Insights & Art

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Tag: America

The Collapse of Tradition

“IS THE GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES AN ANTI-WAR FILM?”

Animation produces emotional effects not by reproducing reality, but by heightening and simplifying it.
                                                                                          – Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert famously hailed Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) as one of the greatest anti-war films ever created. Since its initial release this animated classic, directed by Isao Takahata, has been associated with the dangers of militarism and the dehumanising effects of war. As Takahata and author Akiyuki Nosaka were both victims of American firebombings, there are certainly elements of pacifism which underscore the duration of the film. However it seems the real battlefield is the Japanese home front, and it is these rules and expectations which Seita and Setsuko have to navigate. The war is arguably just a trigger to explore the self-inflicted cannibalisation of Japanese society and the disintegration of ie.

Throughout many interviews Takahata has maintained that the target audience was the younger generation of the 1980s, and this film was often used as an educational video within schooling institutions. Importantly, this was also the first generation that the horrors of WWII were just figments of the past and not actual lived experiences. The importance of this shift in the public consciousness and why Takahata so outwardly addresses the youth in the film will be explained further on.

The audience is abruptly thrown into a narrative where Japan is at war, neither the enemy or the cause of this conflict is discussed. It is as if Takahata is suggesting that such details are irrelevant compared to the fact this simply forces Japanese society to change and adapt to such circumstances. Takahata does not portray the Americans as the antagonist and the Japanese as helpless casualties of foreign aggression; as most traditional anti-war films would. Paradoxically it seems it is the Japanese who are both the oppressors and the victims. The ideals of uchi and soto are dismantled as the traditional markers of Japanese identity and tribalism are abandoned in the name of self-preservation.

This is immediately highlighted in the introduction of the film, the suffering of Seita and other orphans are contrasted to the rest of Japanese society. Their decrepit statute and stationary positions accentuate the fanatic (and interestingly directionless) movement of their fellow Japanese. As if an entire generation and their memory was discarded when Japan rose to the economic powerhouse it was in the 1980s.

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However, the most obvious scene of social criticism appears near the end of the film when three Japanese girls return to their wealthy home, excitedly exclaiming “It’s so good to be home… It hasn’t changed a bit.” Whilst initially it can be seen as an optimistic comment about the future of Japan, that fact it immediately follows after the passing of Setsuko paints these adolescents as callous and ignorant.

It is clear that from their western attire and their association with western technology (phonograph) that these girls are supposed to be the representations of the Japanese youth in 1980s; opulent and painfully oblivious. The proximity of the house to the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in, is a metaphor that underneath the economic boom of the decade lie the painful memories of loss and defeat. It is not the Allied soldiers who are presented as indifferent to the suffering of the Japanese, but rather the Japanese themselves.

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In a very eye opening interview Takahata states that one of his original goals was to ‘depict the boy as a contemporary boy, rather than a boy in that time.’ It is with this new found knowledge that one must address the film and see Seita’s actions as not just as personal decisions but rather a mirroring of the ideals and values held by the Japanese youth of the 1980s.

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Seita carries Setsuko upon his back trying to find his way to the bomb shelter. However, during this journey, Seita pauses and the camera spends an usually long time lingering upon a bucket, ladder and pool; tools used to fight fires. Torn between giri and ninjo, Seita chooses to flee towards safely. Almost immediately afterwards, as if an act of divine retribution, the houses around him explode into an uncontrollable blaze of fire and the skies immediately darken. Symbolically, it would seem the reason why the city of Kobe fell to the fire was not because of the American bombings, but rather an embrace of kojinshugi over ie.

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Seita’s fire brigade uniform, iconic of Japan’s fashion during WWII serves not only to connect him towards the school attire of his modern day contemporaries, but also as a constant reminder of his failure to fill his obligation. Throughout the film as Seita becomes ever more removed from ie and the community, his uniform begins to disintegrate off his body. Yet in death, Seita’s uniform is restored, serving as an ominous warning that he (and the audience) will never be able to shake off their responsibilities to the nation, invoking some of the more fatalistic elements of Bushido.

Noting how consumerism has weakened the pillars of Japanese tradition, Takahata continues his criticism by stating ‘[Seita] doesn’t bear with hardships. When the aunt threatens him by saying “Let’s have our meals separately” he is relieved’… As a result, his life becomes harder. Such is the feelings held by today’s kids.’

The consequences of isolation is juxtaposed to the prior scene of surprising optimism as Seita rummages through his destroyed home and symbolically bathes in water spouting from a burst pipe. In a traditional anti-war film, this scene of returning to a destroyed community would have been a moment of intense emotional pain, yet Seita seems almost unreactive to the destroyed infrastructure. Seita and Setsuko may have lost their mother but they were still on good terms with their auntie, and thus the family unit survived: Japanese society was still adhering to its traditions, even after experiencing such causalities.

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The question must be asked, why Takahata was so intensely focused on having his film connect with the Japanese youth of the baburu keiki. The 1970s and 80s, falls into what sociologist Osawa Masachi terms as ‘kyoko no jidai’ or roughly translated as the ‘age of fiction’, a period marked by a public shift on tradition. Whilst the 1960s and 70s (or riso no jidai; ‘age of idealism) aimed to change society from within established perimeters. The period of Kyoko no jidai, fuelled by an explosion of capitalism combined with the radicalisation of leftist politics saw a desire to reimagine society completely, without adherence to past traditions. It is from within this context of cultural change from which Grave of the Fireflies emerges.

