possible blog posts and an example

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I thought I'd share some ideas for possible blog post topics if you are struggling to come up with something to write.

1. Is there a story in the news that you think is particularly worth discussing, or that you have you an opinion you want to explain? Perhaps you read or saw someone's viewpoint on something that you disagree with (either it total or with an aspect of it)?

2. Have you seen a commercial recently that you thought was highly effective or ethically disturbing (or had some other reaction to)? If it's online somewhere, it might be interesting to share that and explain your reaction. Perhaps a bit of an argument about it.

3. Practice a rhetorical analysis -- you could get a start on your paper by either starting a brief freewriting or analysis of the text you want to analyze or practice with a different text.

4. Reflecting or sharing on something that goes on at Penn State. The blog Onward State is a good model for this type of activity (and just a good read in general).

Here's an example. As some of you may know, I'm a coffee addict, so when McDonald's came out with their new advertisements for McCafe in 2008, I was particularly interested. Not because I wanted another place to get my coffee, but because of the rhetorical constructions of gender and the appeals to authenticity (an ethos appeal) of the ads. In particular, there were two ads, one with women and one with men. I can't embedd the one with women (at least can't find a version that I can), but you can watch it here. Here's the clip with men in it:

The other ad shares a similar narrative arch: one person announces that McDonald's now has cappuccinos, both individuals in the clip start sharing what they don't have to do anymore, and they're eager to go off to McDonald's. In each clip, it seems like they're at a Starbucks, and they're all dressed in typical urban white "yuppie" attire: your young urban professional. But soon we see this is a facade: the tuft of facial hair, the chic sweater, the skirt past the knees, the "snobby" glasses, listening to jazz, faux knowledge about world geography--they're all pretenses at being snobby.

These ads obviously don't work for everybody--they're meant for a certain group of Americans who see urban professional "elitism" as snobby and inauthentic. The ads work for these people by appealing to the notion of an authentic self and authentic gender roles--to people who probably don't want to go to Starbucks because it seems snobby anyway. Those urban elites are pretension and going to Starbucks; real men (who like football) and real women (who don't engage in world politics and show off their legs) prefer a place that's authentic, according to the logic of this ad.

Of course, from my perspective, there isn't anything more real about McDonald's than about Starbucks -- they're both large national chains with pretty standardized menus, and both attempt to appeal to "authentic" experiences: Starbucks to the European coffee shop, McDonald's to the "average" American. What makes these ads particularly effective, I believe, is their situatedness in the first decade of the 21st century. In 2004, Kerry was critiqued as a Northeastern liberal elite, as have other urban or coastal liberal politicians like Obama in 2008. Bush, however, characterized himself (as did Palin in 2008) as a real American. I'm not in anyway claiming that liberals or Democrats tend to go to Starbucks, and that conservatives or Republicans prefer McDonald's for the coffee, but rather pointing to this larger cultural divide about authenticity.

McDonald's, through these two ads and their website Unsnobby Coffee, appeal to these notions of authenticity. Particularly, the pretenses of young urban professionals is viewed as "snobby" -- it's not just that their not authentic, according to the logic of this website and these ads -- but that they're elitist as well.

I'm concerned about the notions of being more authentically a man or a woman. What does it mean that watching football is more authentic, or that real women don't care to know where Paraguay is? Do these ads help to limit what it means to be a man or woman for their audiences--reinforcing a stereotype by granting validity to the notions of real man and real woman?  

Feel free to share other ideas in the comments.

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