Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Juxtaposition as Visual Argument: Health Rhetoric in Super Size Me and Fat Head

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Juxtaposition as Visual Argument: Health Rhetoric in Super Size Me and Fat Head

Article excerpt

Berger (1969) argued that, "Human existence is an ongoing 'balancing act' between man and his body, man and his world" (p. 5). One of the most prominent balancing acts that humans must negotiate is that of health. What qualifies as "healthy" is continuously redefined through the expertise of the technical sphere, the tide of public opinion, decrees from government, and personal experience. Recently, there has been increased attention towards assigning blame and seeking solutions to America's "expanding waistline" (Spurlock, 2004). From First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to the success of shows such as The Biggest Loser, food and exercise choices are being highlighted in national discourse.

Health issues are also being addressed in the realm of entertainment. Documentary films in particular (i.e., Food, Inc., Killer at Large, and Food Fight) are an accessible source of health information for the public (Nisbet & Aufderheide, 2009). Not only do these films avoid complicating factors such as distrust of governmental or scientific authority (Gauchat, 2012), but they also directly incorporate the visceral power of visuals (Peterson, 2001). Films can show the negative consequences of obesity as real, embodied experiences with devastating consequences on individuals and society. Films have the power to transform statistics about obesity into graphic presentations of the epidemic.

Lake and Pickering (1998) argued that an "analysis of film--particularly documentary, non-fiction film-affords a more realistic study of the refutational possibilities typical in the ambient mixed media environment, in which discourse and image interplay" (p. 83). Films unite verbal and visual modes of communication in a heterogeneous, multimodal presentation of information (Barcelo-Aspeitia, 2012; van den Hoven & Yang, 2013). The visual and verbal elements complement one another to "create meanings that go beyond information provided by each individual channel" (Abraham & Appiah, 2006, p. 187). In multimodal artifacts, it can be difficult to distinguish the visual elements from the verbal arguments that they support. Blair (2004) argued that, "although there can exist purely visual arguments, most communications that are candidates for visual arguments are combinations of the verbal and the visual" (p. 49). The combination of the visual and verbal is "the standard in public discourse" and a powerful and prevalent mode of argument (van den Hoven & Yang, 2013, p. 405). Although they often appear paired with verbal statements, visuals themselves can function as arguments separate from the verbal.

Responding to the call that studies of visual argumentation have been "sparse" and mostly occur in static forms (Kjeldsen, 2013, p. 426), we explore documentary films as animated images. The succinct argumentative structure of documentary films provides a rich ground for the exploration of the argumentative capabilities of the visual. Some scholars argue that visuals "contribute directly and substantially to the argumentative process" (Barcelo-Aspeitia, 2012, p. 366; Birdsell & Groarke, 2007; Blair, 1996), while others argue that visuals require verbalization (Alcolea-Banegas, 2009; Fleming, 1996). Though there is little argument on the riveting nature of visuals, little consensus exists on the status of visual images as discrete arguments. Birdsell and Groarke (1996) argued that, specifically in times of "increasingly visual media," it is imperative that scholars focus on "the development of a more adequate theory of argument which makes room for the visual" (p. 10; p. 1). We argue that a crucial step for scholars is exploring animated images, their persuasive characteristics, and how they function as argument.

We propose that (1) documentaries are a rich source of inquiry for visual argumentation in that they often provide a clear claim; (2) that visual images are "voiced" in film (Blair, 2004, p. …

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