Work in Progress

I was thinking about what to write this week and I keep coming back to the persuasion/affect debate that has been raging in my head for years.  Here’s the crux:  less and less I see the value of persuasion.  Even advertising is turning from ‘why my product is superior’ to more ads based on ‘look at this cool shit, brought to you by my product’.

The problem may be interpretation.  My major professor told me in graduate school that whomever you first read will forever mark you.  How oddly that he was speaking of traces and interpretation when the first person I really read was Derrida.  In any case, I am a sucker for discussions of interpretation and maybe I see the relegation of persuasion precisely because I myself see less of its importance in my daily life.  Here’s the kicker: I coach debate.  I live in persuasion and techniques and research.  My job is to teach kids how to persuade and yet I think persuasion is dying?  I like to think it is that very contradiction which makes me credible.  But it may be the opposite.

Zizek and others claim that the true capitalist is a nihilist because she believes in the value of all products, which is also the same as believing in no-value for all products.  Am I the analogical proof of that claim?  Am I so immersed in all the arguments for and against the Kyoto Protocol that I no longer see value to persuading someone to support or oppose it?  Is it instead about finding someone cool and agreeing with her views on the treaty?

This morning I tackled Greene 2007 and his article contains markers of this split.  Money/Speech is a category devised by the Supreme Court to allow campaign contributions under the aegis of the First Amendment’s protections.  The thinking is that if a politician supports X and someone (remembering that corporations are given legal entitlements like a person) likes X then that person’s contributions to said politician are nearly equivalent to speech supporting that person.

This is not persuasion, as persuasion is regulated by the criminal justice system looking for a quid pro quo among the donor and the politician.  Money/Speech is instead about affect.  It is about associating and identifying with a politician and the politician with certain donors.  This analysis is even before studies of political advertisements and the aforementioned shift towards affect from persuasion.  Living in Minnesota this past election cycle made it easy to see this at work as I was forced to repeatedly look at Al Franken’s evil grin.  Norm Coleman’s campaign was able to find some awful pictures of the opponent.

But then I read Judith Butler’s recent piece where she makes the opposite claim.  Obama was able to win precisely because people put aside their affective stances and instead voted along lines of persuasion: he may be black, but he is better for the economy.  She argues that Palin was brought in to shore up the moral vote and it failed in face of the policy vote.

Maybe my theory can be resuscitated by showing that the moral/policy vote is not congruous with the affective/persuasion models.  I will think about this some.

As always, comments are appreciated.  Check back for revisions.

Greene, Ronald Walter.  (2007).  Rhetorical capital: Communicative labor, money/speech, and neo-liberal governance.  Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 4(3), 327-31.

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