“… But [the youth’s] often nihilistic attitude combined with an aggressive materialism stand in distinctive contrast to their parent’s values.”
                                                                                         – Susan Napier

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(Nakanishi, 2003)

The post war years of 1979 to 1993 saw a steep rise in crime rates of juveniles, simultaneously followed by a dramatic increase in juvenile arrests. And it this troubled generation of Japanese delinquents which was the target audience of Grave of the Fireflies. The desire to rein the youth is expressed in Takahata’s comments; “Just like today’s junior high students, a 14-years old looks unemotional or grumpy.” Such comments leave very little room when it comes to addressing the objective of this film.

This is not to say that Grave of the Fireflies completely neglects to condemn war , but instead that its main focus is a close inspection on the Japanese character in times of trial. One of the most powerful scenes condemning militarism occurs after the fire bombings have ended and both Seita and Setsuko were able to escape (not with the rest of society at the shelters but rather to a sewer reminiscent of their eventual ‘ukiyo’). A hellish montage of soldiers and civilians dying is followed by a lone male feverishly screaming “Long Live the Emperor”. Situated amongst the backdrop of a burning building; his overly zealous rhetoric is the fan which fuels the self-immolation of Japanese society.

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However, in the scene above, one could just as easily interpreted it as an anti-war message or as a cautionary warning against Japanese society being swept up by the tides of far right politics. Tellingly, both Seita and Setsuko die after WWII concludes, during a period where Americans had ‘officially’ become an ally, and peace had technically been reinstated. One must question if Grave of the Fireflies is at its core an anti-war film, as it spends so much time addressing the consequences of social decisions and not exploring the horrors of international war.

This criticism of the Japanese youth is reflected in two highly emotional scenes where both Seita and Setsuko break the fourth wall and communicate directly to the audience. In the scene directly after Seita and Setsuko’s last encounter with the fireflies and the pleasant idylls of nature, Seita walks outside the cave to see Setsuko crouching in the dirt. Setsuko starts crying as she begins to bury the fireflies and in a highly emotional moment asks “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” It is important to not only note her words but the manner in which this dialogue is conveyed. The linear narrative of the story is broken and the camera shifts to a point of view shot of Setsuko’s teary face; positioning the audience as the recipient of her question.

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Analysing the exact definition of what fireflies symbolise in this piece of work is rather difficult as they cover such a large myriad of ideas. But by immediately injecting flashbacks of Seita’s and Setsuko’s mother being thrown into a ditch, combined with the previous mention that ‘[a kamikaze plane] looks like a firefly.’ I believe that Setsuko’s question forces audience to confront why they have forgotten the memories of the fallen victims, relegating their sacrifices to pointless events along the spectrum of Japanese history. Did their suffering have any meaning and if not, then why not?

This is reinforced by the following scene, which is arguably one of the most manipulative within the entire film. A wave of intrusive Japanese children carelessly trespass on the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in. After such a powerfully emotional scene just moments prior, the audience cannot but see their ignorance as anything but problematic. Regarding the previous example of the Japanese girls returning to their house, it is highly telling that Takahata constantly uses ignorant children as the symbol of those untouched by war.

Arguably the cause of Seita and Setsuko’s demise isn’t the war as apart from the opening scenes of the film, the audience is never again shown the graphic consequences of conflict. Likewise, Takahata portrays Japanese society as still intact after its surrender at the concluding moments of the film. In the scenes when Seita tries to buy charcoal for his sister’s funeral, there is an unusual amount of sunlight present and the farmer seems oddly optimistic, noticeably different to the feelings of the Seita and the audience. As someone who previously advised Seita to return to his auntie, this farmer stands as the ideological opposite to Seita, someone who did not abandon his station, even during turmoil. Life as a Japanese farmer and as a cog in the Japanese system continues, even in the face of defeat.

Likewise, Seita’s compliance in the selling of his mother’s kimonos is also used as a metaphor for the self-cannibalisation of Japan from within. In complete disregard for his mother’s memory and filial piety, Seita trades in a symbol of Japanese femininity and motherhood for instant gratification. The camera then pans to the ghost of Seita covering his ears and horrified by this ultimately pointless decision, as the children die anyway, and paradoxically due to a lack of parental care. This act is symbolic because it marks the start of the pair’s divorce from any forms of familial relationship, their relationship with their auntie rapidly decays afterwards: Seita’s pride and Setsuko’s willingness to follow her brother have made them orphans both literally and spiritually.

The final scene of this film however is arguably the most insightful look into the intentions of Takahata’s when directing this film. Having failed to receive proper Buddhist or Shinto burial rites, both Seita and Setsuko return as spirits, they’re marginalised on the outskirts of the city; disconnected to the wealth of the city. As Setsuko lays her head on her brother’s lap and the main theme begins to crescendo, Seita breaks the fourth wall and gives the audience an accusatory stare.

