As I posted on Twitter a while back, a recent op-ed by Ian Bogost got me thinking about rhetoric and situation. In his discussion of how debates about videogames aren’t really about videogames, Bogost observes how videogames are “being used as instruments in public debate rather than as mechanisms through which players can participate.” He highlights recent statements by Al Gore, Leland Yee, Antonin Scalia, and others to show how their collective function is of greater import than their individual content and that this is a problem.
Bogost’s observations appear to complement Richard Vatz’s refutation of Lloyd Bitzer’s idea of the rhetorical situation. Whereas Bitzer puts forth that “[rhetoric] is called into existence by situation” (8), Vatz argues that “no situation can have a nature independent of…rhetoric” (154). One might argue that Gore, et al’s statements were called into existence by a given situation. However, Bogost’s persuasive point about Gore, et al’s statements as more functional than content-based makes for better alignment with Vatz than Bitzer.
If I might borrow one of Bogost’s examples for my own purposes here, I think we can see how Gore was, at least in the eyes of some, an irresponsible rhetor in revealing his lack of videogame experience. That this was made salient by Stephen Totilo in his critique of Gore is also telling, for Vatz stresses that “meaning is not discovered by situations, but created by rhetors” (157). Here we have, then, evidence of contrast between Gore’s and Totilo’s relative abilities in creating situational meaning (at least when it comes to videogames).
How we play and talk about videogames comprise and present myriad situations, but the meaning of videogames continues to come from the rhetoric surrounding them. I appreciate that Bogost recognizes this and I look forward to further discussion from him as well as others. Part of this welcoming stems from my own lack of time in revisiting both Jamieson’s “Generic Constraints and the Rhetorical Situation” and Vatz’s “The Mythical Status of Situational Rhetoric.” I’m sure there are others providing further perspective and I look forward to learning of them.
Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric (Winter 1968): 1-14.
Bogost, Ian. “Why Debates About Videogames Really Aren’t About Videogames.” Retrieved from http://www.bogost.com/writing/why_debates_about_video_games.shtml
Consigny, Scott. “Rhetoric and Its Situations.” Philsophy and Rhetoric 7 (1974): 175-186.
Jamieson, Kathleen M. Hall. “Generic Constraints and the Rhetorical Situation.”Philosophy and Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 162-170.
Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 41-71.
Vatz, Richard E. “The Mythical Status of Situational Rhetoric: Implications for Rhetorical Critics’ Relevance in the Public Arena.” The Review of Communication 9.1 (2009): 1-5. Available from http://pages.towson.edu/vatz/mythical_status_of_situation.htm