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    Visual argumentation in scandinavian Visual argumentation in scandinavian Document Transcript

    • ARGUMENTATION AND ADVOCACY43 (Winter & Spring 2007): 124-132VISUAL ARGUMENTATION IN SCANDINAVIAN POLITICAL ADVERTISING: A COGNITIVE, CONTEXTUAL, AND RECEPTION ORIENTED APPROACH Jens E. Kjeldsen In a Danish election campaign in 2001, the party Venstre published an advertisement whose visual argumentation caused offence and debate. But what exactly was the argument?And how do we best locate such visual arguments? This essay argues for a cognitive, contextual, and reception oriented approach to vmal argumentation. It illustrates such an approach by briefly analyzing the context and rhetorical potential ofthe advertuement and by establishing which arguments the public actually reconstructed from this advertisement. Key words: visual, argumentation, rhetoric, context, reception On November 15, 2001, the Danish right wing liberal party, Venstre, published anadvertisement that caused offence and debate in Denmark and was criticised internationally.All the commotion, of course, stems from the advertisements visual argumentation. Butwhat exactly is its argument? In this essay, I shall briefly explain how visual argumentationis possible and argue for a cognitive, contextual, and reception oriented approach to visualargumentation. I will illustrate this approach by briefly analyzing the Venstre advertise-ments context and rhetorical potential and by establishing which arguments the publicactually reconstructed from the advertisement. First, however, let us remind ourselves whywe can argue by means of pictures. Needless to say, arguing with pictures is different from arguing with words. I could nothave made my argument about visual argumentation solely by using pictures. However, thisdoes not mean that pictures are not able to communicate arguments. It has been claimed that we cannot make arguments with pictures because argumentation(1) is characterized by temporal and sequential representations; (2) is based on unambiguoussyntactic rules; (3) is linked historically and methodologically to the verbal mode and itsconventional, semiotic character; and (4) expresses attitudes and opinions through claimsand data and, hence, is confrontational (e.g., Blair, l!)n(i, 2004; Cox & Willard, 1982, p. xlv;Eemeren, Grootendorst, & Kruiger, 1987; Fleming, 199ei). Daniel OKeefe (1982), forinstance, asserts that a paradigm case of argument-making "involves the communication ofboth 1} a linguistically explicable claim, and 2) one or more overdy expressed reasons whichare linguistically explicit" (p. 14). It may seem, then, that pictures cannot function as propositions or arguments. In general,pictures are thought to: (I) present as an immediate, nontemporal, unified whole; (2) lackunambiguous syntactical order and rules; (3) function iconically; and (4) merely "show"things rather than stating or proposing them. However, argumentation is an act of commu-nication, not a text in itself. As long as the act of "argument making" (OKeefe, 1982, p. 12)manages to communicate an arguments structure or intention, the mode of expression isJens E. Kjeldsen, Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen. An earlier veision of this essay was presented iit the ()th International Society Tor the Study of Argumentation conference, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June, !20()t). Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jens E. Kjeldsen, Depart-ment of Information Science antl Media Studies, Lloiversity of Bergen, Fostbox 7802, 502() Bergen, Norway. E-mail:jens.kjeldsen@infomedia.uib.no
    • 125ARGUMENTATION AND ADVOCACY KJELDSENirrelevant. The elements of an argument do not need to be presented explicitly as long as theaudience is aware that they are faced with argument-making and in tum understand theargument that is being communicated. What is semantically and rhetorically important is notthe arguments manifest structure but, rather, its ability to represent latent propositions andclaims. Wayne Brockreide (1992) has reminded us that arguments are found "not in statementsbut in people," and that an "argument is not a thing to be looked for but a concept peopleuse, a perspective they take" {p, 73). Similarly, Dale Hamples {1980, 1992) "third perspec-tive" finds arguments within people who are arguing: "This theoretical distinction de-empha-sizes the role of the message in argument. The only necessary role for the message to play ina cognitive theory is to perform as a stimulus for the receivers (cognitively generated)argument" (1992, p. 