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We Owe It to the Children: a Rhetorical Analysis

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Although Barack Obama’s policies as President of the United States have been a source of controversy in this country, his prowess at addressing the public does not leave much room for debate. Arguably, Obama’s public speaking skills won him not just his first but also second term as president. In his address to the public regarding inappropriate material on television, “The Sex on TV 4 Report,” he effectively convinces his listeners for the need of tighter control on the content displayed on ever-growing media sources.

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Utilizing precise and evocative diction, strong appeals to ethos both created and situated, and a litany of emotional appeals to family, patriotism, and community, Barack Obama calls the nation’s citizens to action to protect children against the psychological harm of inappropriate television programs or movies. The president demonstrates an expert command over linguistic argumentation, balancing a powerful emotional appeal with an unwavering credibility as both a political leader and a father. Barack Obama begins to build his appeals to ethos before even addressing the topic at hand.

He opens his speech by mentioning his gratitude to his listeners and supporters, which immediately makes the audience feel appreciated and therefore more open to his argumentative strategies. He also establishes his relationship to the audience as a fellow understanding parent by saying, “This is a subject many of us come to not as politicians or policy makers, as but as parents most of all,” (par 2). This not only allows him to appear more relatable to the audience, which is most likely comprised of concerned parents, but also gives listeners the impression that our nation’s leader puts family before politics.

Here, Barack Obama is speaking not as the President of the United States, but as a normal father dealing with the challenges of parenthood. This establishes the primarily emotional tone that will carry throughout the rest of the speech, where Obama will put the welfare of children as the foremost objective of his address. To create this child-focused theme and sense of family, President Obama uses pathos and evocative imagery in the opening of his speech.

He describes a parent sitting on the couch with his or her child faced with the uncomfortable situation of attempting to explain adult content on a television shown which, in context, gives the listener a true sense of the awkwardness of being presented with information above a child’s maturity level. Standing alone, this image of a parent and child spending time together may even evoke nostalgia or a sense of family as most parents and children encounter this situation daily and value the time spent together.

The juxtaposition of a familiar situation with an uncomfortable twist creates a rousing mix of emotions in the listeners. While watching television as a family can be an engaging and even educational activity, the addition of inappropriate material can quickly turn this experience sour, which Obama reinforces with his own personal story of trying to explain a commercial for Cialis to his young daughter. In this way, the creation of this situation brings the issue of inappropriate content on television from a broad governmental issue to a personal problem for every modern family.

In bringing this situation home for the audience, support for his appeal for censorship will come more easily. As Obama develops his appeals to family and community, he also encourages a sense of responsibility for action in his listeners. “From the time they’re young, we try to instill in our children a sense of what’s right and wrong; a sense of what’s important, of what worth striving for. As best we can, we also try to shield them from the harsher elements of life, and introduce them to the realities of adulthood at the appropriate age,” (par 4).

The weight of responsibility Obama claims comes along with parenthood and the duties of a mother or father makes the audience feel a greater sense of obligation, in turn making them more likely to act to remove adult content from public television. Obama continues to enumerate the accountabilities of parenthood later in his speech, in which he states how parents can face the challenges of today’s media by watching television with their children or encouraging them to pick up a novel instead of mindlessly zoning out in front of a show.

There is an element of guilt that Obama instills with these statements as many realize that they are not doing everything they can to keep their children from harm. Although the president qualifies this with understanding that this kind of full attention can be difficult in a modern family, he argues for its necessity with appeals to the audience’s sense of responsibility. To further his call to action in the face of a societal crisis, Obama uses linguistic tools to heighten the gravity of childhood exposure to inappropriate material.

Obama enumerates the topics he is discussing in this portion of the speech, such as “sex, violence, and materialism” and “DVDs, iPods, video games, and websites,” (par 5 and 6). The purpose of listing specific activities or items is to relay the impression of vastness of the modes of technology as well as the negative content that can be present alongside them, which serves to dramatize the situation for the listeners. In a similar effect, Obama uses evocative words like “exceeding difficult,” “vast,” “spilling,” and “to grow exponentially,” (par 5 and 6).