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Slowly the camera pans upwards, and the fireflies; symbols of the kamikaze pilots, Seita’s mother and other countless forgotten Japanese victims are drowned out by the overwhelming lights of Kobe. As audiences, it is not hard to see this futuristic city as the stark contrast to the poverty and suffering of those caught in WWII. Once again the question is asked whether or not the stories of the older generation have been forgotten, and if so then why? Nosaka’s words captures this sense of tension and discomfort with the rapidly changing Japan; “… High-rise buildings and super-highways were once just futuristic dreams… [I] cannot help but see them amidst sunlit ruins,” echoing a real fear that Japan will forget its past.

Perhaps the most conclusive proof regarding the stance of Grave of the Fireflies is found in Takahata’s continued insistence that “[The film] is not at all an anti-war anime and contains no such message.” Whilst Takahata and Nosaka’s played large roles in shaping what this film eventually became, it is fair that audiences should have the right to interpret this film however they wish. Nor does this essay wish to diminish Roger Ebert’s remarks that this film “involves war, the results of war and two victims of war.”

However, to insist that the film Grave of the Fireflies was created with a strict anti-war theme at its heart is rather dubious. I see this film as an attempt to bridge the generational gap between those who experienced and those untouched by Japan’s darkest days. Grave of the Fireflies doesn’t so much push an anti-war message but rather one cautioning against the abandonment of communal values. The fact that this story starts and ends with the death of the protagonist suggest that bloodshed, like the defeat of Japan in 1945, is unchangeable. Yet it is how a culture remembers their past which demonstrates what direction they will take in the future.

Lost in Translation – Review & Analysis

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“I don’t want to leave.”
“So don’t. Stay here with me. We’ll start a jazz band.”

The title Lost in Translation captures more than just Bob Harris’ (Bill Murray) and Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) confusion in an alien land with dizzying lights and lethargic frenzy. It alludes to what people have always wanted, simply, someone to understand and to be understood in return. Bob and Charlotte are two lost souls who find themselves wandering aimlessly around this neon playground, both entranced and uncomfortable with a country that seems incapable of rest; indifferent to the stragglers.

Bob is apathetic. As a declining movie star, he is in Japan selling whiskey to an audience he is completely disinterested in. He spends his time at the hotel bar, craving genuine human contact but too weary to start the conversation. Charlotte is young and intelligent but finds herself locked in a relationship which is already starting to disintegrate; she too, seems to be trapped in a web of pessimism. Yet their chemistry is immediate, their affection for each other is displayed through a string of subtle body language, the odd glance, the brush of the cheek, and the tenderness of their voices. Lost in Translation is a smart film because it uses nuance to communicate its ideas, the cliché of star-crossed lovers would be too easy, too obvious and Sofia Coppola is much too intelligent for that.

Most of Bob’s relationships have broken down; his wife calls him frequently to discuss everything but their relationship. She tries to put their children on the phone, yet they always seem to run away. After a string of biting sarcasm from both parties, she asks Bob if she “Needs to worry about him,” Bob responds with “Only if you want to…” and seconds later she hangs, stating that she has ‘urgent matters’ to attend to. Bob could be the life of the party, he could be cracking jokes but he is too jaded to entertain someone without getting something in return. At this point, he’s damaged goods and the years of wear have chipped away at his charismatic instincts.

Similarly, Charlotte tries to communicate with her husband but he seems too preoccupied in mingling with B-grade celebrities. He insists that she won’t enjoy coming along with him to his work and naively believes that a faxed sheet of paper with a hand-drawn heart can remedy their fracturing marriage. Later that night, Charlotte longingly flips through Polaroid photos of the pair in their younger days.

Both Bob and Charlotte are ‘lost in translation’. Somewhere in the past, both of them held their tongue, their partners reciprocated and their feelings got lost in a sea of comforting neglect. And it is these feelings of isolation that unite the two. Bob sees a beautiful, witty girl, who, like him, seems to have lost her way in life and Charlotte sees an older man who actually tries to understand how lonely she is. The most insightful moments are when the pair lie together and speak about cosmic themes in vague details, the absolutes don’t matter, only that they are next to each other; together. Charlotte asks about the difficulty of marriage and Bob attempts to pass all that he has learnt onto his younger student. The pair never have sex but they do something a lot more risky; they allow themselves to develop feelings for each other.

When we are spying upon their drunken adventures, there is a real sense of energy and enthusiasm. The night is forever young and each bend in the road offers the chance of another unforgettable experience. When the two are separate, the passion evaporates, a grey filter sets in and we divert our eyes, confused at why they are wasting their dwindling time on matters of little significance.

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“I just feel so alone, even when I’m surrounded by other people.”

But context is the sharp gust of reality ready to blow away this pink glazed dream. Bob is married with children, Charlotte is also married to another man and thirty years younger. The looming end of their impending separation accelerates the urgency of their unexpected friendship. Time is merciless, despite how perfect this pairing is, the audience and the characters know that it’s impossible. Charlotte has her path she must walk and so does Bob, yet for a brief, but powerful moment, their lives do cross. And this is why this film is such an understated masterpiece, it doesn’t pretend that Charlotte and Bob have solved all their problems by meeting each other, rarely does that happen in reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlotte ended up dying from a drug overdose in five years, nor would I be surprised if she changes her mindset and allows her husband to share in her sadness. The same goes for Bob, maybe he divorces his wife and turns to alcoholism or maybe he returns home and holds her longingly; knowing that their relationship was once just like his and Charlotte’s.

