The Art of Persuasion: Rhetoric in Shane Dawson's Conspiracy Videos

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18th May 2020 English Language Reference this

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 “Rhetoric is the study or performance of human interaction and communication or the product(s) of that interaction and communication. Because most human interaction is persuasive by nature – that is, we’re trying to convince each other of things, even when we say something simple like “that feels nice” – one way to think of rhetoric is as the study of persuasion. Rhetoric can refer to a field of knowledge on this subject, to systematic explanations for and predictions of how persuasion works, or to the performance art of human interaction and persuasion itself” (Wardle and Downs, 2017, p. 897). For my specific project, I am using the frame rhetoric to analyze how Shane Dawson65

 presents his conspiracy theory videos and how the viewers react to them.

 My first group of sources are about the psychology of persuasion. In “Classic and Modern Propaganda in Documentary Film: Teaching the Psychology of Persuasion”, Simpson (2008) used a new, innovated way to teach the psychology of persuasion. Simpson showed her students two film clips from two separate movies. She then used these to dig deep into and illustrate social psychological concepts in persuasion and propaganda. In “Persuasion from an Eighteen-Year-Old’s Perspective: Perry and Piaget”, Dinitz and Kiedaisch (1990) asked students to persuade the members in their workshop group to change their minds or behavior on a topic of their choice. The goal of this assignment was to teach students to make writing choices based on their audience. In “What Makes a Frame Persuasive? Lessons from Social Identity Theory”, Mols (2012) digs deep into what makes a frame strong and persuasive and how politicians strategically influence the public audience. Those who have examined framing of mind have of course tuned to psychology for answers and more specifically to cognitive psychology. In all three of these articles, they dig deep into the psychology of persuasion and the minds of the audience as well.

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 My second group of sources focus on persuasion in YouTube. In “Using YouTube to Promote Curricular Awareness and Persuasive Skills in the Basic Communication Course”, Procopio (2011) gives her students an assignment to make a short advertisement promoting a communication course of their choice and then upload it to YouTube for a grade. The students need to effectively use their persuasive techniques and audience analysis to convince the viewer to take that certain course and/or persuade them to look into communication as a major/minor. In “Rediscovering the “Back-and-Forthness” of Rhetoric in the Age of YouTube”, Jackson and Wallin (2009) use a viral YouTube video to demonstrate the “back-and-forthness” of rhetoric in YouTube and also to show that dialectic communication is the best form of communication. In “Move Your Audience to Action: Using YouTube to Teach Persuasion”, Quagliata (2014) uses the persuasive strategy MMS to have her students analyze the persuasion in YouTube videos. In all three of these sources, the authors dig deeper into the persuasion in YouTube videos and how these videos persuade their audience.

 By the end of my inquiry study I want to better understand how the rhetoric and persuasion in Shane Dawson’s conspiracy theory videos attract such a large audience and how he persuades his audience to believe what he is saying. With my first group of sources being about the psychology of persuasion, these will help me to understand how what Shane says and how he says it persuades me as a viewer. With my second group of sources being about persuasion in YouTube videos, those will help me better understand the persuasive tactics he puts in his videos that are so attractive to the viewers.

Dinitz, S., & Kiedaisch, J. (1990). Persuasion from an eighteen-year-old’s perspective: Perry and Piaget. Journal of Teaching Writing, 9(2), 209-221. Retrieved from https://journals.iupui.edu/index.php/teachingwriting/article/view/1070/1030In this article, Dinitz and Kiedaisch (1990) asked students to persuade the members in their workshop group to change their minds or behavior on a topic of their choice. The goal of this assignment was to teach students to make writing choices based on their audience. Dinitz and Kiedaisch (1990) said, “As James Kinneavy explains, all writing involves making a series of decisions based on the subject matter, the reader, and the writer” (p. 210). The assignment had the students question their group to determine that two of the three in their group were neutral or disagreed with the writer in order to encourage the students to make choices based on their audience. The problem was that the students didn’t want to make writing decisions based on what would persuade their audience and some didn’t even have interest in what their peers thought about their topic. Going forward, the article began digging deep into why students had problems with persuasion and how eighteen-year-old’s viewed persuasion. The article also touched on the psychology of persuasion and how to teach persuasion. Dinitz and Kiedaisch (1990) said that, “both Perry and Inhelder and Piaget suggest that it is actually through peer interactions that students come to see limitations of their own ways of thinking” (p. 218).

