Visual Rhetoric

Visualizing (Post-)Racial Protest and Politics

Refried beans in the shape of a swastika in Arizona

Image Credit:  Screenshot from Towleroad

H/T:  Hampton Finger

It’s been hard to miss the recent media coverage of the new Arizona immigration law SB 1070, which allows police to stop individuals and require them to show legal papers proving their citizenship upon “reasonable suspicion.”  Many have interpreted this as legalizing racial profiling, which has caused protests to spring up against this, most recently the one pictured above where individuals smeared refried beans in the shape of a swastika to point out the potentially fascist implications of the bill.  What makes me curious is how racial tensions have been visually deployed during the theoretically post-racial Obama presidency.

Victory Gardens and Retro Propaganda


Image Credit: Joe Wirtheim

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I have always had a soft spot for "victory gardens" and mid-century propaganda. It may be a result of the countless times I watched Bugs Bunny steal carrots from the Saturday-morning victory gardens of my childhood (how many of us were introduced to serious political concepts like shortage, rationing and military conscription through the Flatbush intonation of Mel Blanc?). It may have been the vintage singns and posters ("Loose Lips Might Sink Ships") hanging on the wallls of the local burger joint that was a favorite haunt of my grandfather. Whatever the reason, my eye is always drawn to the bold fonts, severe angles and jingoistic slogans of WWII era posters, particularly those aimed at action on the home front. This week, while trolling for vintage design and espirit d'corps, I came across "The Victory Garden of Tommorrow," Joe Wirtheim's modern day art/propaganda campaign that repurposes and reinvents the genre. More on Wirtheim's project, refurbished propaganda and mobilizing the population after the break.

A Modern Take on Still Life

Image Credit: David Halliday on

Photographer David Halliday's current exhibition of still lifes at the San Antonio Museum of Art contains some stunningly beautiful and surreal photographs of food. It also lends itself to use in the rhetoric classroom and could be used for teaching lessons about visual literacy, changing contexts and visual rhetoric within communities. More about Halliday, still life and possible classroom uses after the break.

Interview With Maureen R. Drennan

On the Viz. blog  September 2009, Viz. Editor Noel Radley discussed Maureen R. Drennan’s photo series "Thin Ice," where Drennan proposes the potential losses to ice fishing with global warming.

Student Unions

Fair Food Project logo

Image Credit:

This carrot-wielding fist appears on the website housing “Fair Food: Field to Table” a multimedia presentation created by the Fair Food Project in cooperation with the California Institute for Rural Studies. The project draws on a visual iconography of labor and political activism as part of its educational outreach to university students. It also aims at turning students into educators with its three-part multimedia presentation and associated resources. More about the project,including video, after the jump.

Digest from Viz.: Spring 2010

In this beginning part of 2010, our television screens repeat images of the injured, the displaced, and the dead in Haiti.  This emerging archive of profound trauma presents with questions of how we should feel and what we should do.  Here on the Viz. blog, we also ask what it means to capture and distribute images of tragedy.  During last Wednesday’s Oprah show, Haitian immigrant and R&B artist Wyclef Jean delivered a message to Americans from the Haitian people:  “No more photo ops.”  Jean, who documented himself and his crew collecting dead bodies from the streets, could not be clearer.  However, it’s unlikely that journalists like Robin Roberts (ABC) will accommodate the Haitian people in this way.

Last semester, Viz. bloggers asked what are the implications of representing political events, such as documenting the Vietnam war or mass killings, as in the case of the Fort Hood incident.

Delivery and Comparative Rhetorical Analysis

Flyer for Musical of Musicals (lots of text!)

Image Credit: Phil Gyford

For a handout, download the PDF document outlining this assignment.

Notes for the Instructor:  The design of this unit is to teach students to do analysis of visual media like musicals, which include song and dance as well as traditional scripts and visual elements, by focusing on the issues of rhetorical delivery (specifically, the performance of the actors within the stage/camera shot, and the visual elements associated with that performance).  This unit was built to go after a more traditional unit that focused on analyzing the lyrical content of musicals’ songs, and to encourage students to tie lyric to delivery. 