That’s the beauty of this film, I don’t need answers. I am comfortable knowing that amongst the laughs, hugs and haunting stares of love, a genuine bond was forged in the most unexpected of locations.

Maybe one day, decades past, Charlotte will hear Bob’s name and then she’ll look down and crack a smile, or maybe even cry, or maybe not, because he is just a ghost in her past- And Bob will be on the other side of the world, attending to his own business, unaware that he had just entered the mind of a woman whom he loved, even if it was for a brief moment.

“I loved the moment near the end when Bob runs after Charlotte and says something in her ear, and we’re not allowed to hear it.

We shouldn’t be allowed to hear it. It’s between them, and by this point in the movie, they’ve become real enough to deserve their privacy. Maybe he gave her his phone number. Or said he loved her. Or said she was a good person. Or thanked her. Or whispered, “Had we but world enough, and time…” and left her to look up the rest of it.”

  • Roger Ebert, Lost in Translation Review, 2003

Genre: Romantic-Comedy
Certificate: R
USA Release Date: 3rd October 2003
Runtime: 141 minutes
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi & Fumihiro Hayashi
Synopsis: A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.

The Division in Australian Identity

This is going to be one of two essays that I will publish about Australian history and diplomacy in the years after British colonisation. This essay will not be as detailed as the following post, since it was a practice draft written by me for tomorrow’s one hour examination. Regardless, I will publish this because I want to memorise, which typing will allow, but also because I think it touches on enough topics which are different from my massive 3000 word essay on Australia, that it deserves a separate post.

Note, this is written completely in AUSTRALIAN English, so expect a very spelling differences, plus there are no references at all, since this was drafted for examination conditions.

Thank you for reading,
Down Under

“To what extent has the history of Australia’s defensive foreign policy since World War II reflected its European values in contrast to its Asian geography. Discuss this in the time period from 1970s to the present day.”

As a colonised nation located in the Asian sphere, Australia has long struggled with its identity. It has and still simultaneously looks at Great Britain as its cultural home whilst acknowledging Asia as its geographical home. Australia’s stance after the withdraw of Britain’s military and economic presence has been one of lukewarm friendship with Asia. This is reflected in its foreign policies towards Vietnam and Indonesia from the 1970s onward.

Australia’s entrance into the Vietnam War in 1962 was an obvious case of the nation’s apprehension towards the communist country. For the government, this was more than just a war of two hostile nations but rather a clash of identity and ideology. It was important to understand that Australia was spurred towards this armed conflict because of the decades of fear it had promoted and consumed in regards to the ‘near north’. The yellow fear had simply been transformed from the swarm of Chinese gold miners to the militaristic Japanese to the ‘red peril’. In many ways Australia’s decision to halt the domino effect could be seen as a further continuation of White Australia Policy.

Australia’s decision to fight in Vietnam also highlights another pivotal pillar of the Australian psyche; the need to find a paternal figure. Menzies’ act of courting and supporting American’s intervention in Vietnam was also reflected in Deakin’s attempts to woo the Great White Fleet in 1908. This act was similarly replicated by Gillard’s decision to establish a permanent American military base in Darwin due to continued military escalation in the South China sea. The constant reliance on western displays of power and solidarity to counter the rising might of Asian strength is indicative of Australia’s loyalties and inherent bias. It is telling that The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) is seen as the pillar of Australia foreign policy, despite America continually shunning such their obligations in this relationship.Tellingly, both Keating and Whitlam, two of Australia’s more ‘pro-Asian’ prime ministers were unwilling to criticise or downplay the significance of ANZUS. Even if it could have potentially lead to a better relationship with some Asian states who were uncomfortable with the reach of America on Australia’s decision making.

Since the 1970s, there has been an attempt through politics, to alter Australia’s psyche to that of the ‘good neighbour’. This is reflected inWhitlam’s recognition of China, the exponential increase in Japanese trade and their softer foreign policies against Indonesia. Whilst Australia is unquestionably a western nation with western values, it has attempted to distance itself from its colonial past. This is reflected in Australia’s support for Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975. Awkwardly this hand of independence was also extended to the Karkar Islands by Whitlam, to which they formally declined. This highlights how this topic of Asian independence has been turned into a political statement to benefit Australia’s image. Australian leaders have generally issued public comments of support for Asian independence in the post colonial era as a sign that they have moved away from their imperial roots. Historian Curran points out that Whitlam used this symbol of New Guinea casting off its imperial chains to galvanise Australia to do the same.

Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is a great example of Australia’s tension with its western values and Asian geography. Despite significant differences between Australia and Indonesia, politically, socially and religiously: Australia’s approach to Indonesia has generally being one of appeasement and anxiety. This relationship stems from the fear of Indonesian aggression, particularly since it is located so close to Australia’s borders. In order to maintain the status of the good neighbour, Whitlam turned a blind eye to Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua New Guinea and East Timor. This position of political pragmatism was adopted despite the abundance of human rights violations and condemnations from the United Nations. Interestingly, Whitlam was in favour of establishing economic sanctions of South Africa because of its Apartheid laws, highlighting the hypocrisy of his ‘progressive ideals’. Awkwardly however, it was the Fraser government which was left to deal with Whitlam’s approach to Indonesian hostility. Under intense scrutiny of the public and other western nations, Fraser came out and denounced Indonesia’s blatant violation of human rights in West Papua New Guinea; eventually falling inline with a lot of other western countries.

