto make themfeel personallyresponsibleforthe abhorrent sense of approval beingdisplayed inthe picture. Alongwith the strongemotional appeal,there’salsoanimportant logicalfoundation tothe image.Campbell arguesthatone of the primarymodesof reasoninginvisual argumentationisthe drawingof comparisons,andthisimage drawsseveral of them. Firstof all,the injuredchildrepresents the fact that there are,withouta doubt,people sufferinginthe worldtoday,justlike him.Secondly, the thumbsrepresentthe factthatlikes,alone,donotcontribute tothe well-beingof those people. Thisis demonstratedbythe factthat the childlaysinbed,unaffectedbythe people aroundhiminanyway. So, the logical argumenthere isthatthissituationisan abstractionrepresentativeof the largerpicture; people aresuffering(the child),andsocial mediasupport(the thumbs) is nothelpingthem. Further,the sense of approval conveyedbythe thumbs issimilartocivil rightsactivistMartinLutherKingJr.’s argumentthat “he whoaccepts evil withoutprotestingagainstitisreallycooperatingwithit”(King Jr.). The ad makesthe argumentthat failingtoact in waysthat promote real,lastingchange isequivalentto ignoringthe problem,thusindirectlyallowingittoperpetuate. The Conclusion CrisisRelief Singapore ultimatelyputs forthanargumentaimed atsocial mediausers, telling themthat whatthey’re doing,whilewell-intentioned,isessentiallymeaninglesswhenitcomesto combattingworldwidesuffering. Of course,thismaybe anoversimplificationof the impactsocial media can have,as online advocacy can raise awareness,organize large groups,andcreate asense of communityforcharitable foundations.However,the logical argumenthere,andone that’sundeniable, isthat advocacy inand of itself isnotenoughtocombatthe many issuesfacingthe worldtoday. By representingtheirtargetaudienceinthe image,CrisisRelief Singapore furthersthisclaimwiththe bold assertionthatyou, the viewer,isindirectlyresponsible forthiskindof injustice,andthatonlyby contributinginamore significantandmeaningful waycanyou prove your worthas a morallyrighteous person.Thus,a compellingsynthesisof logical andemotional persuasionisemployedinmakingthis argumenta compellingone.
  • 4. Works Cited Blair,A.(1996). The PossibilityandActualityof VisualArguments. Argumentation and Advocacy. Ehses,H.,& Lupton,E. (1988). Rhetorical Handbook. KingJr, M. L. (1967, April 4).BeyondVietnam - A Time toBreak Silence.NewYork,New York. LaGrandeur,K. (n.d.).Digital ImagesandClassicPersuasion.

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