The elements of the unit included as follows:

Week 1:  Introduce terminology of delivery, do comparative analysis of examples in class.

Week 2:  Watch two versions of a full-length musical and analyze them in class.

Week 3:  Write a short comparative rhetorical analysis (1-2 pages in length), bringing in new material to go with material already covered in class.

Week 4:  Write and workshop full-length (5-7 pages) paper.


Goals:  The goals of this unit were to make students aware of visual forms of rhetoric and the delivery within performance contexts, as well as to make them consider how those gestures work to constitute meaning along with more traditional elements (like words and lyrics).  This unit is also to help them expand their researching skills by learning how to research in multiple venues (electronic and non-electronic, performance reviews, books on composers and lyricists, etc).

New Media Pedagogy & Visual Rhetoric


Image Credit: Mary Lucier, "The Plains of Sweet Regret" (North Dakota Museum of Art. Photo: Rik Sferra)

As more individuals and organizations are using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other sites to engage in debate, express viewpoints and organize politically, instructors are incorporating these new media into the rhetoric classroom.  How can studying new media enhance rhetorical thinking and writing?  What is the relationship between new media and visual rhetoric?  What problems do instructors and students face when adapting traditional rhetorical concepts to new media?  Are assignments possible that not only analyze but also utilize new media?  What are students' expectations concerning new media assignments and how might they conflict with our goals as instructors? 

The following assignments and discussions suggest a range of approaches to these questions and offer innovative strategies for teaching the visual, textual, and auditory rhetorics of new media. 



Jim Brown (Wayne State University): “YouTube and Detroit—State of the Debate” 

Alexandra Juhasz (Pitzer University): Viz blog post regarding "Learning from YouTube"

Bill Wolff (Rowan University): "Oral History Video Composition" 



Josi Kate Berry (UT): “My Facebook Ethos” 

Mark Fullmer (Fullerton College): “Theorizing Facebook in the Classroom” 



DWRL (UT): "The Geo-Everything Project"

Jeremy Dean (UT): “Map Three Readings” 

Eileen McGinnis (UT): “Mapping Galapagos” 



Kevin Bourque (UT): “The CWRL Guide for Podcasting in Pedagogy”

Lydia French (UT): “Community Podcast/ Video Group Assignment”

Megan Little (UT): “Recording Good Ideas in Oral Peer Review”

Paige Normand (Badger Dog & The Undergraduate Writing Center): “The Pagecast Process"



David Parry (UT Dallas): "Twitter for Academia"

David Silver (University of San Francisco): "Twitter Assignment"



Eileen McGinnis (UT): “Using Flickr to Teach Visual Rhetoric”


Mixed Media

Ingrid Devilliers (UT): “Showcasing/Peer Editing Student Drafts and Public Arguments Using Technology” 

John Jones (UT): “Translation Assignment”


Teenage Wasteland

The Bitch of Living

Image Credit:  Spring Awakening

This weekend I happened to attend a performance from the Broadway Across America’s tour of Spring Awakening, which was incredibly enjoyable.  The show, based on Wedekind’s 1890s play, deals with issues of teenage sexuality, rebellion, depression, and even abortion.  Spring Awakening does a very good job in its staging and design of making the connection between teens of the 1890s with teens of the 2000s.  

Protecting Marriage

Two of Us

Image Credit: Screen Shot from Pandora

While listening to Pandora the other day, an advertisement interrupted my music.  This advertisement told me that my life would be happier and more successful if I commit myself to a monogamous relationship.  The advertiser was a website called which is sponsored by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) and provides resources for individuals and for Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI) grantees.  After a little digging around, I found that the Healthy Marriage Initiative was created in 1996 with the injunction to preserve the institution of marriage because “marriage is the foundation of a successful society.”  Hearing this advertisment led me to consider how the traditionally conservative pro-marriage position becomes increasingly complicated, on both the left and the right, in the context of same-sex marriage debates.  Would the creators of this ad feel they had succeeded if I was now persuaded to marry my same-sex partner?  Does pro-marriage mean the same thing that it did to the creator's of the Healthy Marriage Initiative in 1996?

Recent comments