Manipulating Public Opinion

Public opinion is not set in stone, but it is definitely hard to change. It is slow, and oftentimes reactionary, as said by Edward Bernays in the Essay “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How.” As the general public, we do not easily accept new ideas, yet there are constantly people trying to manipulate public opinion through mediums such as propaganda. It is interesting to me that there are still so many people who are trying to manipulate public opinion, because it is very clear how tough it is to change it, and in some cases it could even be rendered impossible. Why is public opinion so hard to sway? I think that it is largely due to the pride we have as a people, and that as a people, we have trust issues. The prideful aspect of this is simple, and can be seen individually as well as publicly. When one has an opinion that he has worked for a long time to form, or even if he has not, he will be unwilling to even listen to someone who is trying to change his opinion. Pride is interesting to look at psychologically, because, especially in this case, we are just saying that we are better than everyone else in that our opinion is the one and only correct viewpoint or worldview. This is quite a prestigious position for us to put ourselves in. We think that we are above everyone else just because we have an opinion, and this is amazing to me how automatic the process is. This is also present on a larger scale, that being the general public. Once we form an opinion as a whole, we are probably not going to change it for a long time. There are conspiracies after conspiracies in the news and in third party organizations about the existence or non existence of aliens. The public is divided between two main claims: they exist, and they do not exist. All of the people that say they exist will probably never change their opinion, partially because of this pride, and also because of the limits of inductive reasoning. We will never be able to prove that aliens do not exist, but maybe one day we will be able to prove that they do, which is the limit of the opposite claim that they do not exist. They will only be able to be proven wrong in this world, they will not ever be proven right. Though the public is divided among this, everyone that has an opinion feels extremely strong about their opinion and is unlikely to change it. As I mentioned earlier, there are trust issues that the public struggles with sometimes. Many people do not trust our government about claims about aliens and some even are refuting the existence of the moon landing. Because we do not trust reputable sources, the trust issues that we have are apparent and render our opinion virtually impossible to change, together with our pride.

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Banking

I once had a friend, and we were out running an errand. On our way back home, his sister called and asked us to pick up one AA battery. One singular AA battery. This was so funny to me, but once I thought about it, I realized that the fact that she asked us to do this made no sense, not just because you can’t buy just one AA battery, they come in packs of at least four. The reason this made no sense is because his sister is a Straight A’s Honors and AP and Student Council student en route for Valedictorian, who spends hours every day doing homework for her classes. This girl is regarded as “smart” or “gifted,” yet somehow in almost 17 years of life she hasn’t discovered how batteries are sold. After reading “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education” by Paulo Freire, I finally discovered the answer to this seeming phenomenon. High School Education is like a bank. The teacher the banker, and the student the client of the bank. Teachers spend their days lecturing to students, giving them vocabulary and telling them how Cellular Respiration works, and the students memorize all of this blatantly. The memorization often has no meaning for the student because they’re just told to memorize, not to understand, and in standardized testing, they will be tested on their memory, not their understanding, and due to this they will not perceive significance or meaning of anything memorized in class. The more students memorize, the “smarter” they are deemed to be, and the higher their grades are because of their high scores on memory exams, also called “Standardized Testing.” These memorizations can be compared to banking “deposits.” Students have a richer knowledge with more deposits and teachers have better ratings with more deposits given to students. Because of this, students have more of a passive role in society. “The more completely [students] accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited on them” (Freire 2). This fragmented view of reality is things like Biology, a student may know tons of things about Biology because they spent hours studying for the upcoming memorization test (excuse me, unit test), but this Biology is a tiny view of reality, and students such as the girl I mentioned earlier are completely immersed in it. This is why she had no idea about the batteries, the only fabric of reality she knows about is Biology, English, and other school subjects students are made to take. She’s been so pushed into a tiny corner of reality that she can’t even begin to comprehend the real world, and the differences of intelligence that are present. Good students are book smart. Successful people are street smart.

