In this Rhetorical Theory and Practice assignment, my small group was paired with two other small groups to compose a large and final paper defining rhetoric. As a way to help the audience better understand how rhetoric is used, we incorporated how rhetoric is used in the movie Batman Begins. My portion is written in bold.
Rhetoric: Internal Beliefs Applied to External Situations (as seen in Batman Begins)
Rhetoric occurs when an effective rhetor deliberately applies internal thoughts or beliefs to everyday situations that require an understanding of the issue, the audience, the timing and setting of the situation. To engage in rhetoric is to use all forms of communication to convey a particular message to the audience. An example of a successful rhetorical application of internal beliefs to external situations is seen in the film Batman Begins (2005). In the movie, it is clear that the audience (Gotham’s citizens) is affected by the protagonist’s (Bruce Wayne’s alter ego Batman) message and mission to clean the city. Then, citizens like Rachel Dawes and Lucius Fox support his appeal, and criminals like Carmine Falcone and Dr. Jonathan Crane defy it. Either way, Wayne’s ability to implement effective rhetorical elements into his persona as Batman provides him with the support he needs for his mission. Batman uses rhetoric when he conveys his internal beliefs onto external situations through his use of the rhetorical canons: invention, arrangement, memory and delivery in his mission to rid Gotham of corruption.
In rhetorical invention, the concept of kairos is about timing and opportunity. Kairos involves seizing what is appropriate at that moment. Often, more than one seizable opportunity can appear depending on the given situation. According to Crowley and Hawhee (2012), a rhetor might prepare many different tools to seize the moment if it arises. Wayne believed the situation in Gotham was dire, and this villainous and crime-ridden environment was right for a savior to appear and rescue the people of Gotham. He decided to devise a symbol, an alter-ego, through which he could resolve this situation. This is Bruce Wayne’s kairotic moment.
On his mission to become Gotham’s savior, Wayne resolves to face his internalized fears
when he lowers himself into the Wayne estate’s abandoned well. Once in the well, hundreds of bats swarmed him; immediately fear enters the well. Kairos is about situation and timing and involves appropriateness, balance and awareness of circumstances that create opportune moments. In the well, Wayne kairotically releases his fear, embraces it, and becomes one with the swarm. Here, Wayne momentarily ceases to exist, and Batman begins.
In any multifaceted issue, achieving a level of understanding, or stasis, is important. Stasis operates on different levels to break down the issue, establish whether there is a problem or not, and help everyone understand where they agree and disagree. Stasis can effectively end or strengthen an argument. Rhetors go through different levels of stasis to systematically open their views on an issue, evaluate their argument’s strengths and weaknesses, and construct a more effective argument.
There are four types of questions in stasis that rhetors use to firmly grasp their viewpoint: conjecture, definition, quality, and policy. Conjecture deals with the existence of a problem, definition deals with how the act can be defined, and quality asks how serious the act is and whether it’s acceptable or not. Once there is consensus on these first three levels, the levels of stasis moves onto policy, which deals with whether or not something should be done about the issue. Once rhetors achieve stasis, they make more educated and deliberate rhetorical choices and build a stronger foundation for their argument.
Bruce Wayne goes through different levels of stasis when he deliberates whether to save Gotham or help the League of Shadows. The conjecture in his rhetorical situation was the corruption and high crime level in Gotham that led to a thief murdering his parents. The definition is the ongoing occurrences of crime and corruption; the quality is that these occurrences are wrong. Wayne’s policy was to use his wealth and determination to become Batman, hunt down all criminals and corrupt police, and bring justice to Gotham.
Invention: Common Topics and Commonplaces
Other elements of rhetoric are the common topics and commonplaces. Rhetors use the common topics of conjecture, degree, and possibility in their arguments to describe what their internal point of view is on whether something exists, is better or worse, and is possible or impossible. Wayne and his mentor Ra’s al Ghul have conflicting views on the state of Gotham. Ra’s argues that the only way for Wayne to cure the city of its rotten state is by murdering all of its criminals. In this discussion, Ra’s uses the common topic of conjecture when he argues that injustice exists in every economic level in Gotham and therefore the city is completely rotten and in need of purging. Wayne, however, uses the common topic of degree when he retorts that only fair trials should determine the future of Gotham’s criminals. He has internally contemplated murder before, but still disagrees with it as a cure, so he decides that putting criminals through fair trials is more honorable and more just than murdering them. Both Ra’s and Wayne finalize their arguments through the common topic of possibility. Ra’s al Ghul argues that Gotham has reached its peak in corruption, and like Rome and Constantinople, will fall in the future. Wayne argues that Batman and a handful of uncorrupted citizens can slowly but surely heal the city.
Rhetors also use commonplaces, or ideologically grounded phrases, to quickly finish or diffuse a discussion. When Alfred drags the sedated Rachel into the back of his car, he diffuses others’ rising suspicions by saying that she was just “a little worse for wear” (Franco & Nolan, 2005) that night. He deliberately uses a commonplace to refrain from outwardly expressing the details of Rachel’s condition. However, the commonplace “finders keepers,” (Franco & Nolan, 2005) is used by Wayne and Rachel. “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” (Franco & Nolan, 2005) is a culturally grounded remark that expresses the luck involved in the rise of success and the fall of failure. When they were children they used this phrase to express their inner desire over an arrowhead. As adults, Rachel leaves this phrase on a note on Wayne’s birthday present so that the phrase now encompasses their childhood memories and their care for each other despite their differing ideas of justice. Therefore, both Wayne and Rachel use this commonplace to quickly express their internal beliefs in both playful and serious discussions.
