Rhetoric is not a four-letter word
authenticity served raw or presented as fine cuisine

Social media has an authenticity fetish.  I ran into this head on some years ago when I was doing ghost writing and speech writing, and a friend of mine got "busted" for her assistant writing a weekly entry on her corporate blog under her name as CEO.  The local social media scene closed in like piranha.

I wasn't her ghost, but I did take this opportunity to out myself as a confidential ghost writer for the first time.  Ghost writers have a lingering bad odor with many writers historically because we don't take credit, we do work for hire, we let non-writers look like writers -- give them a paid ticket into the sacred grove.

But not every great thinker, great do-er, great artist, is a great writer -- and those people deserve to get their message out, too.

So I wrote this essay, which remains toward the top of the Google search on my name:


The most commonly cribbed aha! moment in this essay involved my culture hero, Ted Sorenson, who was Jack Kennedy's speech writer and confidant.  When you look in nearly any source for the quote,

"Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country."

that quote is credited to JFK.  But it was only presented by him.  It was written by Sorenson.  Did it amplify and represent Kennedy's authentic feelings of patriotism?  I have no doubt.

I have worked with scientists, business execs, politicians, and others who were excellent in their fields and needed help expressing their genius on (virtual) paper.  It's roleplaying.  At one point my son started totting up the Ph.D.s I'd "simulated" at nine and it's likely over a dozen now.  I love the work -- big brains are sexy.

Part of the reason people such as myself are in demand in modern America specifically is that rhetoric is very much out of fashion.  To gain support in business, politics, or to gain funding for a grant for science or a nonprofit end, writing must be both persuasive and natural.  

Rhetoric is subject to the "uncanny valley" effect.  In animation, this is the phenomenon where a cartoon-ish creature is accepted by the viewer as real enough, but as a figure becomes closer to photographically human, we get weirded out by how unnatural some details are.  The movement of the hips is not right.  The cheekbones are cavernous.  The torso proportions are off.  These details trigger instinctual revulsion.

In rhetoric, the equivalent is the web "landing page" as taught by formula in thousands of "get rich quick on the web" books, right on up to hubspot.com (who does a better job than most).  These formulaic infomercial scripted monstrosities make us cringe at their inauthenticity, their door-to-door sales pitches, so we say, "authenticity is king!"

The community then insists that each person -- celebrity, business exec, politician, whoever -- must tweet for themselves regardless of their talent with the written word.  Or the Authenticity Police, a minor branch of the Fashion Police, will have their ass on a platter.

As a result, social media and the public have become completely vulnerable to rhetoric on the next level up.  We do not learn what "assumptive language" is, or how rhythm or repetition is used in persuasive text.  

We leave ourselves vulnerable to tricks that the Romans documented before the time of Julius Caesar because our fetish with new media forbids us to examine the psychological technologies of the past for their value.

So, we can't criticize our own commercials, our news, our politics or the reporting on our politics, the infighting in our businesses, or the struggles between the estates (remember how the press is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate?  the others are the clergy, the ruling class, and the people --  today perhaps add some mishmosh of business/financial, sci/tech, military/industrial to the mix?).  Because if we assume authenticity in the news, from our politicians, from Fox and MS-NBC?  We're sunk.  And if we assume authenticity from commercials we will be fat and sassy and vain.  Oops.

As a further result, neuromarketing and its bastard industry, social games (I'm looking at you, Zynga) have created a whole bleed on society based on the neurotransmitter based and fMRI proven methods of parting a fool (that's each of us) from his or her microtransactions in the most efficient manner.  Social games are fine for those who understand the risks -- just like any drug.  But make no mistake, they are a manufactured virtual drug meant to drain money in exchange for neurological rewards.

Rhetoric should not only be taught to writers, but should be part of the basic literacies of the modern citizen, to protect from abusive marketing, political, and other messaging that comes in over the media stream.

And I say this with every authentic impulse of good will to all of you.
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