rsa panel

Here’s the preamble bit for the much-vaunted RSA panel with myself, Jared, Jessica, and Kim. Some of you I’ve sent e-mails to asking for feedback; I obviously don’t expect you to duplicate comments here, but if you know someone who you think might be a good reference to turn to for feedback, please let me or any of the above folks know.

“E!thos, e-Thos, and (eco)thos: New (Media) Varieties of Ethical Argument”

This panel investigates the intersection of the classical rhetorical trope of ethos with contemporary instances of celebrity and mediation. In so doing, the panelists contend that celebrity can be understood as circulating through vastly differing discourses in distinct ways, though always placing demands of responsibility upon those seeking to conflate celebrity with ethical appeals.

In the landmark 1978 essay “Varieties of Ethical Argument,” Jim Corder, in surveying tropes within the theoretical development surrounding the ethical appeal, contends that ethical argument is “contingent upon a presence emerging in discourse, the real voice of a personality” (107). This observation is troubled, though, by the fragmentation of discourses in post-structuralist epistemologies; of particular note, of course, is Derrida’s critique of presence and logocentrism in Of Grammatology. This complication is only exacerbated, though, by questions that arise when scholars begin interrogating the media(ted) presences that fall under the broad category of celebrity; as defined by Chris Rojek, celebrity in its crudest form can be understood as an “impact on public consciousness” (10). This panel attempts to reconcile competing forms of presence and ethos within distinct discursive spheres, in each case asking what responsibilities the “public consciousness” of each discourse puts on those speaking within its discursive codes.

Within the broadest understanding of Rojek’s “public consciousness,” these papers seek to outline the way the rhetorics and discursive practices of varying discourses construct and wield the demands of ethical persuasion, from the conventional understanding of celebrity in mass-mediated popular culture, to the emerging rhetorics of ecological celebrity activism. The first paper considers how a given blogger can achieve celebrity status within the community represented by the interconnected blogs that constitute the subject’s blogroll. Of particular interest to this paper is the responsibility of the blogger to her blogroll, and the demands of participation suggested by an explicitly discursive community. The second paper seeks to understand the value of celebrity to popular environmental movements and associated eco-pedagogies; this paper attempts to negotiate an apparent disparity between celebrity and pedagogical sensibilities within the circuit of environmentalist rhetorics. The third paper raises questions about the efficacy of ethical appeals within the discourses of mass-mediated popular celebrity; here, the realization that ethos is constructed meta-discursively by a convergence of fans, media apparatuses, and celebrities themselves drives an attempt to refigure ethos within the demands of a mass-mediated rhetoric. In the final panel, Jessica does something brilliant that shows us all up.

Here is where the individual panel abstracts go. Since I don’t have permission to do so, I won’t reproduce them here. (Kim’s is available at her blog here.) Mine follows below.

“’Contrived Image and Staged Virtue’: Celebrity, Discursive Presence, and the Mediation of Ethos”

While few accept popular celebrity images as wholly authentic, the use of celebrity as an extension of the classical rhetorical appeal to ethos is made possible only by a willed ignorance of the divide between the celebrity image and the private, non-public celebrity subject. According to Chris Rojek, this split between public and private selves is a constant of celebrity status. While Aristotelian rhetoric situates ethos as an effect of textual discursivity created by a single speaker or author, the demands of celebrity ethos are negotiated in a complex transaction between the celebrity subject, the media-consuming public, and the media apparatuses responsible for constructing, developing, and disseminating the image of the celebrity upon which the assumed ethos is dependent. This paper takes its cue from the field of star studies in attempting to suggest ways to understand the intersection of celebrity and ethos through the intertextual construction of the celebrity image. Of particular interest in this paper is the consequences to celebrity ethos of cognitive dissonances that result from conflicts between the perceived public image of the celebrity subject and the revealed private self. By locating this inquiry within the discourses of mass media and popular culture, this paper hopes to add to the theorization of ethos and, especially, the perennial question of whether ethos is an essentialized attribute of the speaking subject or a mere fillip of rhetorical style.

With the stipulations cited above, any feedback is always welcome.


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