“Take a body. We may be disabled,

“Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.” –Jim Rhon”The trouble with having a body is that people know it’s where you hang out and you don’t get any privacy.”- Robert Brault Everyone has a body. We may be disabled, overweight, athletic, or short, but we are all necessarily physical. Even in the realm of the digital we still find it necessary to type and swipe in order to interact with the data that goes back and forth across our monitors. The body is often conceived of as the place where the mind and/or soul live. Though I can only briefly touch on the integration and existence of the essential components of what make up a person, it is clear that, rhetorically, one’s own body is the location from which one necessarily must begin any discourse. It follows then, that as a location of rhetoric, the body must have an ethos that can be shifted and positioned via certain moves.Moves made by individuals in regard to their bodies are made with the intention of creating what I term a “credible body”. The credible body is a piece of rhetoric that every person creates of themselves in order to show that they physically embody the values of a particular locale, be it a fictional, physical or social space. Traditionally, studies into the positioning of bodies in rhetoric have focused on the rhetoric created by individuals whose bodies do not fit the accepted norm. As a few examples, female, minority, disabled, and economically underprivileged persons must address their marginal position and make them into “incentives to see differently, to shift position, to make adjustments.” (Reynolds, 1993, p. 332). However, rhetoric has been expanded since Aristotle’s time to encompass more diverse values than those of well-to-do Athenian men. One could have an ethos of higher education, dive bars, or of state penitentiaries. With the plethora of ethical studies available and the near-infinite number of bodies that can be rhetorically positioned in an attempt to become credible in any of the numerous ethe it would be highly advantageous for anyone studying rhetoric or culture in terms of the body to have a general, theoretical, outline, that can be applied to both the empowered and the disenfranchised states of being.   William Fortenbaugh (1992), in his analysis of Aristotle’s work on rhetoric,  presents a translation in which Aristotle states “For not as some writers on rhetoric posit in their treatises (saying) that the goodness of the speaker contributes nothing to persuasion; rather character has almost the greatest authority in winning belief” (p, 209, parentheses in original). Fortenbaugh immediately and helpfully paraphrases Aristotle by saying, “An audience believes a speaker who is respected and trusted.” (p. 209). The traits that made a man worthy of trust and respect in Aristotle’s time were virtue, goodwill, and wisdom (Fortenbaugh, p. 211). However, these three attributes do not form a universal ethos. Coretta Pittman (2007) points to a privileging of the classical model of ethos in Western culture, even though not all of the people within those cultures measure up well under those standards (pp. 44-45). The black women that Pittman brings forward as examples of those who turned negative ethos into positive do so by using autobiography and narrative in lieu of more traditional “argumentative prose” (Pittman, pp. 45-46).Though Pittman focuses on a particular group and their struggles to adapt to a dominant ethos, the ability, the necessity, to conform one’s own or one’s subject’s character to a prevailing ethos is a commonality in all forms of discourse. Literary genre, selection or deletion of specific events, and the ways bodies are seen, used, and presented are all rhetorical moves that will bring rhetor and audience closer together or further apart. The effectiveness of using rhetorical moves to commend oneself to or separate oneself from the values of an audience’s ethos, of course, depends on the degree to which the rhetor is competent in reading the values of the various ethe to which he or she is exposed. In communicating with others, and on some level this is always an attempt to convince others, it is necessary that we meet them in the place where they live; their ethos. The ethos of the body is one of those places where rhetors find themselves working to win credibility.An interesting case where we can see how a body is changed due to ethical context arises in the case of the zombie. The zombie body occupies a particularly good niche for study since it is both prevalent and deviant in the popular mind, as well as being easy to adapt on a large scale do to its (at least in its form as entertainment) fictional status. Since zombies are generally, with interesting variations, considered to be all or mostly physical one can avoid some of the complications brought along by the discussion surrounding the Cartesian split of body and mind, focusing on what is “purely physical”. A recent article by Mike Mariani (2015) in the Atlantic looks at how the context of zombies changed from a body that represented the endless cycle of Haitian slavery to the means of bringing about a post-apoclyptic, utopyian, fantasy for modern watchers of television and film. According to Mariani, “the original brains-eating fiend was not a slave to the flesh of others but to his own” (2015). The brutal slave trade that sprang up around the sugar cane trade from 1625 to 1800 caused many slaves to turn to suicide (Mariani, 2015). However, slaves believed that if one committed suicide they would not be allowed to return in spirit to their homes and would instead be trapped inside their bodies as zombies; unable to offer even the smallest resistance or gain any freedom in death (Mariani, 2015).The appropriation of the zombie by American culture required that the zombie body be shifted to fit new ethe. With 1968’s Night of the Living Dead (directed by George A. Romero) and the subsequent Dawn of the Dead in 1978 (also Romero) the zombie body that we know today was cast as not a reflection of the way in which our bodies are not our own, but as a commentary on consumer culture (Mariani, 2015). It is no longer a plantation owner who enslaves the body, but the hunger for more