Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stale Beer: An Emotional Appeal

When people care about or have concern for a topic, they generally feel very strongly about their opinion. Their arguments, in an attempt to sway others' beliefs, are often filled with emotion. An example of this is found in the article referenced by the Stale Beer blog post. In this untimely letter to the editor, there are many examples of emotional appeals, as seen in the passionate language used by the author. Although written and published too late to be effective when considering the kairos of an issue, JoAnn Hamilton, in using pathos, also known as emotional appeals intent on influencing readers, is still able to present a persuasive argument.

The most important manner in which Hamilton creates an emotionally appealing argument is by using concrete examples. With vivid imagery and personal experiences, Hamilton creates a connection with readers. Her appeal concerning the unfair treatment she and others received while dealing with the Bountiful City Council is able to take on a more realistic and personal light for readers who may otherwise be apathetic. As she describes such experiences as being "a lady in a wheelchair, sitting on her front lawn surrounded by beer cans," it becomes easier to sympathize with her opinion (par. 14). Hamilton also appeals to the values of her audience, a predominately LDS community, as she describes the mayor use of profanity when talking about her (par. 12). By revealing such details, community members are able to picture the situation, creating their own, emotionally-charged, version of her experience. With such personal examples, Hamilton's letter becomes emotionally appealing to those with similar values.

Hamilton's word choice also contributes to the pathos of her letter to the Davis County Clipper. Her diction immediately conveys her anger and dissatisfaction for Mayor Johnson and the Bountiful City Council. In describing the liquor laws as a "beer variance" or "beer license," Hamilton creates a negative connotation by using a more base description of the city ordinance (par. 2, 6). Conversely, Hamilton repeatedly brings up the phrase "the ordinance to protect children," and "a child-appropriate resolution," so-called god terms which gain a positive association because they are related to family values (par. 2, 3). With these and other such emotional overtones found in the diction of her argument, Hamilton is further able to persuade her audience.

Hamilton's syntax is also significant when considering the use of pathos in her letter. She begins her argument by saying, "I have known Mayor Joe Johnson and John Marcus Knight for years and like them," and then proceeds to censure them in an extremely critical manner (par. 1). As a letter that was written to garner support against the incumbent in the mayoral election, it is interesting that Hamilton would spend the opening paragraphs of her letter criticizing members of the city council. Granted, the mayor and city council work together on many issues, but the manner in which Hamilton introduces her complaint against the mayor seems to spend more time on criticizing the dealings between the city government and liquor-serving restaurants. Focusing on past issues to heighten emotional arousal, it is not until the final paragraph of her argument that Hamilton mentions the name of her candidate, Jeff Novak. In this manner, however, her letter seems anticlimactic. Hamilton, although successful in heightening emotions in support of protecting children against alcohol and in criticizing the current mayor, does not make a compelling argument for Jeff Novak. One possible reason for diminished emotional support at the end of Hamilton's letter is weakened logos: she does not fully explain a logical connection for how Novak would change city functions. As a result of this lack of logos, Hamilton loses pathos and emotional appeal for her argument.

In reading Hamilton's argument, it becomes evident that emotional appeals, no matter how strong and persuasive, are only effective when used in conjunction with the remaining corners of the rhetoric triangle, ethos and logos. Hamilton, in using effective pathos in some aspects of her article, most notably her personal examples and word choice, is able to make a persuasive argument; her appeal, however, is limited to those who think passionately with their hearts, rather than critically with their minds.

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