 I chose this source because it taught me how important it is to make writing decisions based on one’s audience by the examples of what happened when these students didn’t. Further this will help me to remember to look into the writing choices Shane Dawson makes when speaking to his audience and what he says to persuade them. This source relates to both of my sources in my first group because all three look into the psychology of persuasion.

Jackson, B., & Wallin, J. (2009). Rediscovering the “back-and-forthness” of rhetoric in the age of YouTube. College Composition and Communication, 61(2), 374-396. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0612-dec09/CCC0612Rediscovering.pdf

Jackson and Wallin (2009) begin their article by introducing a video of a boy at the University of Florida that went viral. This student was zapped with 50,000 volts from a taser-gun after taking the microphone from Senator John Kerry at a town hall meeting. The video was soon uploaded to YouTube and went viral within hours. The video received thousands of comments and discussions taking sides in this debate on who was at fault in this situation. Jackson and Wallin (2009) go on to say, “Rediscovering the back-and-forthness of rhetoric could help students understand that we analyze so we can argue, and we write so we can be read and responded to. This back-and-forthness is at the core of civic literacy in the age of YouTube.” (p. 376). The article goes on citing sources that face-to-face discussion is the best form of argument because one can be directly challenged, but they soon refute that saying that dialectic is the best form of communication because “its participants can stop the conversation, back it up, suspend a proposition in thin air for analysis” (Jackson and Wallin, 2009, p.378). The article goes on making more arguments for why dialectic is the best form on communication. Towards the end of the article, Jackson and Wallin use the University of Florida example to illustrate the opportunities for teaching the back-and-forthness of rhetoric.

I picked this source because it helped me understand rhetoric and how YouTube plays into the “back-and-forthness” of rhetoric and how YouTube plays a big role in persuading many people. This relates to my topic because I can implement what I’ve learned here and use it to analyze Shane’s videos. This source belongs in my “persuasion in YouTube” group because it teaches the reader how big of a role rhetoric and persuasion play in the videos and comments on YouTube.

Mols, F. (2012). What makes a frame persuasive? Lessons from social identity theory. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice, 8(3), 329-345. DOI:10.1332/174426412×654059

In this source, Mols (2012) digs deep into what makes a frame persuasive and how people such as politicians “frame” issues to their advantage to influence their audience. This article also talks about different framing techniques and why they are effective. In this paper, Mols proposes that social psychological research that investigates leadership and persuasion can help answer this question. Mols (2012) says, “Social Identity theorists have shown that influential leaders are crafty ‘identity entrepreneurs’, whose social influence derives, not from their ability to frame issues, but from their ability to redefine the collective self-understanding” (p. 329). Those who have examined framing of mind have of course tuned to psychology for answers and more specifically to cognitive psychology. Mols says that when one is looking into the frame building process, it would be beneficial to look into the social identity- (SIT) and self-categorization (SCT) literature on leadership, followership and social influence. Mols (2012) says, “This is because this literature helps to understand why leaders are drawn to certain frames rather than others, and what choices leaders typically make to bolster the persuasiveness of their messages” (p. 330). In the end, Mols (2012) concludes with this thought, “In this reading, cognitive processes are shaped, not by cues triggering certain thought processes, but by people’s perceptions of the social world, and in this reading a leader’s social influence derives from their ability to influence perceptions about the social world, rather than their ability to find the right cue” (p. 342).

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I chose this source because it helped me to better understand what makes a frame persuasive and the psychological tactics that influencers use to persuade their audience and how we as an audience get persuaded. This source fits in my “psychology of persuasion” group because throughout this entire paper, Mols uses psychology to dig deep into what exactly makes a frame persuasive.