A Good Walk Spoiled

In his podcast titled A Good Walk Spoiled, Malcolm Gladwell revisits golf. He begins with a simple statement. “I hate golf.” Gladwell hates golf. Why does he hate golf? He hates it for many reasons, such as its exclusivity to rich white guys, its taking up of acres and acres of land, and its apparent exemption to fair property tax in the state of California. He complains that he can’t even take a nice walk because the only place where he can take a walk is a little rock pathway between two ginormous fields of perfect and beautiful green: two golf courses. Some golf course/country club memberships cost a quarter of a million dollars, if they even consider your application. Back in the 70’s, the most popular entertainer in America (who was notably a rich white guy addicted to golf) sided with the people of California in a political battle over property tax. In most states, property value is reassessed every two years, and the owner(s) of the property are taxed based on the most recent value. California wanted this to be different, saying that property tax should be based off a value and not be reassessed in any case unless the property is being sold and/or getting new ownership. Well, golf courses have taken full advantage over this law (which was passed), and some of the owners of country clubs haven’t changed in 40 years, so they’re only paying property tax based on the value in the mid 70’s, not based on current value, which, by the way, is billions of dollars. They’re underpaying around 90 million dollars because of this rule and because they haven’t changed ownership. This really rattles Gladwell’s cage, and furthers his hate for golf. He does research and finds that only 10% of people at these country clubs are originally from them, as in from the time when they made the law, and this reminds him of some sort of paradox which goes like if someone was sailing on a ship and when he was sailing he replaced every board on the ship, when he came back would he be on the same ship or a different ship? He applies this to the course. If most of the rich white guys are replaced by newer fresher rich white guys, wouldn’t it technically be a different golf course?

I didn’t completely understand everything that went on in this podcast, but I did understand the parts about property tax, and it kind of made me a little upset because of how little money the country clubs are paying, and how exclusive they are to their members. I think I hate golf too.

Food Fight

Malcolm Gladwell highlights why going to a college that spends their money on extravagant food and improving the food is immoral in his podcast titled “Food Fight” in the podcast series Revisionist History. He begins and spends most of the podcast giving data from interviews with people involved in finances of two main universities as well as interview with students from each university. The interviews with the students mainly pertain to asking  about the food on campus, and the interviews with the financial officers are talking about “wiggle room” in the college’s finances. Because I can’t find a transcript online of the podcast and I don’t know how to spell the college’s names, I’m just going to refer to them as Colleges 1 and 2. College 1 years ago had a very not diverse student body, with some 80% of students paying the full 62 grand per year tuition. Then about a decade ago came the new president of the school, who decided that they needed more diversity in students, so they started giving a ton of money to smart kids from poor lifestyles. As of now about 40% of the student body is paying full tuition, which is half of the original, so the university obviously has less money because less students are paying full tuition and they’re dishing out full rides to poor people. This leads to poor food, which is what many of the students talked about in interviews. Meanwhile, college 2 is still prospering with a majority of their student body paying full tuition. They have a state of the art chef who is in charge of the kitchen and the meals are some of the best. They’re extremely diverse and taste amazing, and all this is simply because they have more money because they have a lot more full paying students. College 2 has a ton of wiggle room as far as finances, college 1 does not. Gladwell says that students should suck it up and go to college 1, because they need tuition paying students, and its immoral to go to the college with amazing food because they don’t need more money, they’re already extremely rich and have more money than they know what to do with.

I agree with the claims that Gladwell makes in this podcast. I do think that it can be considered immoral to go to the school with state of the art food, because you are taking money away from the college that’s increasingly becoming poorer as the years go on. I think that he offers a fascinating take on the morality of something that I probably would not have ever thought about, especially since I’m not a foodie at all. I definitely will now think about this in the future, the food of universities.

They Say, I Say: Part 3

Chapter eight of They Say, I Say is all about connecting parts of your writing. Authors Graff and Birkenstein start by saying that every sentence has to flow nicely and logically with the ones before and after it. There were four main tips for flow: 1, using transition terms; 2, adding pointing words; 3, developing a set of key terms and phrases for each text you write; and 4, repeating yourself. Transitions can be single words such as also and besides, or groups of words such as to put it another way. Pointing words are words like this, these, and that. As far as repeating key terms and phrases, they suggest to “develop a constellation of key terms and phrases, including their synonyms and antonyms, that you repeat throughout your text” (Graff and Birkenstein 114). Repeating yourself is pretty self explanatory, but the authors make sure to tell us to repeat ourselves with a difference between each time.