93). Bruce Gronbeck (199.5) takes a similar view:If we think of meanings as called up or evoked in people when engaged in acts of decoding, then not onlywords, but also pictures, sounds, and other sign systems certainly can offer us propositions of denial oraffirmation, and can, as Locke understood trueness and falsehood, articulate empirically verifiable positions,(p. 539) • „Argumentation, therefore, can occur in a host of different forms of expression, includingspeech, drama, or pictures. On the other hand, we can admit, pictures commtinicate in adifferent semiotic mode than do words. According to semiotics, verbal communicationemploys an arbitrary code and pictures an iconic one. As a code based on motivated signs,a picture is perceived to have either no articulation or only second articulation (cf. Barthes, 1977; Eco, 1979). Consequently, "pertinent" and "facultative" signs in pictures cannot beclearly distinguished. Iconic coding in pictures is weak (Eco, 1979, p. 213), which means thatpictures lack the syntax that tells viewers precisely what different elements might mean orhow they should be connected semantically. Sometimes a cigar is not merely a cigar butthere is no certain way of knowing. This does not prevent pictures from making arguments, however. As with all kinds ofrhetoric, context determines meaning. As Birdsell and Groarke [199f)) maintain, we wouldnever "banish the consideration of contextual evidence when we consider verbal arguments"(p. 5). So why should we do so when considering visual arguments? According to Birdselland Groarke, three kinds of contexts are significant when evaluating visual arguments:immediate visual context, immediate verbal context, and visual culture. My own analysisemphasizes the "rhetorical situation" (Bitzer, 1968, 1980), which draws upon all three.Because argumentation is not only a textual but also-and probably above all-a contextualand cognitive phenomenon, it is important to examine not merely images themselves, inorder to find the arguments they communicate, but also context and, especially, the rhetor-ical situation. To do this, I employ a more cognitively oriented perspective that combinescontextual analysis, close reading of the visual text, and textual analysis of the texts publicreception. Most research on visual argumentation is theoretically speculative: Argumentation isfound through some form of textual analysis in which the researcher deduces, from animages elements and the context in which they occur, the arguments they may hold (e.g.,Groarke, 1996; Hughes, 1994; Kjeldsen, 2000; Shelley 1996). I have attempted to capture anempirical and contextual reception of the visual argumentation in Venstres political adver-tisement by collecting 80 newspaper articles (including a few letters to the editor) in which
    • 126SCANDINAVIAN POLITICAL ADVERTISING WINTER & SPRING 2007 Figure 1: Venstre political advertisement. Used by permission of Venstres Landsorganisation. ,the ad was mentioned. The articles were published in 12 different Danish newspapers fromNovember 5 (when the ad was published) to December 30, 2001. Thirty seven of these articles discuss the advertisement itself and the ensuing debate indetail. That is, they offer reconstructions ofthe claim and the argument presented visually inthe ad. Analysis of these argumentative reconstructions will accomplish two tasks. First, I willidentify the types of objections toward the visual rhetoric that were raised by the public.Second, I will try to establish more precisely what kind of arguments the ad evoked. Let usfirst examine the advertisement itself; then we will tum to the rhetorical situation and thepublics critique. The advertisement was printed in two popular weeklies, Se og her {Look and Listen) and Kigind [Look In), during the 2001 Parliamentary election campaign in Denmark (see Figure I).A slim, blue rectangle at the bottom displays the partys logo to the right and its leader,Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to the left. At the time, Raiimussen was leader of the oppositionparty; he is now the Prime Minister. Rasmussens signature and printed name can be seennext to his picture. Most of the advertisement consists of a press photo, taken a year earlier, showing sevenpeople leaving a building, heading down its steps. Jackets and shirts cover their heads; theirfaces are not visible. To the right is a woman dressed in a black robe and white headscarf.She seems to be holding one of the men by her right hand. Her left arm is stretched outtoward someone outside the picture (a camera team, which we cannot see) as she gesturesobscenely.
