Friday, November 8, 2013

The Plain Twenties

Lists are a popular attraction in modern-day media. Websites, magazines, Facebook - they all have lists, because when a complex or difficult topic can be simplified into a list of top ten it suddenly becomes manageable. The current generation is not willing to commit a lot of time to reading an article. A list provides the option of simply skimming the bullet points and not reading the details. Huckabee, the author of “20 Things Every Twentysomething Should Know How To Do,” is aware of this. He is a managing editor of a magazine specifically geared towards people in their twenties, so he is certainly familiar with the techniques that work and those that do not.

The magazine Huckabee writes for, RELEVANT, also has a large presence on their website. Huckabee’s list of twenty things was featured on the magazine’s website near the beginning of October, 2013. At the time of writing this critique, several thousand people had viewed the article.
There are many actors involved within the activity system of this online article: Huckabee (the author), the readers of the article (older people trying to understand younger people, younger people trying to understand older people), the intended readers of RELEVANT (presumably twentysomethings), people who have not done much in their twenties, and the people who have done a lot of things in their twenties. Many people could be affected by Huckabee’s article, but judging by the title and the short introductory paragraph the intended audience are twentysomethings who haven’t done much with their lives.

Huckabee’s purpose is evident early on in the article. He begins by encouraging people that it is alright if they haven’t published a book or gotten married by the time they are thirty. So he doesn’t come across as harsh. But then he ends the paragraph (right before the list begins) by saying, “That said, there are a few things every twentysomething should know how to do.” So his purpose is to give an encouraging kick in the pants to many twentysomethings who apparently don’t know how to do much. It is a simple objective, but one that could easily be difficult to convey had not the plain style been used.

To accomplish his goals, Huckabee uses several tools that are typical of the plain style. He keeps the sentences short and less complex, with about 13 words per sentence, and 1.4 syllables per word. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease is 74.4, and the average grade level is 7.3. Overall, this piece is quite easy to read. Minimal jargon, little redundancy, and use of the second person help Huckabee keep the article simple and easy to read. But Huckabee doesn’t stop there. To further clarify, simplify, and minimize distraction Huckabee repeatedly uses the rhetorical devices of exemplum and metabasis throughout his article. It is the hope of Huckabee that by using these devices the reader will be the least distracted, thus receiving the most possible from the article.

One of the rhetorical strategies Huckabee employs is that of metabasis. Metabasis is simply stating what has been said and/or what will follow. It is often used to provide a summary of previously discussed topics. In the case of this article, however, metabasis is used to inform the reader what will come next.
Before the list begins, Huckabee writes that, “there are a few things every twentysomething should know how to do.” This statement tells the reader what the list is going to be: a list of things every twentysomething should know how to do. Throughout the list metabasis is further used. Each item in the list is titled, and then described. The first item, for example, is “1. Make a Great Breakfast.” This sentence is an example of metabasis, because it is telling the reader that the paragraph underneath this subheading will be describing how or why to make a great breakfast.

Huckbee uses metabasis in this list-style for a few different purposes. First, it keeps the writing clean, organized, and manageable. If there are too many words it is easy for millennials to lose interest or get lost in the fog. It helps to clarify and minimize distraction so that the reader will retain as much information from the article as possible. It also provides a means for someone to “read” the article without actually reading it. They can skim through the list, choosing to read the detailed explanation of any listed items they find particularly interesting, but not being forced to read every word to understand the main point of the article. The ability to do this makes the article all that more appealing. In Huckabee's mind the article is required to be appealing, along with accessible, if it is going to be memorable.

Perhaps one of the simplest and most common rhetorical devices is providing a specific example, known as exemplum. Examples help to bring concepts down to earth and make the points of the author tangible. It helps the reader relate, and makes the author's point more clear.

Huckabee's writing is full of examples, since every one of the 20 listed items are examples. Each subheading is an example of a thing every twentysomething should know (Parallel Park, Limit Your Online Life, Tip Generously), but there are further examples within the paragraphs under the headings. One listed item that may not be extremely clear is “17. Be Alone.” The reader may read the subheading and wonder what exactly the author means by being alone. Fortunately, Huckabee provides examples in the explanatory paragraph when he writes, “Be able to sit quietly – reading, writing, praying or listening to the silence – and use that time to truly evaluate how your spirit is.” By using examples Huckabee helps the reader relate to what he is trying to convey, and it is his hope that this will ensure the reader retains some of the message of the article.

Huckabee tries to reach a relatively difficult demographic in his piece, “20 Things Every Twentysomething Should Know How to Do.” College-age young adults who are media-conscious and may or may not be in the “real-world” yet. It is clear that Huckabee believes that most of his potential readers do not know how to do most of the listed items, otherwise he would not have written the article. Judging from the context and the activity system of which RELEVANT magazine and Huckabee are a part, it appears that the purpose of the article is to rouse unexciting or disinterested millennials into doing more with their lives. The article then is a response to the negative criticism that is often directed towards current-day twentysomethings. Often depicted as lazy, spoiled, and unproductive Huckabee writes a call-to-arms. Essentially he is saying, “Listen folks, people say that this generation is lazy and we don't know how to do anything. Let's prove them wrong. Here are 20 things you need to know how to do to start the campaign.”

This message is important for many reasons, and has a personal significance to Huckabee since he is a twentysomething. Therefore it is very important that his article is easy to take in, clear, and memorable. Huckabee uses the rhetorical devices of exemplum and metabasis to create an easy-to-read and easy-to-remember article. Most would consider him successful since the article has been shared on Facebook almost 121,000 times.

-M.C. Reynolds

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