A new term has begun, which means I’m busy introducing students to the ins and outs of rhetorical theory.

Today’s topic: the modes of appeal.

After introducing them to ethos, pathos, and logos, we spent some time talking about how these appeals appear in various examples of communication. In particular, I have an NRA advertisement that I like to use, featuring Tom Selleck, that is a good one to get the students thinking about how persuasion works (and doesn’t work).

After going through that example, I had a few moments to talk to them about how rhetorical theory can change the way you see the world. In particular, I told them a story about when I started seeing the world differently, through the eyes of rhetoric.

I took my first University course in rhetoric in the second term of 2002. That winter was the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and I remember watching the Opening Ceremonies of that event with new eyes. It was only a few months since the events of September 11th, so the wound was still there. I remember watching the flag from the World Trade Center being carried in:

And sure enough, it was an emotional punch to watch that moment unfold.

But as I watched and experienced the emotions that accompanied that moment, I remember feeling angry.  While 9/11 was a horrible time for my country, I resented how we Americans were using this moment of international awareness to make such a heavy-handed tribute to the events of that day. It just didn’t seem like the right time or place for such an event.

That was when I really started to understand how easy it is to slip from legitimate moments of audience connection (pathos) to moments of audience manipulation.

How timely that I remembered that experience on today, of all days.