Chapter nine is focused on how to integrate your own voice in writing while also maintaining an academic writing stance. The authors produce a multitude of examples before talking to readers about when to mix styles. It is always important to consider audience and purpose, and write accordingly. For example when applying for a job, it’s best to “err on the safe side, conforming as closely as possible to the conventions of standard written English” (Graff and Birkenstein 127).

In chapter ten, the authors focus on metacommentary, a “way of commenting on your claims and telling others how-and how not-to think about them. The first tip they offer is to use it to clarify and elaborate. If metacommentary isn’t used, then the audience may “fail to see your argument’s overall significance, or mistake what you are saying for a related argument that they have heard before” (Graff and Birkenstein 131), and because of this, metacommentary is necessary. Titles can also have metacommentary in them. For example Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The part of the title after the colon is the metacommentary on Amusing Ourselves to Death. The authors then give templates for introducing metacommentary, then finish the chapter.

Chapter eleven is all about revision. It has several questions about many categories that writers should ask themselves while editing. These categories include “How do you represent what others say?”, “What do you say?”, “Have you tied it all together?”, and “Have you shown why your argument matters?” They then provide several different revision templates.

One main thing I learned while doing this reading was what metacommentary is and how to use it. It will definitely come in handy in my own writing.

Blame Game

In his Podcast titled Blame Game, Malcolm Gladwell highlights human error by giving specific examples from several years ago in a nationwide controversy over the auto giant Toyota. Several years ago there was a man who rented a Lexus (a branch of Toyota) and on his way to soccer practice with his family, he found that his rental was quickly accelerating and that hitting the breaks did not help at all. His son in the car called 911, and told them what was up. He said that they’re on the highway and that they can’t stop, the brakes seem to be failing. While the dispatcher was asking him more questions to try to get a handle on the situation, the car crashed and everyone in the car was killed. When the recording of the 911 call went viral, there were hundreds of lawsuits filed against Toyota and they had to pay upwards of a billion dollars in fines. Even NASA got involved in the case that claimed that there was something wrong with the software of the car, or perhaps there was a floor mat that got caught in the accelerator, essentially jamming it. In the Podcast, Gladwell calls B.S. on all the allegations against Toyota, saying that there was no error with the car whatsoever, that perhaps the man in the car simply was pressing harder and harder on the accelerator not the brakes, leading to uncontrollable speed and eventually totaling the car. He supported this by doing tests with an ’04 Toyota Camry at a racetrack. They did several different braking routines, including braking while the throttle was fully open. The brakes won every battle. His conclusion was that the people in the affected cars had been pressing harder on the accelerator while thinking it was the brake. Gladwell says that essentially somewhere between intention and action, there is a garble: a glitch. If you ask an experienced motorist which pedal is the brake and which one is the gas, he will tell you correctly, but in a harrowing situation he may misjudge because of impulse variability. Gladwell also talks for quite a bit about how unwilling we are to admit to our mistake, that perhaps it is our mistake and not the car’s.

 

I think that Gladwell is spot on with his viewpoint on the Toyota issue, and that the problem of people not admitting to their mistakes is very widespread. It is shocking to me how far people will go to blame something on someone/something else because they refuse to admit that they are in fact the problem. This is because of pride that we all have in us that we just don’t want to admit that we’re wrong. This is all important because it reveals a lot about human behavior and how we respond to different situations and accusations.

Guess Which One…

Moms demand action is an organization that uses rhetorical images to try to fight for stricter gun control in America, which is something that affects everyone in America. They do not want guns to be completely abolished, however, but they do want stricter gun control laws which is the message they convey in their images. Using rhetorical images, Moms Demand Action effectively uses rhetorical appeals such as Pathos to bring light to the startling absence of gun control laws in the United States to gain supporters so that stricter laws can be made.

