Sunday, May 6, 2018

Cultivating Creativity for the Masses


               For many of us, college is a journey full of ups and downs. While many people look forward to graduation day, I can almost guarantee that not a lot of people think about who is going to give the commencement speech or what they are going to talk about. Now, you may be thinking that every commencement speech is basically the same so why does this guy matter? You’d be correct in that assumption; they are all pretty much the same. However, one speech that has stood apart from them all is “This Is Water.” David Foster Wallace gave this commencement speech on May 21st, 2005 to the graduating class of Kenyon College. Since then, his sarcastic and brutally honest speech has been made into videos, documented in multiple online databases, and even printed as a small non-fiction novel. David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York in 1962 and he tragically took his own life at age 46 in September of 2008. An accomplished author, speaker, and friend, he published sixteen different literary works, both fiction and nonfiction. All of his works were published by one company–– Little, Brown and Company–– which is an American publisher founded in 1837. They are “committed to publishing fiction of the highest quality and nonfiction of lasting significance.” During his lifetime, David Foster Wallace was awarded a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and the MacArthur Fellowship. His legacy lives on through The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust; the foundation is currently donating the proceeds of sales from his collected works, The David Foster Wallace Reader. The proceeds will go to the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam – a nonprofit that advocates youth literacy, critical thinking, and youth voice through poetry competitions, workshops, and community showcases. 
            “This Is Water” is classified as a motivational and persuasive speech in which David Foster Wallace challenges his audience to choose to live a full and compassionate life from that moment forward. This twenty-two-minute speech became so popular that his published seized the opportunity to memorialize his work and createdThis Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. This nonfiction book is his speech, word for word, printed out over 137 pages. Pictured to the right is the cover of the book. Published only a year after his death, the book is available for purchase online or in stores at a range of four to eleven dollars. If you’re not interested in purchasing the book, here is a LINK to the audio and text version of the speech.
            Originally written for a group of college graduates and scholars who worked at Kenyon College, “This Is Water” became so much more than just another commencement speech. His words encompass passion, the value of a single choice, life’s clich├ęs, and the motivation to succeed in whatever life path you choose. I was curious in my research so I decided to see how this speech ranked in comparison to others according to the toughest critic: The Google Search Engine. If you type “Motivational Speeches” into your computer, 22 of the Most Inspiring Speeches pops up and places Foster Wallace’s speech as number two. Among the ranks include: J.K. Rowling, Sylvester Stallone, Steve Jobs, Ellen DeGeneres, and many others. This goes to show “This Is Water” is comparably unique to other graduation ceremony speeches.
            People who are likely to engage with this text include but are not limited to: a person who is preparing to write a commencement speech, a person seeking motivation or how to
handle stress, future or current college graduates, or even someone who is researching David Foster Wallace. Situations and motivations for textual engagement range from research to pure enjoyment to stumbling upon the speech after a deep Internet dive.  In its original context, the speech was delivered by one person to the masses. An important aspect of the context was that during the speech, there were no special effects, technologies, or digital enhancements, only his brutally honest and slightly sarcastic message. This is significant because it shows that he was not concealing any bias or ulterior motives other than what he directly told his audience about. David Foster Wallace’s motivation behind writing and presenting the speech the manner in which he did can be drawn back to a line within the speech itself: “It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.” His motivation stems from the belief that it is the audience’s choice to lead a life worth living. The purpose behind his powerful words is to inspire the masses that they have that opportunity to navigate their future day-to-day adult life with compassion, fearlessness, and faith.
            Throughout his entire speech, David Foster Wallace uses a variety of plain and creative stylistic strategies and rhetorical devices in order to captivate his audience’s attention and open accessibility to a wide variety of people. Right away, he demolishes the speaker to audience barrier by telling his listeners that “[i]f anyone feels like perspiring, I’d invite you to go ahead because I’m sure going to.” For the next twenty-two-minutes, he maintains this same level of conversational and down-to-earth tone with his audience. By speaking to the graduates of Kenyon College directly and on a personal level, he establishes a connection that captivates their attention. He never lets his listeners’ thoughts wander because he is constantly saying things like “[a]s I’m sure you guys know by now…” and “[y]ou get the idea…” The speech begins with a short story about some fish in the water and directly after, his brutally honest agenda comes out as he states:
The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.
In this small part of an overall larger message, David Foster Wallace reveals three things to his audience. First, he tells the audience that he is aware of the typical format for commencement speeches but he generally doesn’t like the style. Because of this, he has decided to go about it in his own way. Second, he is “not the wise old fish.” Meaning, that just because he was asked to give a speech to liberal arts graduates doesn’t mean that he knows the meaning of life; he isn’t about to tell them everything they need to know or what they should do. That is for them to figure out. And finally, he clears up any ambiguity in the meaning of that short story. He makes it clear that he is not going to let his audience listen to his entire speech without telling them exactly what he is trying to say or what the point of the story is. All three strategies establish his credibility with the audience within the first couple of minutes. What surprised me the most about this speech was how informal and personal it was. The fact that he remained honest and open during the entire speech made me want to trust him and pay more attention.
           David Foster Wallace makes fun of and critiques the stereotypical style of commencement speeches in order to create an open-space with his audience and capture their attention. To the right is a table of readability statistics combined from two different calculators. As you can see, the average
grade level is just under eleven. For a group of college graduates, their comprehension could potentially fall between fourteen and eighteen. Through the use of hyperbole, irony, metaphors, parables, and simple diction he was able to create a piece that invited listeners of any race, age, gender, sexuality, or religion. Specifically, David Foster Wallace uses hyperbole in order to stress realistic issues, why those issues could be seen in a negative light, and then reveals how those same situations could be perceived positively as long as you make the conscious choice to do so. The point is that it is all relative to the way you choose to take in life.
            Written in a brutally honest filter, this speech advises the audience on how to navigate through their future day-to-day adult life. The stylistic elements and rhetorical strategies work together in order to open up reader accessibility and understanding. This is important because David Foster Wallace’s stylistic choices allow the masses to understand and benefit from his message: This Is Water. So why does any of this matter? You have the choice to decide what to stress over, what to celebrate, or what to forget. This is water and you always have the power.
- Lindsey M.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tax Season and the Plain Style

