Singing to Persuade: Analysis of Three Songs

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

In this assignment, I will be looking into what kind of persuasion three songs use. The songs I have chosen to examine are “Generique” as performed by Miles Davis, “Mount Vernon” as performed by the Salem Church Sacred Harp Singers, and “Cottontail” as performed by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. To support my arguments, I will be using the three external conditions that are needed for invitational rhetoric to exist put forth by Foss and Griffin in Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric. These external conditions are safety, value, and freedom. As I will address in more detail later in this piece, the songs I will look into do not meet any of these three external conditions, therefore they do not create an environment wherein invitational rhetoric can exist. These songs are traditional rhetoric.

The first external condition that must be met for invitational rhetoric to exist is safety. This means the audience must feel a sense of security and lack of danger from the rhetor. This condition is not met in the song “Generique”. This song invokes a mysterious and enchanting atmosphere that draws the listener in but, like a siren song, it deceives the listener and brings them closer to danger. Like the apple offered to Snow White, it appears safe on the surface yet leads to chaos and destruction. Instead of feeling accepted by the song, I feel confused and uneasy. I hear the song and feel like I am intruding on something that I am not supposed to be a part of, an intimate moment that I stumbled upon and will be “taken care of” later for hearing. The rhetor here is pulling back a velvet curtain and offering me a look, while knowing that whatever lies on the other side will cause me harm. I am torn between the seductive swell of the music and the change to my life that would occur should I take the leap. To establish a safe context, the rhetor must create an environment where no harm will befall their audience; in this case, they fail to do so. The fact that I am apprehensive towards the situation and the rhetor means that I cannot give myself or my attention to my greatest capacity. Our relationship is unbalanced. In this way, the rhetor violated the necessary aspect of safety. This song is traditional rhetoric.

The second external condition that must be met for invitational rhetoric to exist is value. This means the audience has an intrinsic worth and a right to exist as an individual. This condition is not met in the song “Mount Vernon”. The song features a choir group singing a hymn together, their voices melding together to create one solid wave of music. The choir exists as a unit, and cannot function unless every person involved performs the same action. In this situation, my individual self, my experiences, my ambitions, my past, will all be ignored and denied. I will no longer be an individual, but a part of a massive whole that does not care for my individuality. They do not recognize me as an individual and are therefore denying my very personhood. This relationship goes both ways. I cannot give up my voice and the collective will not recognize its power and importance. The external condition of value calls for each side to acknowledge at least one point, but in this case, I cannot give in on even one thing. I must stand for who I am. I am uninterested in performing a role that strips me of my individual voice, demanding that I release it to the collective and conform. The collective cares only for itself; my voice will only add to its numbers but it does not attempt to see from my perspective, denying the concept of “reversibility of perspectives”. In this way, the rhetor violated the necessary aspect of value. This song is traditional rhetoric.

The third external condition that must be met for invitational rhetoric to exist is freedom. This means the audience is free to say whatever they please without fear of consequences or retribution. This condition is not met in the song “Cottontail”. The song features a fast, jumpy beat that practically forces the audience to dance. It is in this way that the song is restricting freedom. The goal of music that exemplifies invitational rhetoric is to exist and be heard, but this song’s goal is to spur people to get up and dance, using the music as a means to an end. It exists to fulfill a bigger goal than just to exist. It wants me to accept the action of getting up and dancing even if I do not want to, giving it the ulterior motive of attempting to change my behavior, even if it is not successful. The song’s quick pace and catchy rhythm offers no time to stop and rest, not even for a moment. It is unrelenting in pursuing its goal; I have no opportunity or choice to stop, even if I wanted to. I feel a need to participate and fulfill a role in the song because if I do not do so, the rhetor will not respect me or recognize my worth. This establishes an unequal power dynamic between the rhetor and the audience. The rhetor is pushing the message that I must perform the role that they have written for me and I do not have the freedom to make my own decision over whether I wish to fill that role or not. In this way, the rhetor violated the necessary aspect of freedom. This song is traditional rhetoric.

In this assignment, I covered what kind of persuasion the songs “Generique”, “Mount Vernon”, and “Cottontail” use. Using the three external conditions that are needed for invitational rhetoric to exist put forth by Foss and Griffin, I argued that all three of these songs are traditional rhetoric. Since these songs did not meet the conditions of safety, value, and freedom, the three songs do not create an environment in which invitational rhetoric between the rhetor and the audience can take place. By denying the audience their safety, value, and freedom, the rhetors exemplify non-invitational rhetoric. These songs are traditional rhetoric.

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