I know I talk a lot about how important the rhetorical situation is, but really, today is my first time reading Lloyd Bitzer’s “The Rhetorical Situation,” Richard E. Vatz’s “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation,” and “Barbra Biesecker’s “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation.”
As I read Bitzer’s arguably cannonical piece, I thought a lot about this ‘reality of the situation’ business he keeps referring to (6). I wondered who was going to determine this ‘reality’ of a situation? Is it the speaker? Is it the audience? Is it someone else entirely?
Thank goodness Vatz comes along and sets us straight… or does he? First, as Biesecker later will point out, Vatz completely upends the rhetorical situation as Bitzer lays it down. But the part that’s the most important to me is when Vatz states that there exists a phenomenological perspective of the speaker (154), and that “meaning is not intrinsic” (156). These are concepts we have been talking about all throughout modern theory, and are important to point out. Who gets to decide what is ‘real’? How do we delineate the meanings of words when language is intrinsically broken?
And while I’m all for Biesecker’s invitation for rhetoricians to deconstruct, what I really want to talk about is what no one is talking about (take THAT Derrida and your white space!).
Vatz makes an interesting point when he claims that we highlight the events we see as important by talking about them – by participating in symbolic action generation: “When political commentators talk about issues they are talking about situations made salient, not something that became important because of its intrinsic predominance” (160). So according to Bitzer and Vatz… does dominant culture decide what is a situation and what is not?
As I mull over the ‘salient situations’ and the ‘reality of situations,’ I can’t help but think of what we don’t talk about when we don’t talk about women (a traditionally non-dominant piece of the society puzzle). The list of female taboos used to be really long – think propriety everyone – but it has thankfully shortened over the years, depending on who you spend your time with. One issue I’m ALWAYS fascinated with is menstruation. It’s so taboo, everyone in the room grows still when I mention it (which is somewhat often in all relativity of who mentions things in rooms). I did a quick google search and found this interesting blog entry about how even in commercials for menstruation protection (you know, tampons and pads), actual menstruation is not mentioned. Don’t believe me? Youtube it. Here’s an example:
Aside from issues of propriety, which I could probably go on and on about, when Vatz mentions “political commentators,” I think… conspiracy theory. What if we didn’t actually land on the moon?
What if there ARE aliens out there?
What if there are REALLY reptoids from the center of the earth inhabiting human skin and waiting to take over the world when the polar ice caps melt and let the rest of their people out (I may be mincing conspiracies here)?
Are these not rhetorical situations if our dominant culture doesn’t see them as such? Are they not part of the ‘reality’ of the situation? How do we deconstruct something that we don’t talk about? Or is the fact that topics are taboo situate them in a situation of ‘white’ space somehow? Are conspiracy theories relevant rhetorically, even though they are not given much credence by the dominant culture?
In case you need it (because I thought you might), here is more information on reptoids. Because that’s a thing.