The Boondocks: Trial of R. Kelly (Legal Rhetoric)

After reading various definitions of rhetoric over the course of two weeks and trying to understand all perspectives of why and how, not only ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle but also historical figures like John Locke and George Kennedy, explain rhetoric based on their societal time and personal experiences I’ve come to realize that rhetoric is based on everything. We all somehow use rhetoric without even consciously realizing it, well at least most of us anyway. People who are in the advertising industry, politics, and any discourse that requires you to watch what you say because others are watching you as a brand or a being, well those are the people who pay attention rhetoric.

Rhetoric is useful for a multitude of things. Aristotle agrees with me on that (or rather I agree with him). Rhetoric can be used to show the truth of things in the natural tendency in which they happen to prevail over their opponents in a conversation or for better use of a word an argument. He also says that before specific audiences we must not only possess the knowledge to prove that our case is valid but be able to apply instruction (evidence) and use persuasion to convince them. I don’t know about you but this sounds like how the justice system works to me. Innocent until proven guilty.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at how the rhetorical function to persuade relates to how the court system in America works. I’m going to try to keep things light heartened but still present a concrete example by using an episode of The Boondocks titled ‘The Trial of R. Kelly‘ [warning: mature content].

R. Kelly is an R & B singer who, in 2002, was charged with 21 counts of child pornography in the state of Chicago after a video of him engaging in sexual acts and urinating on an underage (13 year old) girl. For further details, please visit CNN.

This particular episode of The Boondocks premiered on November 13th, 2005 on Adult Swim. The episode features several central characters:

  1. Riley Freeman (voiced by Regina King): the younger brother with braids who is perceived as an 8 year old thug
  2. Huey Freeman (voiced by Regina King): the older brother with an afro who is perceived as a young social and civil rights activist, similar to that of Martin Luther King Jr.
  3. Tom Dubois (voiced byCedric Yarbrough): the neighbor who works as a public defense attorney
  4.  Robert Kelly (voiced by various actors): R & B singer, songwriter, record producer
  5. R. Kelly’s Lawyer (voiced by Adam West): self explanatory description/ guest star for this episode

Here is a scene from the episode where Riley presents an argument against his neighbor, Tom Dubois about the R. Kelly trial.

As it relates to rhetoric, what do we see here? Well, we can easily see a clear portrayal of the three appeals to effecting persuasion, according to Aristotle: ethos (to understand human character and goodness in various forms), pathos (to understand emotions), and logos (to reason logically).

These arguments are presented from the very beginning when Tom says how sorry he is about having to prosecute R. Kelly, which presents pathos because he is being sincere about their emotional response to the trial. Huey responds with “Aye man you do what you got to do,” which then presents logos because it’s Tom’s job to prosecute people for their wrong doings and he shouldn’t have to apologize.

Riley enters the scene with his rant about R. Kelly. He starts rough presenting pathos as a weak argument to say, “Why R. Kelly? What did he do to you?”

Tom’s rebuttal is presented confidently with the logos to say that R. Kelly urinating on an underage girl is against the law.

Riley isn’t hit to hard in this ring of argumentation because he comes back with ethos to ask Tom about the statute of limitations on peeing. So peeing in a toilet is okay but peeing on a person is not okay. Then what about accidentally peeing on someone in the bathroom who is standing next to you? What about bed wetting? That’s an involuntary action. Riley presents logos and ethos throughout this argument.

Tom presents further logos when he says that no one will prosecute Riley for bed wetting.

Riley continues his argument strong with saying how no one should be prosecuted for peeing because it’s a natural bodily function and that the victim is not little but there are other people who are actually little who managed to avoid getting peed on so far implying the question of what makes this girl so different? Riley finishes his argument with “When does personal responsibility become a factor in this equation? I see piss coming, I move. She saw piss coming, she stayed.” Riley may have started his argument weakly with pathos but he ended on a strong note by presenting logos and ethos.

This next and last scene that I would like to show you all is from the same episode of The Boondocks but it is a scene from the court room, where the alleged tape of R. Kelly is played and his lawyer tries his best to defend R. Kelly’s case but fails terribly. In relation to real life events, R. Kelly pleaded that because the tape was not on his face and even when it was aligned properly the recording wasn’t clear and presented an obstructed visual of a man that it was not actually him in the video. The watching audience on the other side of the TV of news reports from this case as well as the court had a good bit of proof to believe it was him. This short clip makes a satire of how R. Kelly presented his plead and how the lawyer failed to defend his reputation.

Tom presents his argument in a way to get the crowd to feel bad for the victim and what happened to her by explaining to the jury and R. Kelly’s lawyer that this is a young girl who is still learning things about life and is innocent and doesn’t know any better. However, the victim quickly refuses Tom’s argument with “whatever I guess” and her later statement, “if I didn’t want to be peed on I’d just move out the way.” This is the perfect irony because Riley presented the same argument earlier in the episode, which persuades Tom that argument is valid.

To sum up, the way rhetoric works in law falls in to the three divisions of oratory defined by Aristotle. This particular blog post in correlation between The Boondocks: ‘The Trial of R. Kelly’ episodes and the law system in America represents forensic speaking, which either attacks or defends somebody and must always be done by the parties in the case. Similar to a court case where the lawyers defend or attack the clients in the case and present an argument to persuade not only those in the court room but the masses of society.

