Sunday, April 19, 2015

Posters for Peace

Thomas W. Benson, Posters for Peace: Visual Rhetoric and Civic Action. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2015.

from the publisher:
“With Posters for Peace: Visual Rhetoric and Civic Action, Thomas Benson generously shares an archival treasure trove with readers. By itself that might be enough, but Benson doesn't stop there. He offers a thoughtful and sophisticated rhetorical analysis of the posters that reads them in historical context, elaborates the visual traditions from which they drew their representations, and considers how viewers of the era might have responded to them. In doing so, he makes a compelling case for the posters' rhetorical importance, both then and now. The book skillfully models the practice of visual rhetorical history for students and scholars alike.”
“Thomas Benson has rediscovered and shared a treasure of poster art, along with some history, brilliantly told.”
“Long before there was a subdiscipline called ‘visual rhetoric,’ Thomas Benson was probing the rhetorical dimensions of visual images. His books on the films of Frederick Wiseman and on political documentaries set the standard for rhetorically informed criticism of documentary film. Now Benson has turned his attention to the political protest posters that appeared in Berkeley, California, throughout the tumultuous year of 1970. Benson was a visiting assistant professor at UC–Berkeley during the 1969–70 academic year, where he witnessed firsthand the distribution and placement of many of the posters he examines in this book. He places the posters in their political, cultural, social, and rhetorical contexts, and he engages in a close reading that uncovers the layers of meaning and significance that were clear to the creators at the time of production but which now, almost forty-five years later, are often lost in the mists of time. This is a masterful work of recovery that reminds us anew of that time when the whole world was watching.”
“Thomas W. Benson's Posters for Peace examines numerous political posters that circulated in Berkeley, California, in 1970 during intense controversies over the Vietnam War and racism. Benson’s critical approach features close examination of the posters in combination with creative comparisons in order to explore their visual rhetoric in the national scene. To develop his central argument, he traces earlier sources of consequence pertaining to posters as a rhetorical medium with an international history. Benson's book offers his readers a wealth of previously unstudied primary materials, which are featured and catalogued in the course of his careful history and criticism of the protest rhetoric.”
By the spring of 1970, Americans were frustrated by continuing war in Vietnam and turmoil in the inner cities. Students on American college campuses opposed the war in growing numbers and joined with other citizens in ever-larger public demonstrations against the war. Some politicians—including Ronald Reagan, Spiro Agnew, and Richard Nixon—exploited the situation to cultivate anger against students. At the University of California at Berkeley, student leaders devoted themselves, along with many sympathetic faculty, to studying the war and working for peace. A group of art students designed, produced, and freely distributed thousands of antiwar posters. Posters for Peace tells the story of those posters, bringing to life their rhetorical iconography and restoring them to their place in the history of poster art and political street art. The posters are vivid, simple, direct, ironic, and often graphically beautiful. Thomas Benson shows that the student posters from Berkeley appealed to core patriotic values and to the legitimacy of democratic deliberation in a democracy—even in a time of war.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Someone Else

"Though our own culture has made a significant shift over to the sovereignty of visual signs and a rhetoric of images as against that of words and speeches, we are nevertheless extremely sensitive to questions of rhetoric and persuasion broadly conceived. Perhaps exploring the ancient problematic in some detail--that is, what did they talk about? when? why? and what went unsaid?--will allow for a revisitation of our own discursive regime and insight into its family tree. Our own cynicism about rhetoric as 'mere rhetoric' and obsession with hypocrisy and manipulation bespeaks an investment, albeit a largely negative one, in the potency of rhetoric. We still cling to the idea that words have power even if the skilled at speaking are no longer assumed to be good men. We worry that essences and appearances have been sundered, and that, ironically, rhetoric really is all too efficacious; while we personally remain unfooled, someone else out there actually has or is likely to fall for all of this."

Erik Gunderson, "Introduction," The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Rhetoric," ed. Erik Gunderson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 21-22.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Quirky Berkeley

A recent New York Times article describes a blog called Quirky Berkeley. It's worth a look.

John Lennon mural, from Quirky Berkeley -  © 2014 by Quirky Berkeley

Railroad tracks, south of Addison

Friday, August 15, 2014

Deja Vu: A Look Back at Some of the Tirades Against Social Security and Medicare |

Bill Moyers on opposition to Social Security, then to Medicare, and now with echoes in the Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Deja Vu: A Look Back at Some of the Tirades Against Social Security and Medicare |

see also:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Too thin to plow, too thick to drink

Shortly after we moved from Buffalo, New York, where we had lived for most of the 1960s, Lake Erie was famously called "too thick to drink, too thin to plow." In the 1970s, the lake was vastly improved by government action, but we are slipping again, as the Toledo drinking water story shows.

Here's a comment I sent on the New York Times story on the recent algae bloom in Lake Erie.

"One small measure that would help -- a ban on residential use or application of pesticides and fertilizers. Lawns are wonderful, but they would grow just fine without sprinklers, fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides if we followed the practices of a generation or two ago. To improve the lawn, add a handful of clover seeds in the spring or fall to fix nitrogen that helps sustain the grass. Mow regularly but not too often. We are ruining our shared environment to outdo our neighbors for perfect lawns."
 What's on your lawn?

Monday, May 26, 2014

New York Times on state university administrator salaries

"Confronted with punishing state budget cuts, the public colleges and universities that educate more than 70 percent of this country’s students have raised tuition, shrunk course offerings and hired miserably paid, part-time instructors who now form what amounts to a new underclass in the academic hierarchy. At the same time, some of those colleges and universities are spending much too freely on their top administrators. . . . 

"The “worst overall offenders,” the study said, were Ohio State, Penn State, the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan and the University of Delaware. . . ."

"Fat-Cat Administrators at the Top 25," New York Times, May 26, 2014.

Europe's Jobs

"The truth is that European-style welfare states have proved more resilient, more successful at job creation, than is allowed for in America’s prevailing economic philosophy. . . ."

Paul Krugman, "Europe's Secret Success," New York Times, May 26, 2014.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Amazon - How Does a Monopoly Behave?

"This week, as part of a contract dispute with the publisher Hachette, we’re seeing Amazon behaving at its worst. The company’s willingness to nakedly flex its anticompetitive muscle gives new cause for concern to anyone who cares about books — authors, publishers, but mainly customers. . . ."

Farhad Manjoo, "Amazon's Tactics Confirm Its Critics' Worst Suspicions," New York Times, May 23, 2014.