Image 1

The first image (seen above) is a picture of two children sitting crisscross next to each other, with somber faces on. One is holding the book “Little Red Riding Hood” and the other bears what appears to be an assault rifle. Above the children and centered between them is text that reads “One Child is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America To Protect Them,” then below this in red text “Guess Which One.” The children and the items they are each holding are in full color, and everything in the background isn’t in black in white, but isn’t really in full color either. The color is like what an old photograph would look like when color photography was first invented, but not fully completed. Below the children is an explanation of their reasoning, saying, “We keep ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ out of schools because of the bottle of wine in her basket. Why not assault weapons?” Overall, this image has a very strong message and very strong rhetoric. Like mentioned earlier, the children have very somber faces on. These faces bring across a message of the children perhaps being saddened or disappointed in what our administration has chosen to ban in schools. Them being in full color while the background is in a sepia type color is mainly done to call attention to the children, but there is also a subtle way that this is used. It is along the same lines as the children appearing disappointed about administrator’s choices, because of the lack of a feeling of safety, the setting isn’t as happy, and the apparent lack of color highlights this. The children are also sitting down on the floor crisscross. This made me think of elementary school when we had to sit down crisscross whenever we were sitting on the floor doing an activity in a setting very similar to this, in front of a rocking chair that the teacher sat in. There is a rocking chair in the background of the image. These together with the background that appears to be a library geared towards children create an elementary school type setting, a setting that is supposed to be safe, but perhaps is not as safe as it is supposed to be. This feeling of familiarity is probably what the authors of the image wanted viewers to experience, as well as a shocking feeling conveyed through the text in the image that says, “One Child is Holding Something That’s Been Banned in America To Protect Them.” This sentence can be shocking to readers and possibly make them think about how that doesn’t make sense that Riding Hood is banned but not assault weapons. Below this text is one more line of text, this time in red, that says “Guess Which One.” This text being in red has quite an effect on the rhetoric of this image. The main purpose of making this text in red was symbolism of the blood of too many children and others who have had their lives violently taken them through shootings at places where they’re supposed to be and feel safe: school. Through making this setting seem unsafe and their use of text that shocks and even saddens readers, they strengthen their pathos; through forcing viewers to question the logic of banning Little Red Riding Hood but not assault rifles, they strengthen their logos; and finally, through the text at the bottom that explains why Riding Hood is banned, they strengthen their ethos by justifying the claim made about the book being banned.

Image 2

The second image (seen above) is very similar to the first one in several ways. In the image, there are two people standing in the freezer aisle in a Kroger shopping center. One person is a little girl with a McDonald’s ice cream cone, and the other is a man holding an assault rifle, like the one depicted in the first image. They both have very neutral faces on, just a simple frown that doesn’t convey any clear emotion. He is standing in an aggressive stance, with his legs somewhat wide apart and feet pointed out, and she is standing in more of a submissive stance, with toes pointing inward ever so slightly. To the right of the subjects, there is white text that reads “One of them isn’t welcome at Kroger,” then in red, “Guess which one.” Like the first image, the text is in red to symbolize the blood of people who have fallen to gun violence. At the very bottom of the image there is text that reads “Attention Shoppers: Kroger doesn’t permit outside food & drink inside their stores. So why would they allow this loaded gun?” Overall this image does not have very strong visual rhetoric. The setting makes sense, but doesn’t help the argument much. The people help the argument with their postures and leg/feet positions. The aggressive stance of the man is similar to the stance of someone that might shoot someone, and the submissive stance of the little girl shows her innocence and how she doesn’t intend to do anything wrong, though she is because of her ice cream cone. Their logic isn’t very sound, mainly because in their argument they are missing something. They say that Kroger doesn’t allow outside food, and ask why they would allow an assault rifle, but they fail to consider why Kroger does not allow outside food. Outside food isn’t allowed at Kroger because it hurts their marketing because they sell food. Having a gun does not hurt their marketing at all because they do not even sell guns. The two are not closely related enough for this logic to be sound. There is an absence of Pathos, the subjects’ faces are emotionless, and there is little Ethos, only present in their explanation of Kroger not allowing outside food.

If I were to reconstruct an image to change its meaning, I would change image two. The message that I want to convey is that it makes good sense that the ice cream is not allowed at Kroger, and that it is legal for the gun to be there. I would keep everything in the image except the red text and the text at the bottom of the image. The red text would be changed to read “See below,” then below, the text would read “Kroger doesn’t permit outside food & drink in their stores because it is bad for their marketing, the gun is permitted because that’s what the law says.” Changing these elements completely changes the message because the new image is making sense of laws and the preimage is questioning laws.

We should care about the soundness of these arguments because whether we get more gun control in our country depends on soundness of arguments, though not just in ads from organizations like Moms Demand Action. Before diving deep into these images, I had never considered how much tiny details can affect the message of an image, such as the somber faces of the children in image one, and the background and color differences also in image one. I am glad that I learned about the effect of details because now I can better understand how advertisers are trying to get to me.