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Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Don't Retreat . . . RELOAD: Why Rhetoric Matters"

During the January 8th live press conference, regarding the assassination attempt of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, of Puma County stated, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous . . . and unfortunately, I think Arizona has become . . . the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry. There’s reason to believe that this individual might have a mental issue, and I think that people who are unbalanced might be especially susceptible to vitriol.” The sheriff’s words opened a space for questioning the relationship between dominant political rhetoric and the violence that ensued. Of particular scrutiny is the now infamous tweet of former Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin: “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!’ Pls see my Facebook page [sic].” There was no question as to where and to whom Palin wanted her followers to “RELOAD”; Palin’s Facebook page depicts the image of crosshairs, associated with gun sights, over her targets. Congresswoman Gifford expressed concern over this image and Palin’s rhetoric to MSNBC in 2010: “For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

Congresswoman Gifford was correct: rhetoric has consequences; rhetoric creates a reality. Media pundits on the right have come out in droves to critique the left’s blaming of Sarah Palin for the assassination attempt. A thematic content analysis, however, of recent blogs from the left demonstrates that bloggers and analysts make it very clear that they do not, in fact, blame Sarah Palin for the shooting, nor do I. Current debates, however, from the left and the right, in which the foci are motive and blame, miss the point that Sheriff Dupnik was making: Palin’s tweet and Facebook page crosshair image are only two speech utterances within a larger body of incendiary dominant political media rhetoric of the right; this body of rhetoric functions as the backdrop of Jared Lee Loughner’s alleged assassination attempt of the Congresswoman, the tragic killing of six individuals, and the wounding of eighteen others. In other words, at any historical moment, one cannot separate violent acts from its current rhetorical cultural context and climate; rhetoric and acts do not operate in isolation from one another. As such, it is critical to examine Palin’s and other dominant symbolic political media rhetoric of the right in relation to this material act.

One need not look far to find a body of evidence and other incendiary rhetorical examples to support Sheriff Dupnik’s analysis: take Sharron Angle’s quote which referenced “domestic enemies,” or Rick Barber’s ad that stated, “Gather your armies.” How about Tea Party rhetoric that continually reminds its members that they are fighting against “socialism” and “tyranny” and asks Americans to “take our Country back by any means necessary?” Tune in to Glen Beck on any given evening and one is exposed to comments such as: “There is a coup going on; there is a stealing of America.” After financial reform took place, Beck stated to his viewership, “Your republic is over.” Rush Limbaugh screamed, “Our country is being overthrown from within” (see Eric Boehlert,, 2010).

When audience members are exposed to this incendiary rhetoric, on an ongoing basis, this rhetoric creates a powerful reality. Consequently, are we surprised that violent political rhetoric is on the rise? Are we surprised that individuals are coming armed to town hall meetings? Are we surprised that there are ongoing death threats against public servants? And are we surprised by the alleged actions of Jared Lee Loughner? Rhetoric has consequences. As cultural analogues, just as rhetoric that articulates undocumented individuals as vermin, or cockroaches, functions to dehumanize and hence easily justify and excuse hate crimes, and just as rhetoric and images that articulate women as objects, there for the taking, creates a culture where date rape is a common occurrence, to think that the language we use in the political arena, intentional or otherwise, does not influence behavior, would too be na├»ve. Language creates a reality; it affects the way we see the world. The messages that we are exposed to, on a daily basis, affect individuals’ ideology and behavior. What reality the political sphere and its members will create, post this tragedy, remains to be seen.

Dr. Nina M. Lozano-Reich is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric, in the Communication Studies Department, at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"The Real Housewives of Orange County" meets the Real Femicides of Women in Juarez, Mexico

Recently, Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico, was the object of protests at UC Irivine. Fox was to give a University talk to students on democracy. Protests functioned to challenge the identity of Fox as a champion of democracy, and instead, call attention to his "record of repression and violence against activists and human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch" (Subveristy Blog, KUCI). As "The OC" is known for South Coast Plaza and The Real Housewives of Orange County, when one hears about protests taking place in Irvine, CA, one should take notice.

I know Vicente Fox's rhetoric and actions (or more accurately, lack of action) intimately. My research and activism regarding the femicides in Mexico over the past seven years includes: six delegations to Juarez/Chihuahua, meeting with the mothers of the murdered and disappeared, reviewing seven years of governmental discourse and lack of action, taking students on alternative breaks to Juarez, a politcal poster project, organizing protests and community forums, and conducting interviews with the mothers and agents of non-profits on the ground. As a scholar of social movements, more specifically, my research focuses on the rhetoric of Mexican Government officials, and the material conditions surrounding gendered violence and the femicides in Juarez and Chihuahua Mexico respectively.

Vicente Fox is no champion or exemplar of human rights or democracy. Period. Like the protests at UCI, at the recent undergraduate LMU commencement ceremony, numerous professors wore and held up pink crosses during Fox's speech in order to raise awareness about the femicides in Juarez and Chihuahua Mexico, and as a form of protest against Vicente Fox's human rights abuses and culpability with the femicides (e.g., stating there is no femicide, pulling violence prevention and awareness funding, blaming the victims and calling them prostitutes, scapegoating and harassing human rights agitators and jailing social justice actors, and spending government money on soccer fields and lavender candles to stop femicides from occuring--yes, this is a fact. Fox was greeted with chants of "Justicia" [justice] and "Ni Una Mas" [not one more murder/femicide] from protesters.

Skeptics may dismiss Fox as an individual who no longer has any power as an "Ex-Pres". Those who might be inclined to ascribe to this line of thought would be remiss in taking advantage of the rhetorical opportunity that Fox's media tour affords to protesters looking for ripe rhetorical spaces to draw attention to the femicides in Mexico, and to hold the state accountable for the State sponsored femicides. As Calderon continues Fox's policies regarding the violence in Juarez (lack of investigations, corruption, no safety for female maquila [factory] workers, etc.), it is imperative that human rights actors continue to capitalize on these rhetorical opportunities in order to shed light upon the injustices in Juarez, while simultaneously exerting pressure upon both Mexican and United States governmental officials for justicia.

One thing is certain: as 2009 has seen more femicides than any other year since the femicides began in Juarez, we can take a lead from the Irvinites and focus less on material aspects of The Real Housewives of Orange County and more on the Real conditions of women throughout the world. Indeed, the one act of the visible wearing of the pink crosses during commencement for the audience and media not only created a concsiousness-raising buzz throughout the campus with hundreds of guests (everyone asking what the crosses meant), but also to a much wider public via the Internet podcast (discussion threads). Visibility politics, while not the ultimate tactic for change, is always a necessary first step. To get involved, visit:

Dr. Nina M. Lozano-Reich
June 8th, 2009