Sunday, June 10, 2007

rhetoric and Lizzie Palmer's "Remember Me" video

Two of the three great branches of classical learning are in eclipse, and rhetoric, the study that Cicero regarded as the greatest of the three, is perhaps the most neglected.

As the concluding story on the Fox Sunday talk show today Chris Wallace introduced Fox's "Power Play of the Week," high school student Lizzie Palmer's video-collage of still photographs of American soldiers titled Remember Me. Ms. Palmer's point seems heartfelt to me: remember and respect the service and sacrifice of American soldiers. Her story seems to come directly out of her experience and strikes me as genuine. Ms. Palmer, Chris Wallace tells us, plans to enlist in the Army after high school.

Fox Sunday's motives in use of her video are more complicated. Brit Hume, William Kristol, and Chris Wallace are satisfied to play the video and let its message seemingly remain the heartfelt naive message of Ms. Palmer, to honor the individual efforts of American soldiers. But their primary motive is to require Americans' unquestioning, naive support for the war. Hume, Kristol, and Wallace have no interest in our understanding the war. Their rhetorical intent in showing this video without discussion at the end of the broadcast serves their ongoing purpose of encouraging American sentimental riding-into-the-sunset endorsement of the war. We can't oppose the war on its merits because to do so would be to disrespect the American soldier.

Ms. Palmer's world view as an American teenager doesn't include Iraqi people who have suffered far greater losses in this war than Americans, and it doesn't include any assessment of the meaning of the war--how we got into it, why we are there, and whether we ought to be there. Our schools teach technical skills that allow her to make a very sophisticated video from a technical perspective but they are ill prepared to impart a similarly sophisticated view about the content of such a video, or its relationship to the audience, or what it tells us about its creator.

I accept Ms. Palmer's video as the naive expression of a young person who has powerful and authentic feelings but limited understanding and experience. Fox network's use of the same video for its continuing simplification of the meaning of this war is exploitative and disingenuous.