In the late nineties, the band Refused (1998) created astir with their album, The Shape of Punk to Come. Their cry for change in the punk rock genre led to visible and audible changes. Similarly, in the essay, "Never Mind the Tagmemics, Where's the Sex Pistols?" Geoffrey Sirc (1997) argued that when punk was fresh, the composition studies world should have taken notice. As new genres emerged, too many compositionists continued with older methods, ignoring the potential teaching goldmine of punk.
Now, multimodality and visual rhetoric are emerging genres of which compositionists should take note. As composition studies progresses in the 21st cenury, we have the opportunity to embrace the future of composition by employing these genres in the classroom. Scott McCloud's (1993) book Understanding Comics is the perfect textual introduction to students new to the idea of arguing with more than just written words. McCloud's work brings to light many arguments that visual rhetoricians also make. By combining McCloud with more academic texts, the ability to teach what may be an unfamiliar (thus uncomfortable) topic is eased for both the instructors and students.
As composition teachers, we should be on the lookout in all areas of academia and popular culture to hook onto topics and movements to which our students can relate. Frequently, the underground is such a location, as are punk, McCloud, and the topic of multimodality.
In 2006, I was introduced to a flood of new pedagogical concepts. Visual rhetoric and multimedia excited me the most because it seemed ripe with possibilities. While reading the theoretical concepts of visual rhetoric, I was surprised to find that few of the texts took advantage of visual rhetoric strategies other than traditional essayistic forms. On the other hand, it was not surprising since publishing is often constrained in how information can be dissemenated, especially (it seems) in print-based modes such as journals and books (not to mention the potentially sticky copyright infringements of using images). Around the same time in 2006, I picked up the graphic, nonfiction text, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. His insight into all things visual astounded me. Here was a wonderful -- and accessible -- example of what visual rhetoric could potentially become for composition studies.
I set to work trying to create a project that would combine McCloud's insights into the theories of some of the contemporary visual rhetoricians. My initial goal was to create a comic interpretation of McCloud and visual rhetoric. However, I found that I had no skills in the world of comics and was greatly disappointed in myself. I was stumped on how to create a text to show (literally) what I meant.
While perusing through a visual rhetoric textbook, Picturing Texts, I came across a definition of "text" that helped me think about my composition goals differently. The authors, Lester Faigley, Diana George, Anna Palchik, and Cynthia Selfe (2004), said:
There it was: a definition that opened realms of possibilities. I drew on the concepts of visual rhetoric and multimodality/multimedia to create what was essentially a traditional text. I could present the ideas of Scott McCloud, mixed with visual rhetoric theories, in a contemporary format that would do the topic justice, as well as provide an accessible entry for those foreign to the concepts of visual rhetoric and multimodality. Those new to such topics are my target audience.
This is a topic that will gain more and more momentum in upcoming years. Students are exposed to multimedia daily, and to deny the argumentative powers involved in these newer media is cheating students. Embracing these art forms could spark interest in otherwise dormant writers. As composition teachers, our job is to teach argument(s) through texts. It is essential that we recognize all facets and genres that texts reach. Embracing multimedia may be the key to awakening the next generation of compositionists.
references (text and video)
Faigley, Lester, George, Diana, Palchik, Anna, & Selfe, Cynthia. (2004). Picturing texts. New York: W.W. Norton.
Kenney, Keith. (2002). Building visual communication theory by borrowing from rhetoric. Journal of Visual Literacy, 22(1), 53-80.
McCloud, Scott. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink.
Sirc, Geoffrey. (1997). Never mind the tagmemics, where’s the Sex Pistols? College Composition and Communication, 48(1), 9-29.