 

Sources:

“Aristotle on Rhetoric.” American Rhetoric. American Rhetoric, 2001-2015. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

“R. Kelly arrested in child porn case.” CNN Entertainment. CNN, 6 Jun. 2002. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

The Boondocks Show. “The Boondocks Season 1 Episode 2 – The Trial of R. Kelly – (Full Episode)” Online video clip. YouTube, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

Nick James. “R Kelly Piss Case. Riley VS Tom (Boondocks)” Online video clip. YouTube, 9 Jun. 2013. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

cooldude9404. “The Boondocks – R.Kelly Peeing Tape (Uncut)” Online video clip. YouTube, 18 Aug. 2013. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

Rhetoric in Advertising & Gender Roles

I could write all day long about communication from the creation of language to digital writing. But today I’m going to talk about rhetoric, its various meanings, and how it affects us all in modern society.

Let’s start with the obvious question, what is rhetoric?

Well from ancient times people used rhetoric to make decisions, resolve disputes, and deliberate publicly about important issues. According to Aristotle, “[the function of rhetoric] is not to persuade but to see the available means of persuasion in each case.” Basically he was saying that rhetoric has the power to find available arguments suited to any given situation and that by persuasion you could actually change a person’s perspective on a particular topic by using rhetoric.

When I look at defining rhetoric in my own terms, I would say that it is something that we use in every day and in any situation. Rhetoric like any other area of study when it comes to language can be bent or changed on its definition. We see this throughout the various definitions and meanings given to the term in the Chapter 1 readings of Ancient Rhetoric.

For example, rhetoric is used in advertising. How you might ask? Well rhetoric is not only used in written language but also unwritten language like body language (nonverbal cues and facial expressions), symbols, logos, colorization, and even design or arrangement of a piece of work.

In June 2014, Pantene (a premium hair care company) launched a ‘Not Sorry’ campaign that illustrated the spoken rhetoric of how women are constantly apologizing.

Pantene, Not Sorry| #ShineStrong YouTube 2014.

The campaign goal is to get women to stop apologizing and be confident in their responses or comments to others whether it be at work, at home, or at school. Pantene sends the message that with great hair comes great confidence. They also use digital rhetoric with their usage of hashtags in their campaign, #ShineStrong.

So how does this advertisement display rhetoric?

A canon is something that is official or well regarded in a specific discourse. In this case, we must take a look at the canons of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery) to understand the significance of this advertisement. Pantene invents an argument about women not being confident enough to express their real feelings without saying ‘sorry’, arrange it in a campaign, use the brand and company style to promote this concept as well as their product, and deliver it in the form a memorable commercial.

What’s the big deal?

When we take a look at gender and the differences in how men communicate and how women communicate, we come up with a conclusion that women apologize more and don’t always speak with a certain tone of confidence. This could psychologically come from the idea that women are suppose to be subservient to men and therefore, speak softer and/or don’t speak with the same level of firmness as men.

Pantene has several articles written by various magazines as responses to their ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ campaign about why women apologize more and shouldn’t. This article approves an agreement with my argument by saying that we (as women) have reached a tipping point with how much we say sorry to others. The author, Jessica Bennett, even talks about a feminist podcast that she forwarded the link to her friend and when her female friend finally got a chance to read it she replied with, ‘Sorry I didn’t reply sooner.’ Jessica goes on to say that women use the word ‘sorry’ as a crunch to explain themselves or apologize sincerely when they don’t need to.

I agree with situation because whether we are presenting an argument that is meant to appeal to ethos, pathos, or logos, we shouldn’t have to apologize for ourselves. We should just accept whatever is happening at that moment in time and ask our question, make our statement, speak our minds freely without always mistaking ourselves as less important when our words are just as valid and just as important as anyone else. I feel like Pantene has done a great job of bringing up this issue of women apologizing as well as selling their product to us.

This is only exploratory blog post number one for the semester. So stay tuned for more blogs, posted every week on Sunday nights. Share your thoughts with me on rhetoric by replying below.

 

Sources:

Crowley, Sharon. Ancient Rhetoric. Massachusetts: A Viacom Company, 1999. Print.

Pantene. “Not Sorry| #ShineStrong Pantene.” Online video clip. YouTube, 18 Jun 2014. Web. 22 Aug. 2015.

Bennett, Jessica. “I’m Sorry, but Women Really Need to Stop Apologizing.” Living. Time Magazine, 18 Jun. 2014. Web. 22 Aug. 2015.

Benvenuto

Welcome to my blog site where you will explore with me the various definitions and applications of classical and modern rhetorical history and theory. You will find that I make connections between written, spoken, and read literature as well as thoughts or theories that have been created by philosophers such as Platos, Aristotle, and Isocrates. We will also explore the wonders of the internet and social trends during this adventure together. So have your devices charged up and ready to tweet, insta, or whatever it is you do.

**Please be reminded that language is constantly being created and that in order to understand social and cultural references and have effective communication for the modern world, we must interact and play with the ideas of various methods, ideologies, and works from before our own time.**

I hope that you all enjoy my blog.

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