Despite these attempts at appeasement, Australia has yet to be fully acknowledged as an Asian nation. Keating’s comments of transforming Australia from the “odd man looking out to the odd man looking in” subconsciously highlights Australia’s sense of cultural displacement. Likewise Suharto’s rejection of Australia’s entrance into the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC) is very telling of Australia’s image in the eyes of other ethnically Asian nations. This is especially symbolic as the EAEC was created specifically to counter the inclusion of western powers into the Asian-Pacific Economics Cooperation (APEC). Suharto denied Australia this opportunity since he believed that Australia’s values were just too western. This ironically resulted in Keating publicly attacking Suharto, actions which were deemed unprofessional and problematic through the lens of Confucian values.

The Vietnam War combined with Australia’s treatment of Indonesia reflects the uneasy transition of a proud British nation to one with ‘Asian history’. Ultimately when given a chance to stand with the west or embrace the role of the good neighbour. Australia, under Howard’s leadership, choose to intervene and lead a United Nations expedition force into East Timor after Indonesia’s tactical withdraw. Likewise Australia’s western allegiance was also repeated when it choose to join America and the United Kingdoms in the invasion of Iraq, evoking ANZUS after 9/11. These two actions were performed despite fully understanding the repercussions it could possibly hold for Australia. Unsurprisingly, Indonesia’s frustrations at American and the Portuguese were now transferred onto Australia and the two nations have entered a period of a lukewarm relationship.

Howard’s slogan of ‘Asia first, but not Asia only’ is indicative of Australia’s split identity. There has been a real attempt to forge a sense of Asian identity after the collapse of the British Empire, this move has been inspired by economic necessity but it also touches back on Australia’s reliance upon greater powers. However, at the heart of Australian identity there lingers a powerful tension between its allegiance to its colonial and western past and a desire to fully immerse itself into the Asian community.

The Gusto of Dale Peterson.

[If you are interested in reading another political orientated rhetorical piece with a similar format and style on Obama’s Yes We Can Speech, then click here]

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One of America’s foundations is its democratic political system, a system where supposedly every American citizen will have equal say in their government. These unalienable rights were guaranteed in the American constitution and thus politics is heavily intertwined with the American conscious. Dale Peterson, a Republican born in the state of Georgia, is an individual who wants to run for the mayor of Georgia and is using social media to gain supporters of his cause. Whilst his video is geared towards Republican viewers and in particular southern voters, overall it is a moderately effective piece of propaganda. There some questionable choices within this video which hurt Peterson’s ethos and strained his emotional connection with the audience. Like most other short political advertisements, the main focus is on establishing a positive ethos whilst using pathos to vilify opposing parties. The small amounts of logos found within this video is both a strength and a flaw and most likely a result of the time constraints since the advertisement is approximately a minute long. Whilst watching Peterson’s video, one must remember that his message is specifically aimed towards a certain demographic. Whilst I may not connect with his context or his beliefs, this should not impact my judgment of the advertisement’s effectiveness.

Fostering a positive ethos is an essential part in creating rapport between the orator and the audience; it disarms any suspicions or concerns which they might have originally held. It is obvious that Peterson derives a large portion of his identity from his sense of American patriotism, a trait that he uses to establish a common connection between him and his primary demographic; southern Republicans. In order to build up ‘good will’ with the audience, Peterson appears in a cowboy outfit thus subtly reflecting southern values through his style of dress. He presents himself as someone who is socially adjusted to the cultural values of his target audience instead of an intruder who is ignorant about the local traditions. Further attempts to reinforce his invented ethos are reflected in the non-diegetic music playing through the advertisement, it is triumphant and heroic and it is clear that Peterson is trying to attach these qualities to his persona. Part of creating a positive ethos is understanding that one’s actions or context will be linked to one’s persona or characteristics, otherwise known as the ‘fundamental attribution error’. By starting the video with a photo of the Declaration of Independence; Peterson is building a metaphorical bridge between himself and one of the most influential documents ever, a symbol of justice, freedom and liberty. This patriotic connection to the foundation of American society portrays Peterson as a strong minded individual capable who is also heavily invested in the idealism of the American nation.

On the other hand, there are many flaws in Peterson’s propaganda video and its polarizing nature means that it basically ‘preaches to the choir’ and only appeals to a selected audience. Whilst his outfit and his southern colloquialism may create a sense of familiarity to voters with a similar context, it may repel voters who cannot connect with his invented ‘redneck’ and ‘country’ ethos. Likewise at the end of the advertisement, Peterson refers to himself in third person, “Dale Peterson says click here to check out our website” which shows an extreme level of narcissism. Personally, this was the point when his ‘confidence and charisma’ became less endearing and more annoying. The presence of Peterson’s inflated ego damages his ethos as audiences become suspicious of his motives; is political power his ultimate goal or does he sincerely wish to serve the community? Aristotle commented humans are self-interested creatures and thus audiences tend to gravitate towards people or parties where mutual trust and benefit underlines the relationship. Peterson’s condescending tone caused me to question his leadership skills and his integrity.