    • 127ARGUMENTATION AND ADVOCACY KJELDSEN These young men are second-generation immigrants from Palestine. In the spring of 2000,they were found guilty of gang-raping a 14-year-old girl. The woman is the sister of one ofthe men. They are leaving the courthouse in the city of Arhus, following a verdict that thepublic considered much too lenient. The text written in white across the picture proclaims"Time for a change." What is, then, the rhetorical potential of this advertisement? First, containing a well-known, widely recognized picture, it attracts attention. It is hard to miss this two-pageopening spread in a weekly, and the photo invites wonder and closer scrutiny: What ishappening here? What is the connection between these events, the political party, and itsleader, Anders Fogh Rasmussen? The advertisements photographic and documentary depiction offers rhetorical realismand an immediate emotional, almost physical, presence and vividness [enargia] (Kjeldsen,2001, 2002). The picture invites us close to the event; it gives us a sense of being present. Atthe same time, it generates emotional involvement, especially through the womans obscenegesture, which can be read as directed toward all the spectators in the situation. In a way, itis the "ethnic Danes" who are being harassed: first through rape, then through contempt. In this way, the picture represents certain problems with certain immigrants in a certaincase. Further, the case itself represents the general opinion that Denmark is experiencingproblems with immigration. The picture condenses and intensifies the negative emotions thatmany Danes harboured in this particular case, which, in turn, already condensed andintensified the negative emotions that some Danes entertained vis-a-vis the Danish asylumand immigiation policy. In a double synecdoche, these opinions are embedded, condensed,and intensified in the depiction of the yoimg men and the woman gesturing obscenely. Byexhibiting such negative traits, by combining and intensifying both negative attitudes and negative emotions, the ad creates what I have termed double rhetorical condensation (Kjeldsen2002). The advertisement then connects these negative opinions and emotions to Venstres political opponents, who, the caption implies, will staiid in the way ofthe needed change thatVenstre promises to implement. Venstre, on the other hand, is portrayed as the politicalparty ready to remove the cause of the negative thoughts and emotions. The advertisement was condemned immediately, both at home and abroad. Danishpoliticians described it as immoral and indecent, and they criticised It for being a dishonestgeneralization. O n e member of the Cabinet, Marianne Jelved, called it "unethical" forsuggesting "that [Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen] is responsible for that sort of thing and that the Cabinet has brought the country in this situation" (qtd. in Kassebeer, Thobo- Carlsen, & Termansen, 2001). Among the foreign critics was Swedens Chris Heister, of the conservative party, Mod- eratema, who told the Danish broadsheet newspaper, Politiken, that "it is a picture with a very strong message, and as we all know, a picture speaks more than a thousand words" (qtd. in Klarskov, 2001). To many observers, the advertisement helped create a perception of an election campaign turning toward the tight wing parties and revealing a general xenophobic attitude. Several Scandinavian writers pondered whether the Danes, once perceived to bejolly, hospitable, and kind-hearted, mighl not be so jolly, hospitable, or kind-hearted after all. The Danish press gieaUy disapproved ofthe advertisements visual rhetoric. An editorialin the tabloid, B.T., strongly criticised its "unarticulated, through innuendos and withoutarguments" speculation about peoples "small insecurities and animosities" toward foreign-ers, calling it "sickening and dirty" (Adler, 2001). Venstres leader, Anders Fogh Rasmussen,
