This blog has been created for my undergraduate Civil Rights and Rhetoric course. It is meant to identify and analyze rhetorical responses to Constance McMillen's struggle to attend prom with her girlfriend and the ensuing political and social conflicts. These responses will be pulled from traditionally "non-academic" sources. Everyday people engage in rhetoric, too--and now you can study some of their banter on social media websites!
Alright, I grabbed this image from the “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!” Posting such an image in this group about Constance McMillen is clearly pegging the prom ordeal as a lesbian–and HUMAN–rights issue.
The image is split into four frames. In the first three frames, we are shown images of protest signs and glimpses of a body–but no face. In the final frame, the image zooms out and the sign is removed, capturing now the face and body of a woman. The first three frames say, “Lesbian,” “Doesn’t mean,” “Less of a,” and the last frame says, “being.” Revealing the identity of the sign holder–and showing her face–suggests that “being” is meant as human being. This implied statement, that a Lesbian is a human being, is making the claim that lesbians are deserving of basic human rights, too. The images are simplistic in nature–with the signs and protester being decked out only in black-and-white–and that really reinforces the idea that this is a simple issue and a point that is black-and-white with no gray area to be debated.
What interests me in this video actually pops up around 2:36 and 4:18.
“crutches13” responds to an internet comment by a student from Constance’s high school.
He says: “…but the problem I have is that they are saying that Constance is pushing them into doing things that they don’t want to do.”
He continues later: “It’s like, she just wanted to go to prom, dude. What’s the big deal in that? Her going to prom doesn’t affect how you go to prom. What the fuck?”
And finally: “You were like, ‘Fuck that shit. We’re staying away form that.’ I mean, that’s your own damn fault. She is bringing something into your town that you obviously haven’t faced before, but you know, go her for doing it. Respect your classmate for having the courage to stand up and say, ‘You know this is who I am and I’m not going to let you stop me from being me.'”
Basically, this argument focuses a lot on fault and responsibility. Clearly, there is at least one student from Constance’s high school that believes Constance and the ACLU were trying to control him/her so that Constance could get what she “wanted,” which isn’t specified. Blame is being placed upon Constance for the uproar that followed her decision to protest, and this student claims to have protested that by attending another private event to which Constance wasn’t invited.
crutches13 is arguing that–while Constance did draw in something new and challenging to the town–the media attention, the canceled proms, etc., are not her fault. Instead, he places blame on the school board and the students, who chose to react in the extreme ways that they did in response to someone who “just wanted to go to prom, dude.”
Discussions are common on who is at “fault” for the difficulties and backlash that have cropped up in this affair over the past couple of months. There are people who blame everything on Constance, saying she brought all of the negative treatment towards her on herself by not letting the prom issue go. Then, there are people who blame the school board, saying that none of this would have happened had the school board just decided to let Constance “be herself” and go to prom. Blame is also laid upon students, saying that the negative attention is a result of their choice to abandon and ridicule Constance instead of rally with her.
For another, more extreme example of someone blaming Constance for bringing the harsh treatment by her peers upon herself, you can check out this blog by “angrywhitedude.” It is pretty radical, but it does give some insight into a certain perspective: “Constance, honey, you’re just some mixed up kid from Mississippi who has pretty much screwed herself out of ever having a friend in Mississippi. You may have won the legal battle but you lost the prom war. You, and your friends in the ACLU, tried to push your way into the biggest event of your classmate’s high school years… You chose to push your selfish, mixed up desires onto your classmates.”
I want to focus on something in this Youtube video that may seem a little obscure: the song played at the very end. It’s a song called “One Tribe,” by a currently very popular music group called Black Eyed Peas.
In video blogs, it is easy to forget that rhetoric involves more than just the words of the speaker. Choosing to play “One Tribe” at the end of this video was a purposeful choice. This song was selected uniquely for this one video. So why “One Tribe” for this topic in particular?
Well, first, check out the lyrics. This is the excerpt that Jacki chose for her video:
And I don’t wanna sound like a preacher
But we need to be one
One world, one love, one passion
One tribe, one understanding
Cause you and me can become one.
Jacki ends her blog saying, “At the same, as I said, I do hope that something good does come out of this,” then she switches to the song. This song has a message suggesting the importance of unity. It uses diction associated with acceptance: “one,” “love,” “understanding.” Jacki is suggesting that supporting Constance’s right to attend prom is choosing to be accepting of others. Interestingly, counter-arguments floating around on the web often suggest that people such as Jacki are actually, in fact, being UNaccepting of people with particular ideals or religious beliefs. This song is actually a contribution to what is an already ongoing conversation about what acceptance is, who is accepting, and who or what should be accepted.
Another interesting place where dialog has been springing up is web forums. In an effort to find greater insight into arguments supporting the school’s decision to cancel prom, I read a thread in the Catholic Answer forum. I found this post and this post, both created by the same user, to have a particularly interesting thread of argument.
Let me quote a relevant section from post 13:
The school is saying nothing fundamental about the orientation of any student attending the prom, merely enforcing a uniform definition about dates. If Ms. McMillian was hetero but wanted to bring her BFF girlfriend, presumably the school would not allow it either. She is simply implored to respect what the school means by date, like everyone at the prom is expected to do. It (presumably) is not using different definitions for different people, so there is no discrimination.
To clarify: this user is claiming that–by protesting the fact that she can’t bring her girlfriend to prom–Constance is not protesting discrimination; rather, she is trying to prescribe her definition of “date” on the school board.
According to the poster, the school was enforcing a uniform definition about dates: that dates are of the opposite gender. The school would not allow Constance to bring someone of the same gender even if she were heterosexual; they were enforcing this rule regardless of sexual preferences. Constance was merely expected to respect the school’s definition of “date”–just like everyone else. The school is not discriminating because it isn’t using “different definitions for different people.”
This argument is actually a syllogistic argument. A conclusion–that the school was not discriminating–is inferred from a set of premises. One can actually reduce the entire argument to the following syllogism:
Discrimination involves enforcing different word definitions for different people.
The school board was consistent in the way that it defined “date” for every student.
Therefore, the school was not discriminating.
Recognizing this, the next step would be to analyze that validity of the premises and determine whether the conclusion does, indeed, logically follow from them. One potential way to attack this argument would be to argue that discrimination does not have to involve “enforcing different word definitions for different people.” One example of another definition can be found here. For instance: “Indirect discrimination occurs when a policy or procedure which appears to treat everyone equally has the effect of disadvantaging certain groups and the requirement is not reasonable. Indirect discrimination occurs when a neutral, or seemingly harmless, policy, rule or practice has a discriminatory effect against a certain group of people.”