Part of being a skilled orator involves the manipulation of pathos in order to get the audience to emotionally invest into their message. A lot of political campaigns and advertisements choose to use pathos instead of logos since I believe that with time constraints, logos is the hardest aspect to effectively incorporate into a text. This is because ethos and pathos can be conveyed through something as simple and subtle as dress and music. Logos, however, is most effective when it is supplemented by verified facts and statistics, which can be very time consuming. Thus to some extent I understand Peterson’s inclusion of unsupported premises and cheap insults towards his political opponent; Roy ‘King’ Barnes. Statements like saying Barnes associates with “thugs and criminals” and “you know why they call him King Roy? Because he thinks he’s better than everyone!” are a quick way to smear one’s character. However most viewers will notice that Peterson’s campaign is built upon his personality and that the total lack of inartistic logos removes a lot of the creditability behind his message. Peterson also tries to create mistrust between the American public and Barnes in the statement “send King Roy back to home to his castle where he can’t do Georgia anymore harm.” Personally I think this sentence is more effective than the previously insults because it is a pun on Barnes’ nickname. Also, this sentence alludes to Barnes’ commitment to aristocracy and monarchy rule, a system which is foreign to America political culture. Personally whenever I analyse Peterson’s invented ethos in the advertisement, I see the connections between him and the ‘Walt Whitman’ archetype. There is an attempt to present himself as rugged and intelligent, grounded yet active within the larger community, all values and traits held in high regard by American society.

Rhetoric and the art of persuasion were first developed over two thousand years ago but it still remains important and relevant in today’s society. Dale Peterson understands the basics of rhetoric yet lacks the subtlety of an experienced rhetorician. Peterson’s biggest flaw was catering only towards a small and specialized demographic; southern Republicans, in particular those who associated with the ‘cowboy’ persona. This may result in a large majority of the American public rejecting his message purely because of his invented ethos. Another issue within the video was the complete lack of logos and the cheap unfounded insults on Barnes’ character, giving audiences the impression that Peterson is both childish and immature. However I understand that in some cases logos is not as effective as playing upon emotions like fear, respect and prejudice, especially in a scare campaign. However an aspect that Peterson effectively exploits is the overwhelming sense of patriotism within the video, by embellishing and almost flaunting his nationalism, he is trying to build a link between himself and the American people. Unfortunately the strengths within this piece of rhetoric couldn’t undo the flaws and Peterson is no longer an active political candidate in Georgia. Also these advertisements have been transformed into viral internet jokes because of his overly obnoxious character and his over indulgence into conveying American stereotypes.

Obama’s Yes We Can: Rhetorical Analysis. (A Dime A Dozen)

Question: The purpose of this exercise is to apply rhetorical analysis techniques to a published argument in any format. (1000 words)

(To all my American readers, please understand I am writing in Australian English, thus the spelling may differ slightly, this is done intentionally since I am submitting this piece to an Australian university)

If you are interested in reading another rhetorical analysis I wrote about another American politician, the click here.

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 symbolised a change in American culture and social thinking. For a nation which had prided itself on equality and freedom, Obama’s presidential victory marked the first time a non-Anglo-Saxon man had taken office. His now famous Yes We Can speech was addressed to his Democrats in Chicago, an audience who generally sided with leftist liberal thinking. This aspect he clearly uses to his advantage in his speech. In addition to building upon a very favourable ethos, the speech attempts to use pathos to connect with the audience by uniting them through a shared sense of patriotism. The celebratory nature of the speech meant that logos was rarely used, however this was a deliberate choice and arguably strengthened the speech. The Yes We Can speech is an outstanding example of a highly skilled orator’s ability to persuade, manipulate and influence an audience.

Fostering a positive ethos is an essential part in creating rapport between the orator and the audience; it disarms any suspicions or concerns which they might have originally held. Obama, a shrewd politician attempts to emphasise his American patriotism in order to establish a common connection between him and his primary demographic; liberal Americans. He does this by standing in front of American flags, dressed in a suit, a symbol of power and might particularly in the western world. In order to create trust, it is important to establish the essence of ‘good will’ in one’s character, by presenting himself or herself in a friendly and respectful manner to their audiences. In doing so Obama gives the image that he is someone who understands the culture of America’s traditions. The appearance of the Obama family on stage is also done in order to highlight his role of the ‘family man.’ By portraying the most powerful man in America as a relatable middle class man, Obama is subconsciously trying to establish an emotional connection between his projected ethos and the audience.

Obama’s efforts to maintain his American ethos is reflected within his speech as well and clearly he has a strong understanding of his target audience. Obama taps into this stream of patriotism in the quotes “who still wonders if the dreams of our founders is alive in our time” and “a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this earth” By referencing the most influential and respected men in American history, Obama is building a metaphorical bridge between himself and these men who stood for the American ideals of justice, freedom and liberty. By quoting Abraham Lincoln; a man whose roots come from the city he is speaking in, Obama is able to lend credibility to his ethos by associating himself with a past president. Obama is also connecting his presidency with the romanticized American past and ideals and gives the notion that America will continue to stand as a beacon of hope against tyranny and injustice.