Procopio, C. (2011). Using YouTubeTM to promote curricular awareness and persuasive skills in the basic communication course. Communication Teacher, 25(1), 25-28. DOI:10.1080/17404622.2010.513003

Procopio (2011) begins her article with a rationale before introducing the activity. She says, “This assignment seeks to take advantage of that fertile ground, planting an interest in the communication field by exposing students to communication course offerings while honing their persuasive skills” (Procopio, 2011, p. 25). In this activity, students are assigned to make a short advertisement promoting a communication course of their choice and then upload it to YouTube for a grade. The students need to effectively use their persuasive techniques and audience analysis to convince the viewer to take that certain course and/or persuade them to look into communication as a major/minor. Procopio (2011) says that, “this assignment allows students to craft a persuasive message designed for a much larger audience of web viewers” (p. 26). With YouTube as the platform, the student can reach a massive audience instead of just a classroom. Procopio (2011) also says that it’s also very important to make sure that the students “persuasive appeals are targeted toward likely audience needs” (p. 26). This assignment requires the students to use the rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) to help them better understand that persuasion goes beyond one’s own opinion. Students can be assessed on “accuracy and quality of information about their chosen course, effective use of appeals to audience motivations, creativity, visual and audio quality, and compliance with assignment directions” (Procopio, 2011, p. 27).

I chose this source because it helped me better understand persuasion by putting myself in the place of someone who had to make a YouTube video that persuades their audience to agree with them. This also helped me put myself in the shoes of Shane Dawson when he makes his conspiracy videos, because the entire thing is just to persuade his audience to agree with him. This source relates closely to the sources in my “persuasion in YouTube” group because it talks about the persuasive tactics that were needed in these students YouTube videos in order to persuade their audience. The other sources in this group focus on the persuasive tactics in YouTube as well.

Quagliata, A. B. (2014). Move your audience to action: Using YouTube to teach persuasion. Communication Teacher, 28(3), 183-187. DOI:10.1080/17404622.2014.911336

Quagliata (2014) starts out with introducing Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (MMS) and explains why this tactic is useful when teaching students about persuasive writing instead of the informative writing that they’re used to. Quagliata begins by introducing MMS and then explains each step and its importance. He says that step one is where the student needs to grab the audience’s attention. Step two is where the student needs to introduce the problem using cognitive dissonance to create discomfort to the reader, then in step three give a solution to the problem to give the reader some satisfaction. Step four is where the student uses language that will help their reader visualize what life will be like after their plan is in place. Lastly, step five is where the student will deliver a message that will move their audience to action. In the rest of Quagliata’s article he introduces an activity that teachers can give their students that will get them to better understand this tactic, discuss it, and use it. In order to keep this teaching approach modern, he tasks his students with browsing YouTube for a commercial that uses these five steps to persuade its viewer instead of having his students read and analyze a speech. Quagliata (2014) says, “Most students do remarkably well at identifying a commercial that uses MMS and describing each step” (p. 186). Through first practicing identifying these steps in a YouTube video, the students end up writing higher graded, more persuasive speeches.

 I chose this source because it tied back to my topic in a way and helped me understand the persuasive technique MMS, which will help me analyze Shane Dawson’s persuasive techniques in his conspiracy videos. This source related to the other sources in the “persuasion in YouTube” group because all three used YouTube to analyze, use, and perfect persuasive strategies.

Simpson, K. E. (2008). Classic and modern propaganda in documentary film: Teaching the psychology of persuasion. Teaching of Psychology, 35(2), 103-108. DOI:10.1177/009862830803500208

In this article, Simpson (2008) used a new, innovated way to teach the psychology of persuasion. Simpson showed her students two film clips from two separate movies. She then used these to dig deep into and illustrate social psychological concepts in persuasion and propaganda. She first went into why she selected these specific films and then said that before she showed her students these films, she then made sure that the students completed assigned text readings and participated in an initial 80- min class session on the topic of persuasion. Simpson then discussed important distinctions in the psychology of persuasion. Simpson said, “In teaching persuasion, I generally hold two goals: to educate about basic concepts of influence and to heighten student awareness of persuasion tactics employed in society” (p. 104). Simpson goes on to discussing important distinctions and then ends the article with pointing out some concerns that the reader may have, such as the films being highly politicized.

I chose this source because it helped me better understand the psychology of persuasion. It also gave me a different way to learn the psychology of persuasion but putting a more modern spin on it. This will help me when looking into Shane Dawson’s videos because I can better understand the persuasion he uses. This source relates to the other sources in my “psychology of persuasion” group because they look into the psychological tactics used in persuasion and how to best persuade an audience.

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