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Home Notes for English Comp I
Notes for English Comp I
~~ Doing Analysis ~~
Have you ever had the experience of buying something because you saw a great ad for it? Or maybe you were in the store, trying to choose between several brands of the same product, which all seemed exactly the same, but one brand sort of stood out because you vividly remembered it from a funny TV ad. Although another choice would have saved you money (hey, 12 cents is 12 cents!), you bought the one which claimed in its commercial to "taste better," "last longer," or some other such stuff.
No one wants to admit they make their purchasing decisions based on advertising (persuaded at the point of sale by the package itself or by a commercial ad recalled) -- we all want to think we're very immune to the powerful lure of the rich and arresting language and imagery advertisers peddle, but we're not as immune as we think we are. The numbers tell us that the American public responds in a big way to successful advertising campaigns. We get persuaded again and again. In a lot of cases, we get fooled again and again.
Every single one of us has an abundance of raw experience with advertising. Everyday. Everywhere we go. With all of that experience, you can be sure you're already in a pretty good position to write an analysis of an advertisement that demonstrates both your knowledge of how the ad functions, why it may or may not be persuasive, and how consumers can protect themselves against being deceived and manipulated.
To write a thoughtful analysis will involve some active critical thinking. You'll have to recall and question some of your raw, unexamined experience, categorize it, make some kind of coherent sense out of it, maybe for the first time. You'll have to study very closely the ads you've chosen to specifically analyze, giving them more direct attention than you ever thought you would. But at the end of that process, you'll be able to make some insightful observations, and, if my 15 years of teaching experience counts for anything, you'll be wiser for having worked on this assignment. You'll never look at advertising quite the same way again.
Here's what we're trying to do:
Let's get started.
UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING AND PURPOSE OF ANALYSIS
Here's a challenge for you. Consider what these three situations all require in common. Can you guess what it is?
Did you guess? All three of these situations require you to analyze something just a little more carefully. Whether it's your broken down car, the incomprehensible poem, or the way you reponded to a commercial advertisement, something is not functioning quite right and needs fixing. In order to fix it, you're going to have to understand it better, and to understand it better, you can use a critical thinking tool called analysis.
What is analysis, exactly?
Here's a definition, then let's think about it slowly, carefully.
What is analysis, really?
Have you ever asked yourself if there's a difference between looking at something and really seeing it, really understanding it? Sometimes we find ourselves looking on at life passively, without getting too involved. Or something seems very complex on the surface and we back away from it-it's too much to deal with. I'm probably not, for instance, going to get involved in taking apart my car's transmission. I'm sure the whole mechanism makes perfect sense but I'm just not interested. I'm not going to put the hours in to learn about it. So when my car sputters and spits and dies one day at a red light, I'll get it towed right to the mechanic. Fix it myself? I don't want to know about it. Of course, I'll wish I had a different attitude when he hands me the bill for $1400. I'll wish I had the ability, the knowledge, to effectively analyze that problem and fix it.
Analysis helps us every which way we look. We'd hardly survive in our complex environment without the intellectual power to analyze situations, problems, theories, arguments, political candidates, consumer products, values, and on, and on. The ability to analyze something is an intellectual skill that can be applied in any field of study, be it mechanical engineering, literary criticism, or environmental activism. We're practicing it in our writing course precisely because it is so ubiquitous.
To analyze something, to "really see it," we have to break it down and then intensely examine all of its component parts. Only then can we really begin to understand how it works, what it means, whether it floats, what's wrong with it, how it can be fixed. When we analyze something, we observe it, study it, walk around it and see it from different angles to discover what new conclusions can be drawn about it. We may start unconsciously, voluntarily-even exuberantly. I may come across a poem I enjoy so much that I want to read it over and over again. Each reading, as I go over and over the language, I'm analyzing its meanings and its effect on me. And each time I read that poem, I'm getting more and more "out of it." I'm really seeing it.
The desire to analyze advertisements is usually rooted in our experience with particular ads that strike some kind of chord-they may shock, excite, entertain, or offend, but they've gotten our attention above the noise made by the billion or so other advertisements dumped our way. When we analyze, however, we're doing more than experiencing. We're standing back from our direct experience of a particular ad and consciously observing it, questioning it, looking for unspoken messages about values and attitudes and studying how these messages are being sent. Being a good analyst may be less relaxing than just passively watching or listening, BUT it can be infinitely more interesting, and we learn a lot more. It's when we stand back and analyze the stimuli that we come up with IDEAS when we analyze what's going on around us, we also start to gain some control over its influence on us. It may be as simple as saying, that pitch no longer pulls my strings.
As the philosopher (Socrates) said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." If he were living today, he might have also said, "The unexamined ad is the one that dupes us."
Why analyze advertisements?
Let's face it. Annoying as it may seem, advertising is the heart and blood of our entire economy. Without massive advertising, consumers would never be motivated enough to purchase the products that fuel capitalism, economic growth. Corporations pour millions, billions into advertising. They do it because they know they'll see a return on that dollar. They know their clever, catchy ads will persuade enough people to part with their hard-earned money. Because advertising is so pervasive, and so persuasive, and sometimes so invasive, and sometimes so abrasive (sorry, I get carried away sometimes!), it deserves intelligent, critical attention. As citizens, we have a public duty to protect the vulnerable among us -- as Congress has tried to do, investigating whether the entertainment industry has been unethically marketing adult product to children. It's usually election year stuff, but whenever debates like that arise they're welcome, and long overdue, in many people's minds.
Why analyze ads? If we're trying to practice the skill of analysis, why not? Can you think of anything more pervasive in our culture? We can't even walk into a classroom anymore without being advertised at. Nothing, nowhere is sacred. No space, it seems, cannot be filled with a commercial message. The consequences, the implications of this all out attack on our attention are far reaching. We have to learn to analyze this stuff if we're to make intelligent, ethical decisions about how, where, and when we spend our money. We have to become more aware of how advertising works so that we aren't continually duped by Madison Avenue. And because what we do with our spending money, in this global economy, effects more than ourselves. Where our consumer dollars land has a ripple effect that influences what happens to people in other countries far across the world.
Advertisements are a lot like Zen koans these days, sometimes they are humorous and sometimes they are serious, or mysterious, sending us complex, unspoken, intuitive, subconscious messages about the values and attitudes embedded in our culture. They will claim to reflect our culture, but actually they have a large hand in shaping it. Advertisements achieve this, not with actual words (which usually say very little), but with images and sound. Below the surface level, there's a deeper meaning to what's going on. The unspoken content is often the most important part of the message!
RHETORICAL STRATEGIES FOR "DOING ANALYSIS"
"Rhetorical strategies," remember, are tools for developing ideas to their fullest. They are "rhetorical" in the sense that they help us speak or write effectively, and they are "strategies in the sense that they help us develop a plan for expressing something effectively, for analyzing something effectively, for interpreting something effectively, or for using persuasion effectively.
When we use the term "rhetorical strategies" (sometimes they are referred to as rhetorical "modes") we're referring, specifically, to:
RHETORICAL STATEGIES IN PRACTICE
For each of the rhetorical strategies listed above, I would try to provide instruction (explanation, examples) to help students see how they can be used in practice. I would address the following points:
Here are two strategies to exemplify the kind of notes I'd provide--
When writers use description they try to create a mental impression of their subject for readers. Good description grabs attention, gets the imagination working, gets readers involved and participating in what they're reading.
Writers can use description either objectively or subjectively. An objective description attempts to convey an impression "uncolored" by the writer's feelings or attitude toward the subject (this isn't 100% possible, but more on that later). A subjective description, on the other hand, communicates more than a snapshot of its subject, however sharply focused. With subjective kinds of description, along with the picuture, the readers also receives a definite impression of the writer's attitude towards that subject, because the writer selects words and details that create a particular mood or emotion, or atmosphere.
What are two possible ways of describing a graffitti-covered garage door, for example? One description might focus on the objective facts--the colors, the words, the style, and the amount of coverage. A subjective description might convey the same kinds of details, but include further details or select words that convey an attitude towards the graffitti, whether it's an attitude of disgust or admiration, or something else. Consider the difference between these two statements:
If you are decribing an advertisement you plan on analyzing, you need to be aware of the power of your word choices. The way you desribe the ad will signal to the reader whether you're prepared to analyze it fairly, objectively. If you choose to describe it subjectively, do it consciously, with purpose.
Writers use comparison and contrast to point out similarities and differences between things. To "compare" means to find similarities; to "contrast" means to find differences. Sounds simple, right? It should; it's a very ingrained intellectual task. Learning theorists have even determined that comparing and contrasting is integral to the way we learn. When we acquire new experiences, or when we try to assimilate new concepts, we unconsciously, automatically compare and contrast the new experience or information with what we already know, and we build new abilities, new awarenesses that way. When you use comparison and contrast in writing, you are likely using it in the service of analysis, or to communicate an observation about your subject that contributes to your readers gaining a greater understanding of it.
The skill of comparing and contrasting really becomes useful for writers doing analysis. It helps organize the kinds of observations we arrive at when we're closely observing something, and it leads to new conclusions--new awarenesses, new perspectives. By seeing how something compares, or is similar, to something else, we may understand it that much better; by seeing how it contrasts, or is different, we may understand it in a new light.
Two options exist for organizing the comparisons and contrasts you observe about your subject. You can use the "block" method (called "chunking" by the St. Martin's Guide to Writing) or you can use the "point-by-point" method (called "sequencing" in the St. Martin's Guide to Writing). Here's how the St. Martin's Guide defines "chunking" and "sequencing":
Both chunking and sequencing allow you to present your observations coherently within paragraphs or throughout an essay or report.
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