In reading this article a couple separate issues came up that are relevant to topics and ideas we’ve discussed in class. First it discusses the nature of rhetorical situation, or more specifically what it dubs “Networked rhetorical situation,” which means “that audiences and critics arrive from all angles, regardless of invitation,” and perhaps this whole “different angles” business accounts for the changes in Clinton’s rhetoric over time and space, which some critics have called “pandering.” The article turns to comedian Louis C.K. as a master of navigating rhetorical situations as defined by both Bitzer and Vatz (though neither are cited): “[Louis C.K.] attunes himself to the possibilities and predicaments of kairos by not only responding to unpredictable rhetorical situations but also by constructing his own predicaments. By creating (or, better, composing) difficult situations, C.K. forces himself to confront the vulnerability and shame of the kairotic moment.” Trump of course tends to construct his own predicaments, whereas Hillary (being the more practiced rhetor) is prepared for the unpredictability of rhetorical situations, seizing these as opportune moments for persuasion, i.e. kairos; here I think specifically of the end of the second debate when the candidates were asked to talk about something they admire in their opponent and Clinton talked about her opponent’s children.
Further, the article turns to the term “snark,” a portmanteau of “snide” and “remark,” to characterize political discourse in digital spaces, viz. social media: “From the mocking tone of Gawker blogs to YouTube comment trolls to flame wars, digital spaces can be caustic places… This response to the unpredictability of the network is what currently dominates rhetorical practice in digital spaces.” Here believed exclusive to digital spaces, I’m under the impression that snark has now entered the actual political arena; indeed many of us in class have expressed disappointment that the debates are more about an exchange of insults than actual policy, and more reminiscent of an internet flame war than the politics we may have come to expect. And though Hillary may be less a culprit of snark than her opponent (“You’re the puppet”) she hasn’t had much choice but to react to the rhetorical situation constructed by her opponent and digital spaces with some snark of her own, e.g. referring to him as Donald, etc.


If we recall that Professor Hayden was sometimes convinced that Alec Baldwin was the opponent his real actual self (which real actual self, I should tell you, I don’t think really actually exists), we can see how easy it is to confuse the real with the image, representation or simulacra. In much the same way, it now seems that rather than the usual order of social media being a representation of reality, reality is now taking queues from social media; to use the old postmodern trope, it is as if a landscape were referring to a map of itself to see what it’s supposed to be like, forgetting altogether that it preceded the map and that the map is supposed to be a representation of it. So it was that “real” politics created the networked rhetorical situation in digital spaces, and digital spaces responded with “snark.” But it now seems that this “snark” has created a new rhetorical situation that politics in the “real” world is now responding to with sarcasm and derision. So the chicken and the egg of Bitzer and Vatz between the real world and the internet, back and forth to the point where the boundary between “real” spaces and digital spaces is nearly indistinguishable. Indeed it appears that the internet, once a virtual representation of reality, is now informing the reality which preceded it, and so “reality” has come to represent digital spaces.

All this leads me to wonder how long this has been going on for, even going back before the internet. The media’s job is supposedly to represent political agendas, but perhaps it’s more true that the political arena represents the media’s agenda. Perhaps it’s actually politics that mediates the media.

So the questions: how is the current political arena painfully, excruciatingly postmodern? How have the traits of digital spaces like snark come to characterize “real” politics, and why is this the worst thing since Disneyland started informing American ideals and not the other way around? If reality is now being informed by representations of itself (e.g. the way the “real” political arena is informed by digital spaces like social media), just what counts as “real” anyway? What cruel symbiosis is occurring between life-in-the-flesh and the internet, and why don’t you find it as dystopic as I do?

(Special thanks to acclaimed post-structuralist theory type people, particularly Jean Baudrillard, who have some insights I find profound despite the fact that they write in a verbose and sort of pretentious way.)

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