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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Visual Rhetoric--Welcome to My Classroom!

   This is a post I wrote for my ENGL 102 course which I instruct online for a stateside University, illustrating a few examples of visual  rhetoric pulled directly from life experience. I've adapted it minimally for this blog. It is written tongue in cheek. Enjoy!
   Visual rhetoric is a form of communication that uses images to create meaning or construct an argument. Over here in Jolly Ole' as I refer to England, there are interesting and vast differences in spoken English grammar, usage, and rhetoric, from that which Americans are used to using.
   Driving provides several examples with a failure of the visual rhetoric implied--at least for this dyslexic American. After reading this I have no doubt all U.K. citizens will sigh gratefully and applaud my decision not to drive on their roads.
   In the States we have bright red stop signs at every intersection that does not sport a traffic light. Over here there are tons of signs along the carriageways as they refer to highways, but very few of them will tell you explicitly to STOP.
   Instead the instructions will be drawn on the tarmac (blacktop) in front of your car hood and it is up to you--the driver--to see them, correctly interpret the symbols and react appropriately to the solid lines, solid double lines, dotted lines, half dotted lines, etc. on which your life and those sharing the highway with you, will depend--which is one reason why I will never seek a driver's license in the U.K.
   By the time I spotted the drawings on the road ahead of me (assuming there are no cars in front of me blocking my view of the tarmac/blacktop) and figured out what they meant and what I was expected to do--it would all be over in an accident. 
   When driving in the USA one often sees a bright yellow triangular sign with words in bold black letters saying YIELD. This sign is an explicit instruction leaving no doubt in a driver's mind what one is being told to do. And it only takes one word.
   In England, Scotland and Wales they do not have yield signs Per Se; they have triangular white signs with red borders asking one to Give Way. Really? Now to me that is so darned polite. It suggests that I might wish to slow down and allow someone else a chance to go....or maybe not.
   Another very odd thing about driving in the U.K. are the traffic lights. Whenever possible they get around having any traffic lights by doing away with intersections. Instead they have round-abouts. Some of the round-abouts are HUGE, with twelve lanes merging into a merry-go-round of ever flowing traffic. A couple truly stupendously, enormous round-abouts have miniature round-abouts in each lane. This is the other reason why I will never seek a driver's license in the U.K.
  Yet when Brits due opt for the use of traffic lights it is not enough to have one set of lights to which all lanes respond appropriately--no; each lane may well have multiple sets of lights! The following link takes you to a picture of a London bus waiting at an intersection. It has three lights telling it what to do and which direction to travel!
   Last summer my very British husband and I moored up our floating home at Fenny Stratford on the Grand Union Canal. We walked about fifteen blocks to IKEA to buy new chairs. We don't own a car and we use what is euphemistically referred to as "Shank's pony" to get around. That means we walk. As we approached a winding curve of no less than five lanes intersecting, my husband Les grabbed my hand tightly, looked both ways and then yelled frantically, "RUN!" Run we did.
   Now imagine this scenario on our way back to the boat two hours later with two large, flat packed chairs in boxes, stacked in a shopping trolley (grocery cart). Les' head swiveled in both directions and he heaved the trolley off the curb yelling "RUN!" And we did it again, the trolley with its heavy contents bumping across the lanes as cars approached at high speed with no intent of slowing down. 
   Why, one might ask, would anyone cross a busy highway like that? Well because over here in Britain there are very few pedestrian crossings, unlike Stateside where every blacktopped road will have one. Very few...occasionally we have come across them and they are called Zebra Crossings!
   This is pronounced with a short e as in the name Ed: ze-brah, not zee-bra. And why one might ask, are pedestrian crossings called this? Because of the thick white lines painted on the black background! Well duh! Why call something a name which indicates the reason for its existence when one can refer to it by the way it appears, using visual simile to compare it to an African animal completely unrelated to its use. But there ya' go--that's Britain for you.
   Now whenever I see a Zebra Crossing sign I fall into a fit of cackling laughter, bent over at the waist, with a picture in my mind of a herd of black and white striped horses waiting to cross the road. Astonished Brits give me the hairy eyeball, assuming I'm suffering from Tourette's syndrome or having a stroke. And the sign reading "Humped Zebra Crossing" sometimes makes me laugh so hard I need to cross my legs and find the nearest public facilities. 
   My husband and I often have odd little "cultural" moments as we call them, when we are speaking to each other presumably both in English and then we stop and eye each other in silence--me thinking, "What in the world did he just say?" Les is thinking, "Speak English woman!"
   A fine example of this is illustrated beautifully in a recent Enterprise rental car advert. Every time it comes on the telly we dissolve into laughter because it is so evocative of us. This ad uses the obvious differences between Britain and America in how we drive, where we sit to drive, how we pronounce words, and overall how differently we behave to indicate that no matter the differences between our two countries, Enterprise car hire (car rental) will get you where you want to go--with humour (humor).
   Interestingly enough, The Drum staff writer who covered the ad in this link felt it didn't give him any specifics on why he should use Enterprise car rental, basically stating that the visual rhetoric of the advert didn't make a strong or clear enough argument for using Enterprise. I figure he just didn't have a sense of humor.


Anonymous said...

Title appears to lack an 'l'

Bryce said...

The London bus (coach) traffic signal is fine, however was not encouraged to see the video, IF I contributed some currency to the sponsor. Or did I miss something?

Les and Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks for pointing out the obvious which I overlooked. I spent several hours editing and proofing my post--and neglected to spend any time proofing my title. It has been corrected. It's okay to sign your name--as I tell my students, a teacher who cannot learn from his/her students is an instructor who should no longer teach. Thanks for spotting the error and letting me know.

Les and Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,
I tested that link before I posted to the blog and it worked fine, however after receiving your comment I tried it and the link took me to an "Oops! Page not available," search. I've gone in an re-connected the link and it should now take you to The Drum advertising journal and the advert.

Anonymous said...

loved this post - always curious as it looks like I will be tied to a job 'till I die and never make it there to see for myself. When I allow myself to think about it I worry for our kids - and their kids. How ever will they make their way in this world that is becoming increasingly more a shit hole? I guess they will as we did, find their joy in the little things. Love you Jaq, O

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hello O,
The big, mean world out there can be tough to take some days. I'm sorry you are feeling stuck under life's wheel. Not all of our kids do survive the "sh**t Hole" as you have described it. So many thousands are lost. Fortunately yours and mine have survived so far which was no mean feat for either of us as parents.

You know what gives me hope during these crazy, politically fueled storms? Gong to each party's web sit and reading their platforms. The Green Party falls in line with everything I believe and it gives me hope that people are out there fighting to give them a chance to attempt a change in the USA.

If you do make it over here you can stay with us--no charge! We'd love to have you and Rob aboard anytime.
I love you back!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs