The Effect of Rhetoric on Representation as Argued in Signifying Bodies and Showcased in Cockeyed

Summary; 2018

In G. Thomas Couser’s chapter, “Rhetoric and Self-Representation in Disability Memoir” in Signifying Bodies, he argues that autobiographies from marginalized groups such as disabled people have the power to remove the social, economic and political domination in their lives. This is because they are given the power to represent themselves. In the chapter, Couser focuses on “rhetoric” (i.e. the way the narrator tells their story), illustrating with real disability memoirs how the various types of rhetoric – “triumph, horror, spiritual compensation, and nostalgia”, enforces the stigma and marginalization of disabled people (33). In the end, Couser introduces the rhetoric of emancipation in the memoir I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes by Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer and Steven B. Kaplan. Couser explains that Sienkiewicz-Mercer illustrates disability as something that can be accommodated if society removes the ‘physical, social and cultural obstacles’ (44) that it has created, as opposed to something that requires fixing. These types of social accommodations contribute to the positive representation of disabled people.

One rhetoric that was present in the disability memoir Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton, was “rhetoric of nostalgia” (Couser 38). Couser exemplifies with the memoir The Driving Bell and the Butterfly by Dominque Bauby, that this rhetoric is when the narrator tells his story reminiscing in when they were not disabled. The consequence of the rhetoric is it enforces the perception that disability makes someone less of a person. In Cockeyed, this rhetoric was present in Ryan denying his blindness by refusing to get a cane and enduring relentless injuries from bumping into things. This creates great sympathy for Ryan especially when he fell into “oncoming traffic” (Knighton 60) because it emphasised that his deteriorating vision puts him in constant danger. This subconsciously created the impression that he was less of a person than he was before losing his vision, which is in line with the consequence of “rhetoric of nostalgia” (Couser 38).

However, in Cockeyed, “rhetoric of nostalgia” (38) was then replaced with “rhetoric of emancipation” (44), as Ryan learned to accept his disability, and that it does not define him. Couser illustrates with the memoir I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes that this rhetoric is when the narrator reveals that what causes the discrimination of disabled people, is society’s perception of disability and not the actual physical or mental disability. This was present in Knighton’s memoir when he had a “shift in perspective” (71). Ryan realised that people have multiple reactions to him using a cane, because of their perception of disability and feelings towards those who have disabilities (72).

In conclusion, Couser’s chapter has highlighted the lost potential of some disability memoirs for challenging stigmas because of their rhetoric. In addition, Cockeyed has illustrated that different types of rhetoric can be present in a single disability memoir. This could have been because like understanding disability, for those who are disabled, accepting it can also be a process. Hence, it is crucial that when people read memoirs from marginalized groups, they understand that it represents the individual first and foremost but are critical about how those personal narratives represent the collective.

Work Cited

Couser, G. T. Signifying Bodies: Disability in Contemporary Life Writing. University of Michigan Press, 2009.

Knighton, Ryan. Cockeyed: a Memoir. PublicAffairs, 2006.

Media Representation of Drug Addiction and How it Perpetuates Stereotypes

Amy Winehouse. Cory Monteith. Prince. Mac Miller. Philip Seymour Hoffman. One commonality that these individuals have is that they were all celebrities who passed away from an overdose. In general, the media talked about the great work they did, the work they would be living behind, about how their significant others would miss them. Overall celebrities who have a drug addiction are depicted as worthy victims [1](Herman and Chomsky, 2002). The way the media represents celebrity addicts usually gives them justification for their drug addiction because of the high stress they experience from their lives being constantly in the public. In addition, the media never portrays being a drug user as their primary identity.