These phrases, descriptive adjectives, and action verbs give the speech a sense of urgency in regards to the lewd and often dangerous content available through technology to people of all ages. Through the devices of parallelism and evocative diction, Obama conveys an extremity of circumstances. This creates an underlying sense of urgency, making the audience, having already been made to feel a sense of responsibility, feel a heightened call to action. While Barack Obama excels at creating an aura of drama and necessary action, he realizes that he must also build his credibility to make his emotional appeals effective.

He does this by capitalizing upon his situated ethos as an experienced politician. Because of this position, he is qualified to formulate a solution using public support and legislation. He says, “So what do we do about this? What do we do when bad television becomes the enemy of good parenting? ” (par 22). These questions inspire a plan that he lays out for the audience that appeals to both ethos and logos: he makes himself trustworthy by caring enough to construct this plan and logical because it is well-reasoned.

Through the explanation of his proposal, Obama calls his audience to action by enumerating things that an everyday American can accomplish. At this point in the speech, Obama has convinced his listeners of the severity of the situation and this portion is designed to instill confidence that they have the American government on their side. As he has already imparted listeners with a sense of obligation, he now expands upon the role the government will play in the solution by saying: “But if the industry fails to act – if it fails to give parents advanced controls and new choices – Congress will,” (par 34).

By placing responsibility on Congress as much as he does the American people, he demonstrates the accountability of the government as a whole. Therefore, Obama gains trust not only in himself, but also the entire governmental system to help America’s children. Although Obama’s high position gives him some automatic respect, he also wisely realizes that there are opponents and skeptics present in his audience. With these listeners, his situated ethos of president is not enough to convince them. Because of this, Obama allows the opposition a turn in the debate by making concessions and balancing his viewpoint.

This not only is a solid structural decision for his speech but also again appeals to the president’s created ethos. The allowance of concessions creates a well-rounded argument free of fallacy as well as makes Obama himself a more credible individual. He begins this qualification with the phrase, “Still, it’s important for us to realize that the real problem we’re facing is not simply one of quantity, or even the existence of sex and violence in the media per se,” (par 8). This line in his speech prevents the quantity demonstrated before from becoming too dramatized.

Mentioning the First Amendment right to free speech, Obama acknowledges the valid and foremost argument against censorship. The president of the United States cannot ignore this Constitutional right, but qualifies it by specifying what exactly would be censored and for what purpose. The process of mentioning and then disproving the opposing argument greatly increases the credibility of the speaker and gives the audience a logical reply for what is most likely the most prominent argument of the opposition.

Here, one might note that while Obama seems to have expanded upon pathos and ethos effectively, his speech is markedly lacking in logical appeals and factual evidence. To substantiate his claim, he does include that watching inappropriate television does, in fact, harm children, and he cites studies that have proven this very idea. Although the inclusion of the way these studies were conducted and how they came to this conclusion would give the listener a clearer understanding, the president is rather vague when citing his evidence, mentioning only “other studies” (par 21).

The president includes some factual information in his speech such as brief mentions of the history of the television as well as sharing his knowledge about the legislation currently being enacted to solve the inappropriate television problem. These statements, though, could also be contributed to the continued building of the president’s ethos: as the president of the United States, he should be aware of current law-making. I believe this exclusion is purposeful as Obama’s main approach to the speech is one of emotional appeal to a specific audience.

Concerned parents have not come to see this speech to hear facts that they could easily look up themselves; they want to hear what the head of the Oval Office has to say about the issue and be comforted by his inspiring words. And inspire he does. Throughout his speech, Obama creates a sense of a large community working together towards the most noble of causes: protecting the nation’s children. His eloquence brings a nation together to uphold high standards for today’s media and let morality play a greater role in society. He leaves his audience with a call to make our nation and the world a better place.

Cite this We Owe It to the Children: a Rhetorical Analysis

We Owe It to the Children: a Rhetorical Analysis. (2016, Oct 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/we-owe-it-to-the-children-a-rhetorical-analysis/

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