Dana Carvey illustrates presidential rhetorical style…

Some comments, on “Presidential Rhetoric’s Visual Turn” (2000) by Keith Erickson, in Visual Rhetoric: A reader in communication and American culture.

True or false? “Although occasionally disdained by critics, fetching images nonetheless rhetorically influence the public’s acceptance of political fantasies insofar as they suppress reliance upon logic and collaborative evidence, and visually stress dominant and underlying ideological themes” means that politicians use performance fragments to blow smoke up the public’s collective ass. Oops, I meant they use performance fragments to divert our attention from the logic, or lack thereof, of their political positions and from the evidence of their real focus, including laws they have promoted or vetoed, acts they have supported, etc.

This comes as no surprise. I wonder if this article was intended for a freshman or sophomore class in rhetoric. Not that it is bad, the points are clearly made, and plenty of evidence is used. These are ideas which are crucial to critical thinking in a visual-digital age. They just aren’t new ideas to anyone who has taken a few years of college classes.

The point about political fantasy is a good one. For example, President Bill Clinton took on the label “Clinton the Environmentalist” after his July 4, 1996 release of a bald eagle named “Freedom,” despite his mixed environmental record (http://clinton.procon.org/).

I wonder why the author calls the instances of presidential photo ops and sound bites “performance fragments”? It’s true that each instance mentioned was brief, but to call it a fragment suggests that there was more to the performance. I’d like to know what the “more” is, in his opinion. To suggest that the entire presidency is a performance is a little too cynical, even for me.

One last bit about this piece…before reading this article, I hadn’t seen(or heard) the word “prudent” so many times since Dana Carvey did impressions of GW Bush. For your visually rhetorical pleasure, here is Dana Carvey doing impressions of presidential styles in a 3 1/2 minute clip from Conan. His impressions could also serve as visual rhetoric themselves, in that some of them make a point about presidential rhetorical styles, foibles, and flaws. One example of style is GHW Bush’s use of “evil-doers” versus Barack Obama’s “those who wish to do us harm.” Carvey’s send-up makes some valid points. Aannnnd…then it turns into a discussion of Ronald Reagan and actor Jimmy Stewart using “F-bombs,” something that was definitely not part of either of their rhetorical styles.


And Dana Carvey as Church Lady. The look says it all.



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2 responses to “Dana Carvey illustrates presidential rhetorical style…”

  1. jamesericsentell says :

    The article was a bit repetitive, wasn’t it? Yet the multitude of examples does prove the point quite definitively, I think.

    • Mary C. says :

      I agree. He gets his point across well, so I have no complaints about his writing style. 🙂
      Did you have time to watch the video of Dana Carvey (Church Lady, SNL)? I was wondering if you think his send-up of presidential rhetoric is also a form of rhetoric itself. Carvey makes points about their styles, like GW’s good ol’ boy approach, Clinton’s attempts at empathy (“I feel your pain”), and Obama’s more intellectual appeals.

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