Even “Trusted” Sellers Are Still Just Trying to Sell Something

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Photo: Scott Wilkinson

In her article “iPods, Viagra, and the Praiseworthy Life,” Barbara J. Blakely discusses the various ways in which a number of print advertisements for technology and medical products exemplify an epideictic type of discourse. Such rhetoric, she reminds us, has the effect of being able to play upon what the audience already believes about the world around them, reinforcing those values and identifications that its recipients already hold dear. Technology and medical advertisements embody a unique form of this rhetoric, however, in that they go beyond the moral and spiritual virtues typically associated with epideictic discourse and replace them with a “commodification of common experiences to create a market” (Blakely 687). Their imperative is based upon the benefits provided by material accumulation. Such advertisements portray a good life as consisting of a total ease of living, a reality based around “progress, convenience, efficiency” (686) which plays into the narrative of internal and external advancement to which so many adhere. Consumers implicitly view these ads as trustworthy. The epideictic praise afforded through them is directed toward those who can manage their daily affairs and time efficiently, have freedom from needing to be confined to a single location, and are connected with the outside world.

Blakely’s survey methodology, even though covering only two magazines, is comprehensive. It manages to show a consistency in the use of advertising methods over a full one-year period of publication (691). The very fact that advertisers know that “[c]onsumers trust and believe magazine advertising more than advertising in other media” (qtd. on 690) demonstrates a conscious and transparent motivation on their part. Their audience is representative of the typical, well-off American consumer, who views the ability to achieve things and progress in life as a virtuous trait (692). While reading Blakely’s article, I was strongly reminded of Barry Brummett’s discussion of media critics. They often consider media texts to be focused on creating a sense of intimacy with the audience, which allows the ideas being sold to seem more personally applicable and meaningful for people (202). Since the ads that Blakely focuses upon have a “resonance with a common cultural narrative” (Blakely 694), this causes many consumers to take the same ideas away from them. It is experts, of course, who are revealing to us the ways by which we can have an “enjoyment of Life with no Limits” (695). In a similar way, even the tourism industry in Salem is selling not just “a bit of leisure time” (Gatchet 180), but is also displaying an example of epideictic rhetoric with an emphasis on progress. In Salem’s case, it is a supposed transition in history from mob violence against witches to a thriving, multifaceted economy (182). People simply love to feel as though they are playing a part in progress.

The main reason I find Blakely to be persuasive is that her justification for making the argument is based on exigencies of technology, culture, and politics. Technology marketing often veils rhetoric, she suggests, which makes it difficult to discern or analyze the substance of arguments made in its advertising. She argues that we have to recognize this if we are to truly understand the peculiarities of rhetorical methods within such advertising. Blakely also seems to suggest that the prevalence of uncritical consumer citizens can open the door to a type of corporatist nationalism (685-86). The primary reason for her to even reveal the use of epideictic rhetoric in certain advertising, then, is to equip individuals “to develop true empowerment” (700) in a sea of corporate interests. There is also Blakely’s argument of causation, that the consumers’ trust of a particular type of advertisement over another is a primary reason for their decision to purchase the items being promoted. In the end, the larger point that Blakely brings out is the dual problem of de-socialization and overmedication in society. Overreliance on technology and medicine has often produced little more than gross mismanagement within our day-to-day lives.

Works Cited

Blakely, Barbara J. “iPods, Viagra, and the Praiseworthy Life: Epideictic Rhetoric in Technology and Medical Print Advertising.” The Journal of Popular Culture 44.4 (2011): 684-703. Print.

Brummett, Barry. Rhetoric in Popular Culture. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. Print.

Gatchet, Roger. “A Hystery of Colonial Witchcraft: Witch-Hunt Tourism and Commemoration in Salem, Massachusetts” in Uncovering Hidden Rhetorics: Social Issues in Disguise. Ed. Barry Brummett. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2007. Print.

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