Two Sides, Same Coin?

Here's lookin' at you, kid. Or is this a googley-eyes thing?

In this assignment, you’re going to use rhetoric for the powers of good. You’ll act as a go-between, mediating two sides on a complex issue. That complexity means things have to get explained to different groups, and as your work in class on Tuesday demonstrated, that’s not always easy to do.

Source Material: Find Two Sides

From the syllabus:

Locate two opposing reports about a single political current event. Identify the rhetorical strategies used by each author. Then, compose a warning to each report’s audience that raises awareness of the influence of those strategies. Use a genre appropriate to reach your target audiences.

In class, I said don’t choose something political. In the syllabus, I say choose a “political current event.” What gives, Friend?

First, I forgot in class the exact wording of the syllabus. I goofed. But I stand by what I said: You don’t want to do something that is itself politics. In other words, don’t select a political action—a decision, a speech, an election, blah blah blah. Instead, pick a current event with political consequences—something that affects groups of people. When something affects groups of people, there’s likely to be polarizing opinions from all sides. The current event you select can call for a political response, but it should not be a political event.

Bad Examples

Examples of events with two sides that are themselves political (which are bad for this assignment):

  • congress enacts new legislation
  • a bill has been proposed
  • candidates have a debate
  • a politician gives a speech
  • a president pardons a citizen

Good Examples

Examples of current events with multiple sides and political consequences (and are therefore good for this assignment):

  • Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That effect resulted from an onslaught of sex-abuse litigation made possible by changing laws around statutes of limitations in various states.
  • The Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantine ends Wednesday, and 542 of 3,711 passengers contracted COVID-19. The quarantine came as a political response to an epidemic.
  • Asian-American businesses in New York City face closures because residents fear COVID-19. No evidence links the business owners to the virus, and no cases have been reported in NYC, yet people’s irrational and xenophobic prejudices have left restaurants and shops vacant.
  • A company uses networks to coordinate retrieval and distribution of food that would otherwise go to waste, alleviating pressures of hunger in some communities. This coordination obviously has political implications, but it is not the result of political action.

The above examples came from my quick read of the Associated Press’s “10 Things to Know for Today” article, so potential articles are everywhere. The point is, make it an event with consequences. You’re likely to find a variety of opinions, making it easier to find two that differ. Look for multiple sides to the issue—more than two is best, though you only need to find two texts for this assignment.

Identify the Sides

Once you’ve found your two source articles, identify the two sides the represent. Phrase them as beliefs held by each author. Then, identify the category of people each author appeals to. Who are they writing for? What kind of person reads the website where you found your articles?

At this point, this should feel like the in-class activity from Tuesday. You started by identifying an identity category and then articulated a belief that group holds. Here, when reading these articles, you’ll work in reverse: Figure out the belief, then identify the category.

Once you’ve figured that out, it’s time to do the hard work of this assignment.

Bring it Home

Now that you’ve selected your two articles, you need to become a translator. For each of the articles you selected, write a response piece—an article that could exist on the same site—that warns readers about the fallacies and rhetorical moves made by the opposing side. In other words, explain in their terms what they need to realize about the other side.

My Example

For example, let’s say my polarizing current event is this: Tesla now sells a tongue-in-cheek T-shirt mocking their own product launch snafu.

I found several “articles” (they barely qualify as such) about the shirt, including:

The first two articles talk about emotional intelligence and strategy. The third article puts the existence of the shirt in context as more of a “just so you know” sort of post. I now have these two things to write:

  • A “just so you know” post for Autoblog explaining what the T-shirt reveals about emotional intelligence…to an audience of car enthusiasts.
  • A “business insider” look at the context of the T-shirt release…to an audience of business savvy entrepreneurs eager for self-help.

Yeah, About That…

Writing those two pieces is hard.

To do this right, I’ll have to pay attention to the values, goals, and desires of both sides of this situation. I’ll have to write with different assumptions in mind based on which of the two sides I’m writing to so that my writing will be accepted as “normal” for them. And I’ll have to understand the event itself well enough to re-tell its story twice.

For Thursday, Feb 20, bring a rough draft of both pieces to class. We’ll peer review your work. The final draft gets posted to Courses by Feb 25. Use the “Same Coin” category.

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