Tax Season and the Plain Style
            Hearing the term “Plain Style” the idea is that it is a simple, easy, for all ages read. It would be assumed then that a website that specializes in anything for dummies would be plain style, that is quite the opposite. Tax season is a haze of confusion and stress and then add actually doing taxes and the confusion is through the roof. So, taxes for dummies, it would be assumed, would be dumbed down so that the average jo would understand it. Through a textual analysis and a contextual analysis, it shows that plain style is just as confusing as official style writing, and it brings up the question, is “for dummies” plain enough for plain style. 
            For Dummies is a platform, both website and novel form, that transforms “hard-to understand into easy-to-use.” The platform changes information that is confusing for the average person into basic information that any entry level learner would understand. They pride themselves that, “dummies make learning anything even easier.”
            The plain style of “taxes 101” is far from plain. While most of the article is based on For Dummies, the remaining of the article is within another website called LearnVest, already making it harder for the entry level learner. And something that is supposed to bring the topic to an easier level does not add active voices within the examples given and the breakdown of sections. That in general brings into question if “for dummies” is actually for dummies and in plain style and able to reach a larger portion of the population.
            One portion of the article is titled “taxes in a nutshell,” it essentially discusses the basics of why taxes exist and why citizens pay them. When plugging the following portion of the article,
“Taxes are compulsory contributions to the state you live in, and to the federal government, levied by the government to pay for things that society as a whole need but people can’t pay for individually. That includes everything from the roads you drive on to law enforcement to the salary of the President of the United States.
These taxes aren’t optional, and trying to hide or outrun them never really ends well. (Just Google “celebrity tax evasion.”) Plus, 96% of Americans believe it’s your civic duty to pay taxes, so the best thing to do is get a basic understanding of taxes so that you can pay them accurately and on time, with minimum stress and pain — financial or emotional.
in a readability calculator is comes out showing that the grade level of the article is 13th grade, looking at most high school, there is not a class that teaches the breakdown of taxes and what they are or do. So, it is leaving out a big portion of the population because the average college graduate does not know how to do their taxes, or has never done taxes before. Also, looking more deeply into the word choice, the use of like “compulsory contributions” is not going to make sense to most people when it could be more easily said as, required contribution would better branch to individuals of all kinds in society. Within that portion of the article there is also the discussion of “your civic duty,” it is a term that is thrown around, however people that are supposed to have a 13th grade level understanding won’t necessarily know what is meant by that because the basis of one’s civic duty is based in individual ideals.
            The author of the article, Alden Wicker, has written multiple other articles about taxes for the website LearnVest, such as taxes for a freelancer, taxes for a married couple, taxes for homeowner, etc. Due to the large number of articles pertaining to taxes it seems like Alden Wicker is a viable source when it comes to looking into taxes and getting tips and tricks on finishing taxes.
            Looking through a different lens, the overall discussion of taxes is nicely broken down and the easily accessible manner of which one can find it makes it more plain style. The author being an avid author that pops up on the website is beneficial for the plain style, each article about taxes is going to stick with the desire to keep the information accessible and flow in a similar manner to make it easy for the audience at hand.
            The author gives the article a more talkative, easy to read flow, starting right away with the first and second paragraph,
Nobody forgets the first time, whether it was at their high school job at the ice cream parlor or their first job out of college, that they eagerly tore open a paycheck, already planning a shopping spree . . . only to find that someone had stolen a huge chunk of their money! (If you haven’t felt this sinking feeling yet, prepare yourself.) / Yup, that big missing chunk went to taxes. But don’t think you’re not getting anything for it! Here are a few examples of what your taxes get you: the clean water running out of your tap, the police keeping your neighborhood safe, and the garbage that gets picked up on your curbside.”
Within the first two paragraphs there is a lot of use of “you” and more talkative language with the use of terms like, “huge chunks,” “yup.” Not only the simple terms but the author uses analogies with known real-world things to connect the reader with their taxes, the action of doing them, and what their taxes go towards with, “Here are a few examples of what your taxes get you: the clean water running out of your tap, the police keeping your neighborhood safe, and the garbage that gets picked up on your curbside.”
            Plain style is not cut and dry, just as with the official style, plain style still has a specific audience it is trying to reach. And plain style doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to be dumbed down and “for dummies,” it means that it is going to be in more basic language in which a wider variety of people can benefit from. Looking specifically at the “for dummies” website, texts on the website are going to be easier to understand than their more official style counterparts, but it can also mean that there missing components of the deeper information that might need to be known. They  
Plain style skims the surface of topics and information, it makes information available to a broader audience, but that can come at the expense of information necessary to the topic because it was too hard to understand. With all of that too it can still be just as confusing as official style, when looking specifically at the topic of Taxes and the plain style that comes from “for dummies,” plain style doesn’t suddenly make a person with no expertise in a topic a master, it gives the basics, but can still lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
Jamie L