    • 128SCANDINAVLN POLITICAL ADVERTISING WINTER & SPRING 2007dismissed critics, saying: "Well, thats how it is; you can only have one message in anadvertisement like this" (qtd. in "Et budskap," 2001; cf. "V-annonce," 2001). The largestDanish tabloid, Ekstra Bladet, did not agree. Its editor found it outrageous that Venstre wouldplace two messages in the same advertisement: one open and respectable, another hiddenthat "everybody reads into the advertisement: ptire smear towards ail foreigners in Denmark,nicely wrapped up" {"Et budskap," 2001). Even the editorial in Politiken considered theadvertisement to be indecent, paiticularly because "from the departure point of the derangedlogic of the spin doctors in Venstre, [it] is only published in weeklies. That is: targetedpolitical manipulation-not for critical readers of newspapers, but directed at the voteraround the coffee table" ("Hetz," 2001). This moral critique is remarkably similar to Ciceros observation in De Oratore (III, lix,223) that delivery has the greatest effect on the ignorant, the mob, and the barbarians (seealso Kjeldsen, 2003). The critique suggests that the uneducated and unskilled, who areneither well informed nor critical, will be unable to resist the advertisements visual rhetoric.The degree of outrage reveals critics expectation that the advertisement will have a powerfuleffect. The advertisement "stirs emotions," as Ekstra Bladet put it ("Et budskap," 2001). The preceding gives some sense of the publics critique of the advertisement. Closeranalysis reveals five basic objections. Critics complained that the advertisement1. generalizes from a non-representative example: "it takes its point of departure in a specific tiial and makes a link suggesting that all second-generation immigrants are rapists" (Mimi Jakobsen, qtd. in Langager, 2001);2. uses unethical emotional appeals: "invites the creation of alarming pictures in the voters heads" (Skaaning, 2001);3. presupposes a non existent disagreement: "the ad indirectly sends a signal which claims that only Venstre will do something about these group rapes. The rest of us also believe that this must end" (Anders Samuelson, qtd. in Maressa & Ditlev, 2001);4. uses doublespeak: "two messages in the same ad: one open and respectable, another hidden" ("Et budskap," 2001); and5. exaggerates: "This is a distortion of both dimensions and proportions that goes beyond limits. This type of scene can be found in any European country-it is not particularly Danish" (Marianne Jelved, qtd. in Kassebeer, Thobo-Carlsen, & Termansen, 2001).These criticisms express three poptilar, public assumptions or hypotheses about visualrhetoric:1. The simplification hypothesis. Pictures simplify messages, and one can neither argue for nor against them. As a consequence, they primarily address the ignorant and unskilled.2. The power hypothesis: Pictures have a particularly strong and irresistible appeal, which is achieved through emotional appeals.3. The manipulation hypothesis: The communicative simplification and power of pictiu"es is exerted in a hidden and manipulative way. Emotional appeals subconsciously outdo rational appeals in such a manner that the audience does not even realize that it is being persuaded.I have critiqued these three assumptions in more detail elsewhere (Kjeldsen, 2002). Here Iwant to point out that the existence of extended public critique ofthe Venstre advertisementseems to refute these hypotheses. There is no doubl that the advertisement exerted influence and had an impact. The debateitself is proof enough of that. It probably also is true that a verbal statement about the young
    • > 129 IARGUMENTATION AND ADVOCACY igELDSENrapists would not have generated such a heated response. At the same time, the public debateproved that the advertisements rhetoric is neither manipulatively hidden nor extremelypowerful. Its message, mode of expression, and claims were made explicit and extensivelydebated. Indeed, the newspapers that criticized it also suggested that the advertisementwould backfire, called it a "striking own goal" ("£t budskap," 2001) and a "first class politicalown goal" (Mimi Jakobsen, qtd. in Langager, 2001). A Member of Parliament from Venstrestated: "The ad is tasteless. When we have a 1-0 lead in this campaign, it is perishingly stupidto give the other parties a chance to attack us" (qtd. in Langager, 2001). Considering the situation, there can be no doubt that the picture is employed andunderstood as a visual enthymeme (Bitzer, 1959). The advertisement makes sense only if weinterpret it as such. The advertisement invites the spectators active involvement in recon-structing its implicit argument. The extensive critique demonstrates that this is exactly whathappened. The preceding analysis identified the advertisements argumentation (and reac-tions thereto). It is appropriate now to ask what claims and arguments audiences actuallyreconstructed. Admittedly, this is difficult to establish. My analysis of its reception, however,suggests that opponents and the press understood the advertisement as making