Victor Villanueva

Patty’s request prompted Victor’s musical memory which led to recollection of a conversation with one of his children.

"My kids don’t know what to do about my music tastes. I used to say I liked everything but country-western. But I sure like Willie Nelson. And I’m not sure where to put Stevie Ray Vaughan. Johnny Cash is pretty cool. Kinda like Loretta Lynn (oh, and Reba McIntyre, oh, and . . .). This night, though, I was on my computer with Modest Mussorgsky coming through the little speakers, and one of my daughters says that that sounds like classical music from the 1950s. Sometimes I am amazed at where memory resides, because even though Mussorgsky is from the 19th century, the first time I heard Night on Bald Mountain actually was in the 1950s.


So I told my kid about how we had gotten the neighborhood TV, and how Walt Disney ('You mean Walt Disney himself?'  'Yeah; he used to introduce his show.'  'I thought he was frozen or something.'  'Oh, that story.')—how Walt Disney told us to take the radio and tune it to the local NBC radio network (WNBC in NYC, Steve Allen’s station) and place it six feet from the TV. The special Halloween Walt Disney show was bits from Fantasia. The neighborhood kids and I heard Night on Bald Mountain that night—'in stereophonic sound,' I told my daughter. 'Oh, like surround-sound.'  'No, like hi-fi.' 'I don’t understand.' Yeah, well, so then I told her about when I got my own transistor radio. Blank looks. And how the transistor radio replaced the tube radio. Blank looks. I shoved the earbuds of my ipod in my ears. Billy Joel: The River of Dreams.” 


Victor’s gesture (the earbuds), repeats the tactic he recounts as his daughter's move to avoid being hit on at the gym—a tactic he also uses to avoid administrators at the gym.



Generations meet at unexpected intersections. The Day family meets in IM and email; Monroe’s on the phone; Shapiro’s in Skype. Victor’s conversation with his daughter intersects at the corner of Walt Disney and technology. But the intersection isn’t one easily regulated by a "Stop” or "Yield” sign. This one is rhetorically complicated by the rapid pace of technological change. "Hi-Fi” doesn’t intersect seamlessly with "Surround-sound.” There’s a gap that can only be bridged with more conversation, more explanation, or perhaps not bridged at all.


Whether or not they can resolve the issues of sound technology, Victor and his daughter understand the rhetorical meaning of earbuds. In this case, Victor’s use of the earbuds may be a kind of mechanical apoplanesis or perhaps aposiopesis. The earbuds signal an end to the discussion, a kind of dodging the conversation through a digression, albeit a mechanical disgression. Although aposiopesis usually implies the inability to end a sentence or conversation because of being overcome with emotion, certainly the inability to end a conversation because of an uncomfortable intersection is somewhat emotional for both parent and child.


It is most certainly a rhetorical move to prevent hearing someone else and prevent them from talking to you. We have learned that interrupting someone’s public (yet private) world of earbuds is a breach of decorum. Using earbuds is a technologically implemented rhetorical device telling others that even though we are in public, we want to be in a private space. As David Sedaris (2001) said of his experience walking through the streets of New York wearing headphones, "The outside world suddenly becomes as private as you want it to be” (p. 182).  



How do we learn this remediated kind of decorum? Patty is old enough to have breached it and not understood why she received a negative reception when she tried to converse with someone wearing earbuds. Like much of decorum, which Richard Lanham (1991) called "the ‘social trick’ par excellence” (p. 46), technologically mediated decorum is a moving target. We know decorum only when it’s lacking or missing. With every change in technology, especially personal communication technology, decorum shifts.


Although this example is about changes in voice communication, the panoply of venues for written compositions has made decorum a multi-headed monster for many of our students. In other words, it seems that as the types of communication technologies increase as well as our relationships to them, a greater number of "classrooms" or rhetorical situations develop which students must learn to negotiate.