that can never be satisfied that is the driving purpose behind the zombie body. By making the impetus behind the zombie body hunger instead of the slave master directors like Romero made the zombie body one that could be inhabited by white Americans. Because oppression of the body was not a part of the prosperous American ethos, in order to become credible zombies, zombies needed to be driven by their hunger instead. Though zombies as they are portrayed in film and books are fictional, they make very real appeals to our own bodies only when they fit credibly into our ethos.M. Jimmie Killingsworth (2005) in Appeals in Modern Rhetoric discusses the body as a target for appeals. Though appeals to body are not wholly ethos, they do become more effective within a shared ethos. Huger driven zombies work in American culture because Americans are constantly asked to want and seek things, just as zombies are constantly hungry and seek brains. Thus, there is something in the zombie body that is the same in ours. They appeal to us based on that sameness. Killingsworth (2005) addresses the way in which advertisers tackle the challenge of a diverse viewing audience. “One thing the advertisers can count on is that all these people have bodies to care for and worry about. They have to eat and perform vital functions, and they are likely beset by sex drives and the attendant anxieties.” (Killingsworth, p. 70, 2015). This appeal works, but perhaps in the opposite way that the zombies of Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968) do. We see or hear about credible bodies in advertising. These attractive people are like us. They suffer from headaches like us and wear clothes like us. If they can look as good as they do maybe we could to if we use Advil© or shop at L.L. Bean©. With the zombies we see that they, like we, are hungry for more; we wonder if that hunger that we identify with is really good.Both of these are appeals from bodies, the actor or the zombie, to bodies, the viewer. In order for the appeal to be effective, the latter bodies must look, to the former, like credible versions of themselves. A zombie who is a vegetarian is not credible if the audience is expecting something hungry for brains. In the same way, the model who does not quite manage to fit perfectly into his blazer also lacks a credible body. Creating a credible body requires a knowledge of the target set of values that fit into the audience’s ethos. Since most of us are not zombies or models we do not have scripts, special effects, makeup, and airbrushes to help us fit in where we “belong” according to the ethos of the community we wish to enter into discourse with. It is necessary for most people to use social knowledge in order to present their “real” bodies as credible.The social scientist Marcel Mauss (1973) elaborated on the longstanding theory of habitus in a paper on what he called “body techniques”. Habitus are those actions that in the simplest way go without thinking when you are in your native culture. They are learned to the point that they seem to operate almost on the level of instinct. For example, in the United States, it is generally accepted that one says “thank you” upon being given something. For the most part, we don’t have a ready reason that those words should express gratitude, they are just the thing to say, even if we sometimes don’t mean them. Presenting our bodies in a way that conforms to the local habitus allows us to fit into the ethos of that place. Mauss’ (1973) “body techniques” are mechanics of the body that differ from culture to culture as part of the native habitus.  He brings up the example of the different ways in which English and French soldiers dig; English soldiers being unable to use French spades and vice versa (p. 457). Thus there is a specific French way of digging. A French soldier who could not make his body carry out the motions required to use a French spade would not have as credible a French-solider-body as the man who can use the spade competently. There are also non-mechanical ways that one can change the ethos of the body; by changing one’s appearance with clothes or cosmetics. If a woman wears too much makeup in American culture, she may be labeled as “tramp” or “slut”, despite the fact that she may really just be inexperienced in the application of makeup. If a man pays too much attention to his general appearance he may be labeled as “metrosexual” or “gay”. People take this feedback, correct or not, and adapt themselves so that their bodies fit the values of the community they desire to be a part of. These choices that are intended to lead to credible bodies can be as simple as deciding the color of a politician’s tie or as complicated as surgery that leads to a sex change.By touching on a variety of situations, from Haitian slavery and the media zombie to the habitus of everyday actions and a few ways in which one can respond and adapt their body to fit certain ethe, I hope to develop a general theory of bodies working toward credibility. Much of the work that inspired this line of thought is similar to that of Coretta Pittman in that it looks at those who have worked to make marginal positions, including marginal bodies, into more credible stances in order to be heard. Broadening the search for a credible body to those in non-marginal positions as well as the margins opens up a host of new questions. I am aware that in this paper I have privileged sight as a method for judging a body’s credibility, but what about the sound of the voice or the feel of skin? How are these physical attributes modified in order to obtain credible voices or skin texture?  Ultimately, I hope to have shown that  the body is not just someplace from which one must look out and determine the credibility of others, nor is it the place that we are trapped, forced under the scrutiny of others with no recourse available for repositioning. Like other rhetoric, the physical appearance and mechanical functions of bodies are constantly positioned and utilized to give an ethical advantage and credibility that leads to a more dynamic and effective discourse.

Author: admin


I'm Mia!

Don't know how to start your paper? Worry no more! Get professional writing assistance from me.

Check it out