three claims:1. Second-generation immigrants are (potential) criminals and/or (group) rapists: "by mak- ing [the young men] anonymous, it gives the viewer the impression, that second gener- ation immigrants are criminals and rapists" (Nils Helveg Petersen, qtd. in "Usaedvanlig ul^ekker," 2001; cf. 0stergaard-Nielsen, 2001);2. Refugees and immigrants are (potential) criminals and/or (group) rapists: "it assumes that all foreigners are criminals" (Jensen & Bjerre, 2001); and3. Prime Minister Nyrup Rasmussen and the present government are doing a bad job with the asylum and immigrant policy, and only Venstre is going to do something about it: "the ad indirectly indicates that only Venstre wants to do something about those group rapes" (Anders Samuelson, qtd. in Maressa & Ditlev, 2001).There seems to be general agreement that these are the advertisements arguments, eventhough they are not made explicitly. This is not surprising when we recall that argumentationis a cognitive phenomenon. Political advertisements are part of a well-known rhetoricalsituation-the election campaign-whose argumentative function-winning votes for the par-ty-everyone understands. With little hesitation, people understand this advertisement aspart of ongoing campaign discourse regarding asylum and immigration policy. As Bakhtin(1987) and Voloshinov (Morris, 1994) have helped us tmderstand, every "utterance is alwaysan answer to another utterance that precedes it, and is therefore always conditioned by, andin tum qualifies, the prior utterance to a greater or lesser degree" (Holquist, l!>90, p. 60). Asthis analysis of its reception has indicated, only a limited set of arguments may be recon-structed from the advertisement. In short, there is no doubt that we can argue with pictures (with the aid of a caption in thiscase), or that people will grasp the argument and argue back. On the other hand, theadvertisements three implicit claims illusti-ate some significant differences between verbaland visual argumentation. In a sense, the first two claims contain the same implicit argument:Claim: Refugees and immigrants are a problem for Denmark.Datum: Take, for instance, the immigrants who gang-raped a young girl, and the con- tempt they showed us.Warrant: When members of a group commit rape and exhibit contempt, this group is a problem.
    • 130SCANDINAVIAN POLITICAL ADVERTISING WINTER & SPRING 20()7There is a difference, however, between refugees and immigrants, on one hand, andsecond-generation immigrants, on the other. The picture can show us young men but itcannot tell us precisely which they represent. By the same token, there are differences amongcriminals, rapists, and group rapists. These distinctions are hard to make when communi-cating visually: what a picture resembles quite often is not what it represents. Nevertheless, asnoted above, the possibilities are not limitless. Considering the rhetorical situation, fouralternatives (in order of increasing generality) seem possible: the picture of the young mencan represent the men themselves, young second-generation immigrants, refugees andimmigrants, or foreigners. Claim: You should not oe for the parties in the Cabinet, but for Venslre and Anders Fogh Claim/Datum: PM Rasmussen. Nyrup Rasmussen and the present Cabinet are doing a Warrant: poor job with the One should aslum and not vote for ClainV Datum: immigrant policy politicians Refugees and doing a poor immigrants are job. a problem for Datum: Take, Denmark. Warrant: When for instance, the polilical issues immigrants vho pose a problem gang-raped a Warrant: When for a Cabinet, yotmggirL and members of a the> are doing a the contempt group commit bad job. lhe showed tis. rape and exhibit contempt, this group is a problem. Figure 2: Interrelationships of the advertisements arguments. Such ambiguity need not be a problem either in this case or in visual argumentationgenerally. First, we also face ambiguity in verbal argumentation. If someone claims that thecountry needs a leader who will be "tough on crime," what this means, exactly, remainsrather unclear. Second, although different interpretants are possible, the arguments thatpeople actually reconstruct may not be substantially different, and these differences do notprevent the creation of a rather similar main argument. Third, the different arguments thatpeople reconstruct are part of a common discourse, a web in which one argument supportsanother. That some observers interpret the advertisement as an argument about the Prime