Unfortunately, everyday individuals who suffer from drug addiction don’t have such privilege.  They are deemed unworthy victims [2](Herman and Chomsky, 2002) of society if they suffer from addiction which in itself is a disease. This means that society takes little concern for the fact that these individuals need reformed government policies, and a changed societal perception to help them battle their disease. This is evident for example from the increased number of raw, uncensored videos of people “passed out with needles in their arms” [3](Seelye et al., 2018) posted on YouTube. One such video was an instance where Mandy McGowan collapsed from a fentanyl overdose in a Dollar Store, she had visited with her 2-year-old daughter. The fact that when the situation occurred, people began taking a video of her unconscious instead of attending to her sobbing daughter highlights the lack of disregard for drug addicts. The consequences of the lack of disregard are severe too. McGowan is known as “Dollar Store Junkie” and now struggles not only with addiction but the negative image of herself from a video of one of the most difficult moments of her life that shall live on the internet forever. [4](Seelye et al., 2018)

This treatment of people suffering from addiction, the way society views addicts as unworthy victims and how they have been represented in the media is significant because it creates a huge stigma of addiction. This makes it harder for addicts to seek out the help they need to battle the addiction, and thus contributes to a cycle.

However, there is hope. Apart from the Canadian Harm Reduction Network which promotes harm reduction as a means of focusing on “the harm caused by problematic substance use, rather than substance use per se” [5](City of Vancouver, 2017), other organisations are fighting to remove the stigma of addiction in society as one of the ways to help people battling addiction. One such example is the provincewide campaign by the British Columbia Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in association with the Vancouver Canucks hockey team [6] (Ghoussoub, 2018) to show that an individual with an addiction identity as a drug user is just one among the many identities that link them to a community such as “daughter”, “co-worker” and “student”. In addition, health authorities such as Northern Health, Fraser Health, and First Nations Health Authority are working to reduce the stigma of addiction and preventing overdose by highlighting narratives about the impact of negative stereotypes around the disease [7] (Government Communications, 2017).

(First year, 2018)

References

Ghoussoub, M. (2018, January 29). Vancouver Canucks launch campaign to fight stigma surrounding addiction | CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-canucks-launch-campaign-to-fight-stigma-surrounding-addiction-1.4509402

Government Communications. (2017, September 07). Reducing Stigma. Retrieved from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/overdose/reducing-stigma

Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

Seelye, K. Q., et al. (2018, December 11). How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/us/overdoses-youtube-opioids-drugs.html

City of Vancouver. (2017, January 20). Four Pillars drug strategy. Retrieved from https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/four-pillars-drug-strategy.aspx


[1]Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

[2] Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

[3] Seelye, K. Q., et al. (2018, December 11). How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/us/overdoses-youtube-opioids-drugs.html

[4] Seelye, K. Q., et al. (2018, December 11). How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/us/overdoses-youtube-opioids-drugs.html

[5] City of Vancouver. (2017, January 20). Four Pillars drug strategy. Retrieved from https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/four-pillars-drug-strategy.aspx

[6] Ghoussoub, M. (2018, January 29). Vancouver Canucks launch campaign to fight stigma surrounding addiction | CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-canucks-launch-campaign-to-fight-stigma-surrounding-addiction-1.4509402

[7] Government Communications. (2017, September 07). Reducing Stigma. Retrieved from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/overdose/reducing-stigma

Intersectionality

The number one streaming song of the week January 12, 2019, according to Billboard was the hip hop/rap song Sicko Mode by Travis Scott ft. Drake. Like most if not all rap songs, the persona, Travis sings about all the women he has ‘gained’ because of his music career and about sex. This was evident from the lines: “All of these hoes I made off records I produced/(Don’t stop, pop that pussy!)”( Lenniger) Likewise, one minute and forty-two seconds into the music video, Travis is seen with numerous women of African descent lying with their butts facing the camera, on the floor of what looks like an abandoned car park in nothing but a bra and a G-string. He, on the other hand, sits half-naked on a sofa in front of all of them. The display of women of African descent in provocative clothes or bikinis dancing or interacting with the two rappers continues throughout the video.

