Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stale Beer: A Not-So-Sober Crowd

As a citizen from Bountiful, Utah, I frequently read the local newspaper, "The Davis County Clipper." Over the summer, when JoAnn Hamilton reintroduced the liquor law issue in an attempt to campaign against Mayor Joe Johnson, I became extremely interested: I was raised in the neighborhood of both Mayor Joe and Sister Hamilton. As a member of the audience to whom JoAnn Hamilton wrote, I am now a better educated community member; through studying rhetorical techniques I have been able to recognize the manner in which argumentation and persuasion has a personal effect on my life.

First and foremost, it is clear to whom JoAnn Hamilton was writing: a nearly homogeneous, LDS, family-oriented population. Throughout her letter to the editor, Hamilton repeatedly refers to a "child-appropriate resolution," or "an ordinance to protect children" (par. 2, 3). Appealing to the majority of her audience, as was mentioned in a previous blog post on pathos, Hamilton creates a situation in which those who don't agree with her suddenly become in the wrong: i.e. if you don't agree with me, then you must not want to protect children. In this manner, many people, convinced that the mention of the words "beer" and "children" in the same sentence is the recipe for juvenile delinquents, sided with Hamilton at the time of the liquor law issue.

The question arises, however, concerning about the "other" members of Hamilton's audience. What was their response? The answer is found in her biased reporting of their actions against her: they threw beer cans all over her lawn after she complained about them (par. 13). Seemingly, because of Hamilton's presentation of her opinion, a lack of tolerance became evident in members of both parties. Though I do not drink beer, I know people who do. It is understandable to me, therefore, as to why the mayor supported the interests of the minority of Hamilton's audience. By having an attitude of tolerance, Mayor Johnson gained the support of many community members, both those who do and do not consume alcoholic beverages.

With that said, the liquor law ruckus occurred over two years ago. In reviving the issue, Hamilton seemed to expect that her audience of LDS, child-protecting citizens, would once again agree with her; however, in reading responses to her recent letter to the editor, Hamilton's audience seems to have changed. Because both Hamilton and Mayor Johnson are members of my neighborhood, I have been able to see on a personal level the way a mostly homogeneous community can be polarized on an issue. For example, children of both Johnson and Hamilton joined the fray, as well as other neighbors. Even Sheryl Allen, a representative for the Utah State Legislature, expressed her opinion concerning Hamilton's letter. Near the time of the primary election, it was interesting to see who had the campaign signs lining the lawns in support of Mayor Joe versus those with signs for Jeff Novak. I was able to both see and hear different responses and opinions expressed by numerous people whom I look up to and respect. In this manner, I had a personal application for audience analysis. It became obvious to me that an audience, no matter how similar their background, will always having varying responses to an argument.

Though several months after the publication of Hamilton's letter, there are still several weeks until the mayoral election. Interestingly, Mayor Joe leads the polls, indicating a clear and decisive victory. Hamilton, in censuring Johnson, seems to have given him the election by eliciting support from a variety of citizens, including those who once supported her stance on the liquor law issue. Thus, in addressing an audience, a number of factors become important in attempting to create an effective and persuasive argument. As is seen with JoAnn Hamilton's letter to the editor, one must be careful: an audience may react differently than expected as a result of the presentation of an issue.


  1. I think that this is a good analysis of this article but I would have liked to see some commentary from Mayor Joe added in. You stated that he took a position of tolerance, so some rhetoric supporting this would have been helpful so the reader can draw his/her own conclusions.

  2. I thought it was good the way you tied audience analysis to something we talked about in ethical arguing--how you need to be tolerant of other people's views. So audience analysis is ineffective when you fail to consider that even the viewpoints of people similar to you may be different.

  3. Nice work! I was interested to see Sheryl Allen say "it's time for JoAnn Hamilton end the war over the beer variance," word choice that suggests she's subtely reinforcing your idea that the timing was off in Hamilton's letter.