In today’s multimedia world, effective arguments rely increasingly on the power of images to persuade their audience. Think about the many different visually based arguments that you encounter everyday: a television commercial showing Michael Jordan sweating fluorescent Gatorade green; an editorial cartoon of Harry Potter, his lightning bolt scar replaced with a large dollar sign; war protest footage – in System of the Down’s music video for “Boom”; the cover of Sports Illustrated, featuring tennis star Anna Kournikova posed alluringly in an off-the-shoulder blouse and a seductive smile. Each of these images presents an argument; each of these texts uses visual rhetoric as a means of persuasion. In this course, you will work toward creating your own powerful arguments, both about and through visual rhetoric. You’ll begin by becoming proficient readers of visual arguments. We’ll analyze comic strips and cartoons on a variety of subjects –for instance, George Bush, education, cloning, the War in Iraq, student life – and then move to advertisements – from Got Milk spots to movie trailers for The Matrix Reloaded. As we examine the ways in which images are used to persuade, you’ll select your own example of visual rhetoric to analyze, first informally in class, then more formally in an essay. In the second part of the quarter, our attention will shift to different media (photography, propaganda, architecture, and film) and to the complicated process of constructing a research-based argument. You’ll generate your own research topic on a subject that interests you. You might decide, for example, to look at the media’s influence on public opinion about the war on Iraq; the interrelationship between video games and high school violence; the protest art of the Guerrilla Girls; Native-American team mascots and cultural stereotyping; weblogs and modern self-expression – your topic can focus on science, film, sports, advertising or even Stanford campus life as long as long as it engages visual rhetoric as a form of argumentation. The research process itself will involve many stages: from writing a proposal, to selecting and contextualizing your sources, to outlining, drafting and revising your paper. Our last day of the course will be devoted to a showcase of student work and to reflecting about the principles and uses of visual rhetoric at Stanford and in the world beyond.


What exactly is visual rhetoric and what does it have to do with you? Click on the pictures above for some examples of how visrhet operates as an everyday form of persuasion and argumentation.
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