The image created is that the worth of women of African descent is based on their sexual appeal (Gordon 246), and they exist only to serve men. This is because only women of African descent are being hyper-sexualized and sexually objectified in the music video. The image denies these women the power to be equal to men as they are “reduced to body parts rather than as whole persons with thoughts, feelings, and desires” (Gordon 246). In addition, they are denied the power to create their own narratives, because the image normalizes the stereotype of women of African descent as naturally sexual, fertile, and submissive to men. Hence, the image is controlling, and the dominate group men create the identity of women of African descent as “the other”. (Collins 68)

Malcolm X once said that “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” (Common) One area where this is very evident is hip-hop, which was birthed in America, because “the proliferation of highly sexualized and exoticized images of women…in numerous hip hop music videos…for the most part, [are] of African descent” (Maultsby and Burnim 306-307) . Hence, these women are not only perceived inferior to men, they are perceived inferior to women of other races too. This sexual objectification in the hip hop culture reflects different forms of oppression for women of African descent – their race, their gender, and their sexuality.

The group that benefits from the image discussed, apart from the music industry who receives lots of money from the popularity of hip-hop music, is men. This is because they get away with objectifying women of African descent and sexually taking advantage of their insecurity. When a negative image such as the devalue of self-worth is constantly repeated, it is “embedded in psyche”, and it eventually becomes the nature of the individual (Gammage 51). In addition, due to cultivation theory (Gordon 246), young girls and women of African descent grow up believing that they have to be sexually appealing to get and keep a significant other. However, young boys, and men are victims of the image too. They grow up with the notion that having sex is equivalent to power, and incorporate that into their lives and music, even if they enter the industry because the art form demands they speak of their reality. This creates not only a cycle of the image but of abusive relationships in the culture too.

The consequences of this cycle and this image are numerous. For example, girls of African descent are sent home from school because of violating dress codes, when in fact, it is because the institution “deems their bodies too provocative” (NowThisNews).

Due to the fact that the image of women of African descent intersects multiple areas, its solution needs to be intersectional. Liberal Feminist tools are required to tackle gender inequality because ‘female rappers’ don’t have the same opportunities nor popularity in the music industry. Poststructuralist Feminist tools are required to educate rappers on the impact of what they say, how they talk about, and depict these women. Marxist Feminist tools are required to stop the music industry from exploiting these women’s sexuality. Post-colonial Feminist tools are required to reverse European enslavement of Africans and colonial enhancement of the hyper-sexualized treatment of these women’s femininity (Gammage 34). Action needs to be taken now!

Works Cited

Common. “Malcolm X.” Twitter, Twitter, 24 Dec. 2017, twitter.com/common/status/944995848886218752?lang=en.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Routledge, 2000.

Gammage, Marquita Marie. REPRESENTATIONS OF BLACK WOMEN IN THE MEDIA: The Damnation of Black Womanhood. TAYLOR & FRANCIS, 2017, http://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781315671550.

Gordon, Maya K. “Media Contributions to African American Girls Focus on Beauty and Appearance: Exploring the Consequences of Sexual Objectification.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 3, 2008, pp. 245–256., doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00433.x

Lenniger, Shea. “Here Are the Lyrics to Travis Scott’s ‘Sicko Mode’.” Billboard, Billboard, 26 Sept. 2018, http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/lyrics/8477102/travis-scott-sicko-mode-lyrics.

Maultsby, Portia K, and Mellonee V. BurnimIssues in African American Music: Power, Gender, Race, Representation. Routledge, 2017, http://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781315472089.

NowThis News. “Author Monique Morris Shines A Light On The Black Girl’s Unique Experience In America.” NowThis, NowThis News, 29 Aug. 2018, http://www.nowthisnews.com/videos/her/author-monique-morris-on-black-girls-unique-experience-in-america.

“R&B/Hip-Hop Streaming Songs.” Billboard, Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/charts/r-and-b-hip-hop-streaming-songs.