A skilled orator will be able to manipulate pathos in order to get the audience to emotionally invest into their message. Whilst pathos lacks the science and reason which logos presents, the ability to inspire is an immensely powerful tool to create social change. The underlying sense of nationalism is evident in the quote “let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility” and “our stories are singular but our destiny is shared, a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.” Within both these quotes, Obama transcends the physical by giving the impression that his election victory stands as a watershed in American history. The hyperbole whips the crowd into a frenzy since human nature instinctively longs to feel like it has contributed to something that surpasses them as an individual. The allusion that Obama requires the full participation of the nation to bring about change is a nod towards the democratic foundation of America. It also builds trust between the audience and himself as now there is a feeling of mutual benefits which underlines both parties’ relationship with each other.

As a politician it is important to sustain the support and loyalty of the nation. Obama’s Yes We Can speech attempts to reach out and connect with every demographic especially the Republican voters who have yet to show allegiance towards Obama. This is seen in the quote “it’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled” Understanding that the audience was mainly comprised of Democrats who usually hold a more liberal perspective, there was a huge roar of approval when Obama mentioned “gay.” By reaffirming the values of his target audience, Obama was able to reinforce the credibility and his ‘good sense.’ By specifically mentioning every demographic, Obama is attempting to create a personal relationship with all Americans and highlight the inclusive and welcoming nature of his liberal government. It should be noted this quote is strangely reminiscent of the lists within Whitman’s poetry; Whitman the quintessential American poet believed that lists was a democratic method of presenting information.

Slowly there is build-up of emotion within Obama’s speech until the energy peaks, resulting in a release of emotions as the crowd chants “yes we can.” This crescendo of emotion continues as Obama promises them that the “timeless American creed” combined with united support from his followers will overcome all external difficulties. “When there was despair in the Dust Bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself… Yes we can” By alluding to times of crisis before quickly presenting his presidency as the solution, Obama convinces the audiences to emotionally invest into him as a symbol of hope, presenting himself as the more attractive alternative juxtaposed to famine and poverty. Obama’s word attempt to rejuvenate a nation when notions of American supremacy was rocked by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

The Yes We Can speech stands as a testament to the power a skilled orator can hold over a crowd and how the arts of persuasion and communication created in Ancient Greece still influences today’s modern society. Whilst most speeches contain elements of pathos, logos and ethos, Obama decided to largely forgo logical arguments since they were already explored in the speeches leading up to his victory. However this doesn’t weaken Obama’s message, in fact the strong themes of hope and persistence may have revitalised the nation during a bleak period of financial collapse. Personally I believe this speech stands as the crowning moment in Obama’s political career, it was beautifully constructed and delivered even more powerfully. Reflecting how a great orator can cut across the social division within a community and inspire all with their words.

Chingy out.

WORD COUNT : 1140

Unforgiven; Exposing the Darkness Within America.

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Unforgiven (1992) is a modernist western film that challenges the romanticised foundations established by American culture. Unforgiven questions the manifest destiny and the ideal of violence, two themes which define the western genre, this is done by creating a world of ambiguity where characters and situations can not be categorised as right or wrong. Instead Eastwood’s films highlights the hypocrisy of the American culture which claims to be founded upon religious principles but yet have managed to carry the ‘original’ sin from Europe.

The settlers which were moving westward across the new world were justified by their belief in the ‘manifest destiny’, just like how Americans had resisted the European tyrants in the War of Independence, the American spirit would be once again forged by violence and bloodshed on the western frontier. However Unforgiven questioned this age old belief that American civilisation created order and progress out of chaos, instead Eastwood highlights the demons and sins which plague life on the western frontier where communities live without the constraints of laws or morality. This is achieved through contrasting the beautiful, open and scenic landscape with the dark and dingy atmosphere within the houses; a symbol of civilisation. Often accompanying the landscape is a soft melody which emphasises the beauty of natural environment, in contrast the low key lighting of the houses accompanied by the rain evokes a sombre and claustrophobic atmosphere when audiences are first introduced to Big Whiskey. This is especially seen when Will Munny the ‘protagonist’ of this film talks to his children through the doorway, the brilliance of the sunshine is unable to plunge into the darkness of the house. In Unforgiven, nature is portrayed as tranquil and peaceful and contrary to popular myth, it is the inhabitants who are savage and aggressive.

Little Bill’s house could been interpreted as a metaphor for the creation of an American nation, whilst it looks sturdy and strong at first, it’s faults and flaws are quickly exposed when rains starts to pour. Likewise whilst American clings onto a glorified mythology of the past, a glance at American history highlights the hypocrisy of such a stance. Furthering this symbolism is the fact Little Bill is the sole creator of the house, American’s violent traditions were crafted by white men with violent tendencies who had convinced society that their use of physical force was righteous or were beneficial to society. Similar all the killings within this film are done underneath a roof, in particular the finale where the Will Munny of the past arises due to alcoholism and anger. It’s telling the two most populated establishments in Big Whiskey are the brothel and the bar, the underpinnings of the American west wasn’t the divine guidance of the ‘manifest destiny’, but of rampant alcoholism and prostitution. The savagery no longer rests in the American Indians or the landscape, instead it is reflected off the flaws of every American living on the frontier. American civilisation was built upon the mythology that the pilgrims were spreading civilisation to the savage Indians and taming a hostile landscape. Eastwood forces the audience to question the legitimacy of these cultural beliefs, instead the characters are stripped off the romantic glossing that are found in traditional westerns. All are portrayed as sinful and chaotic in comparison to the majesty of the natural environment.