    • 131ARGUMENTATION AND ADVOCACY KJELDSENMinisters poor leadership and others understand it as an argument about immigrationproblems does not mean that the picture is so ambiguous that it can mean just aboutanything. Rather, both are correct; the advertisement contains both arguments. Its interre-lated arguments, which the public may reconstruct severally or jointly, can be illustrated byToulmins (1958) model (see Figure 2). The most effective visual rhetoric creates both emotional and rational arguments thatstrike a responsive chord (Schwartz, 1973) with audiences. It does not create new argumentsas much as it awakens arguments already residing among audience members (Kjeldsen,2001, 2002). The Venstre advertisement does exacdy this: It taps into existing arguments,emotions, and opinions, which is why it can argue in the first place. However, as I havesuggested already, this does not mean that the visual argument is either irresistible orirrefutable, .lthough vividness might affect our emotions, we do not necessarily accept the"vivid information" as a representative example of the proposed claim (lyengar & Kinder,1987, p. 38). When a picture argues, we may argue back, just as we might do whenencountering verbal argumentation. In the case discussed here, the vivid emotional appealthat creates the rhetorical power ofthe Venstre advertisement also renders its power relative.Because it evokes strong emotions, it cannot but reveal itself as argumentation. The advertisement was intended to secure votes but it probably ended up damaging thecredibility of both the party Venstre and the country. In a national poll conducted byMegafon for TV2 on November 16, 2001 (the day following the advertisements appear-ance), only 13 percent considered the advertisement to be either "very beneficial" or"beneficial," while 40 percent considered it "harmful" or "very harmful." This correspondsquite well with our intuition that hostility and aggression seldom pay off. The readers ofweeklies are not so ignorant that they do not understand it when a picture argues, and theyare clever enough to argue back if they disagree with the message or the way it is presented.Even though hostile appeals to peoples emotions may succeed in speaking to those who areconvinced already, they risk losing those who might have been convinced but who arerepelled by aggressive, indecent visual arguments. REFERENCESAdlcr.J. D. (2001, November 16). Med Venstre in muddergroften [With Venstre in the mud ditch). B. T., p. 2.Bakhtin, M. M. (1987). Speech genres and other late essays (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds.; V. W. McGee, Trans.}. Austin: University of Texas Press.Barthes, R. (1977). Image, music, text. London: Fontana Press.Birdsell, D. S., & Groarke, L. (1996). Toward a theory of visual argument. Argumentation and Advocacy, 33, 1-10.Bit?.er. L. F. (19,59). Aristotles enthymeme revisited. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 45, 399-408.Bitzer, L. F. (1968]. The rhetorical situation. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 1, 1-14.Bitzer, L. F. (1980). Functional communication: A situational perspective. In E. E. White (Ed.), Rhetoric in transition: Studies in the nature and uses of rhetoric (pp. 21 -38). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Blair, J. A. (I99fi). The possibility and actuality of visual argument. Argumentation and Advocacy. 33, 2[i-39.Blair, |. A. (2004). The rhetoric of visual arguments. In C. A. Hill & M. Helmers (Kds.), Defining visual rhetorics (pp. 4l-(il). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Brockriede, W. (1992). Where is argument? In W. L. Benoit, D. Hample, & P. J. Benoit (Eds.), Reading in argumentation (pp. 73-78). New York; Foris.Cox,J. R., & Willard, C. A. (1982). IntroducUon; The field of argumentation. InJ. R. Cox & C. A. Willard (Eds.). Advances in argumentation theory and research (pp. xiii-xlvii). Carbondale: Southem Illinois University Press.Eco, U. (1979). A theory of semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Eemeren, F. H. van, Groctendorst, R., & Kruiger, T. (1987). Handbook ofargumentation theory: A critical survey ofclas.sical backgrounds and modem studies. Providence, RI: Foris.£t budskap-men hvilket et (One message-bu! what a message]. (2001, November 16). Ekstra Bladet, p. 2.Fleming, D. (1996). Can pictures be arguments? Argumentation and Advocacy, 33, 11-22.Groarke, L. (199{i}. Logic, art, and argument Informal Logic, 18, 105-126.
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