Violence was and continues to be a defining theme in the western genre, the belief that the America was ‘baptised’ by fire and conflict transfers from the War of Independence to the western frontier, where the belief was an individual must rise up with force to resist evil and savagery. The notion of ‘sacred violence’ was coined by Allen Redman (2004) which was the belief that violence can be redemptive if used to oppose evil and tyranny. This mythology is embodied in the protagonist of most spaghetti westerns, however Eastwood once again challenges this fundamental American belief. Unforgiven is a film where the morality of the characters are ambiguous, the protagonist mirrors the antagonist and both share similar vices and positives as is foreshadowed in the similarities of their names. Will Munny like Bill Daggett are both men of violence who attempt to leave the bloodshed behind but are eventually sucked back into the violent cycle of society. Both men are vulnerable to hypocrisy, whilst Daggett attempts to lower the amount of violence by banning guns in Big Whiskey, he nearly beats Will and English Bob to death and eventually kills an unarmed Ned. Likewise Munny earns the approval of the audience by staying faithful to his deceased wife, but then in a fit of rage and alcoholism, he murders multiple people in the Big Whiskey bar. By merging the boundaries of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, when Munny finally kills Daggett, Eastwood is creating a conclusion where violence doesn’t triumph over evil instead killing is seen as a natural cycle of the sinful American society. The classic showdown between two cowboys at noon, both who are reliant upon their physical prowess, is no where to be found in Unforgiven. Instead Munny kills Skinny Dubois unarmed and then proceeds to murder others in cold blood and under the influence in alcohol. Eastwood tears down the mythological image of violence, it isn’t presented as redemptive or righteous, instead it is seen as a product of a damaged society living on the western frontier, where morality like laws have no impact upon the citizens.

America’s belief that violence can be used to redeem past injustices is still reflected through out its society today, the western frontier was shifted towards Germany and Vietnam where once again America attempts to destroy the evil and thus cement the divisions between them and the tyrannical. Eastwood’s Unforgiven on the other hand, questions the legitimacy of violence, through presenting the victim’s perspective and having the protagonist question the validity of his actions. Davie-Boy’s death at the hands of Munny was slow, excruciating and sombre, instead of a thrilling shoot out, Davie slowly bled to left after Munny shot him unarmed. Davie-Boy’s youthful appearance, his high pitched wheezing “He shot me, I’m so thirsty…” combined with the fact he was willing to give the ‘cut up whore’ an extra pony for his accomplices’ crimes earns him the empathy of the audiences. Usually within a western the vanquished evil doesn’t have a chance to speak up and instead the story focuses upon the victory of the protagonist. However Davie-Boy’s assassination was cruel, uncomfortable and lacked the glamour and glitz of the western genre, forcing audiences to recalibrate their standing after his death. The blurring of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is also seen when Munny reflects on his killing of the ‘drover’ boy, “he didn’t do anything to deserve to get shot, at least nothin’ I could remember when I sobered up.” Unlike Ned, Munny or even English Bob who were ‘othered’ as ‘cowards, assassins and crooks’ before being beaten, allowing society to digest these violent acts, the drover stands as an innocent victim whose only wrong was living in a society without morals or laws. The need of ‘othering’ is also reflected in English Bob’s comments about how it is impossible to shoot royalty, violence is only accepted when it is used against the ‘wicked’ or in pursuit of a greater cause. In Unforgiven, violence is a fact of life, the citizens of Big Whiskey don’t receive “what they deserve” instead everyone is drawn into the cycle of violence found on the western frontier. Eastwood challenges the illusions of America being a just and noble civilisation, the western frontier is transformed from a location where American masculinity is forged to a lawless civilisation where the strong rule the weak.

The dream of America existed before the Europeans settled on the new world, it was supposed to be a land of spirituality and redemption, away from the vices and constraints of the old way, in a way America still clings onto that old mentality despite the under lying hypocrisy. Eastwood’s Unforgiven is a modernist western that attempts to tear apart the romanticised images of the western frontier, a symbol of white dominance over the savage Indians and landscape. America’s beliefs that it was establishing order in the once lawless outback is questioned, in the film it is civilisation that brings along malice and immorality, contrasted against the tranquillity of nature. A core component of westerns is the use of violence to conquer the wicked, traditional films of this genre often have rigid distinctions between the good and bad in order to justify the use of force. However Unforgiven presents the audience was a moral dilemma, the protagonist has flaws whilst the antagonist has moments of sincerity. Instead of sacred violence being used as a means to an end, violence and bloodshed in presented as an integral part of the western fronter and it doesn’t discriminate against the right or the wrong. The concept of America was once noble, however the vices which the pilgrims wished to escape from sound festered within American society. Eastwood’s Unforgiven aims to point out the hypocrisy of America, how equality must be paved by with blood and how violence was used indiscriminately on the ‘righteous’ as well as the ‘evil.’

WORD COUNT: 1537.

 

REFERENCES.

Eastwood, C. (Director). (1992). The Unforgiven [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Bros.

Grist, L. (1996). Unforgiven. In Cameron, I. A., & Pye, D. (Eds.), The Book of Westerns (pp.294-301). New York, New York: Continuum.

Redmon, A. (2004). Mechanisms of Violence in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Mystic River. The Journal of American Culture, 27(3), 315-328.