Invention: The Rhetorical Triangle – Logos | Pathos | Ethos
Again, rhetoric requires an understanding of the audience in order to be effective, and Batman displays this understanding through his use of the rhetorical triangle. Following the definition of a largely internal thought process, Batman makes decisions regarding self-identity and logical appeals rhetorically through the pathos portion of the rhetorical triangle. An effective rhetor can easily recognize and analyze the audience in his mind and decide what kind of message is best to apply to the situation. Wayne uses rhetoric through his persona as Batman for two different audiences by deliberately creating a costume to send a message of fear to criminals and one of hope to the innocent citizens of Gotham.
Rhetors analyze their audience to craft an ethos to suit their situation. Wayne tells Alfred that his cowl and costume are symbols of fear. He establishes a superhuman ethos during his fights with criminals by using his training to seemingly teleport across their combat environments. He stalks from rooftops, strikes unseen, and acts beastly to instill fear in criminals. However, Batman’s costume does not represent fear to normal citizens because his mask reveals a human chin. Batman treats normal citizens with respect and establishes an inspiring ethos that suggests any citizen could be him. This ethos implies that citizens are active participants of justice. As a rhetor, he establishes an ethos that, while behaviorally and visually identical to both
parties, strikes different ideas into different audiences.
Another aspect of the rhetorical triangle, logos, bolsters or destroys a message depending on how strongly it’s leaned on in certain contexts. Some situations require a heavier lean on practical evidence, proofs, and logical deductions. Wayne’s logos is reliant on the deduction that Gotham is bought and paid for by criminals, as noted in his confrontation with the crime boss Falcone early in the film. This deduction of Gotham is logic that isn’t reliant on any sort of calculated number and is still enough justification for the public to accept Batman’s behavior and actions.
Imitation is one of the simplest and earliest used forms of learning. Ancient Greeks learned the practice of rhetoric through imitating their instructors’ words and modes of delivery before other methods of learning were established.
Crowley and Hawhee (2012) define three types of imitation: Imitation I, Imitation II, and Imitation III. Imitation I is the process of reading aloud and copying others’ works. This practice allows for better compositions, argument arrangement, material delivery, oratory skills, and memory. In Imitation II, rhetors imitate the style and framework of more experienced rhetors, rather than copying their work word-for-word. Imitation III involves translation and paraphrasing. Both of these strategies require an extensive understanding of the material on all levels of composition. Translation demonstrates a rhetor’s breadth of knowledge of multiple areas of study. Paraphrasing demonstrates the rhetor’s command over their material and style, while still keeping the original meaning of the text intact.
Imitation is a powerful way to bring internal thought processes to life by way of emulation and Wayne directly imitates many physical aspects of a bat by naming himself Batman, wearing all black, using the shape of a bat as his symbol, and creating bat-like flying mechanisms. All of these examples would fall under the Imitation I category. Although Batman copies aspects of the bat, he also copies aspects of his trainer Henri Ducard or Ra’s al Ghul. During training, the composition of Ducard’s armor was too powerful for Bruce Wayne to overcome. Once Wayne became Batman, he crafted a portion of his attire to have this same composition, and this imitation proved to be a life-saving addition to his outfit.
A closer consideration of what bats symbolize reveals more instances of Imitation II and III. Bats are commonly known to symbolize death and rebirth. The process of death and rebirth is brought upon through courage and as a child, Bruce Wayne was weak and anxious because of the bat incident and the death of his parents. Although he grew to be physically strong through training, he was still mentally lacking. Wayne’s kairotic moment brought about the death of his fears and weaknesses, and the birth of Batman. The use of Imitation, in a variety of styles, allowed Batman to deliberately take his personal issues, portray them in his observable life, and affect the world around him.
An important step in rhetoric is analyzing ideology. According to Crowley and Hawhee
(2012), “identities are shaped by ideologies, that human beings need ideologies in order to make sense of their experiences in the world”. These authors also state that Ideology is a set of beliefs that society uses to understand and predict the events and behaviors of themselves and others. A society’s ideology can shape the kind of value that is put on what is known or believed to be true and deciding what is right.
In Batman Begins, Wayne sees his parents get mugged and murdered by Joe Chill. This event sets off Wayne’s need for revenge fourteen years later when Chill is released from prison to testify against crime boss Carmine Falcone. At this point, Gotham is seen by many of its citizens as being lawless; a city where a corrupt police force lets criminals get away with murder. Gotham’s ideology is one of hopelessness since criminals will never be held accountable for their actions because “that’s just the way it is.” Gotham’s societal norm is that criminals are never brought to justice.
Also, when Bruce Wayne sets out on his quest for revenge, his ideology changes from accepting crime as a normal part of life to believing that Batman can bring criminals to justice and be a beacon of hope for Gotham. The people of Gotham change their ideology as well when they recognize Batman as a beacon of hope. Bruce Wayne and the people of Gotham process their own internal thoughts when they choose to accept a current ideology or pursue a new one because, as rhetors, their ideology is essential to understanding surrounding events or behaviors.
The rhetorical canon of arrangement, or the organization of thoughts into action, speech, or text, is divided into five parts: the exordium, the statement of the issue, confirmation, refutation, and conclusion. Bruce Wayne creates his alter-ego, to take action against the corruption of Gotham. He structures his decision through arrangement, but rather than follow the typical form, he manipulates it and uses his audience to reinforce his decision.
Wayne follows the classic division of arrangement when he introduces his “topic” to Alfred stating that he will return to Gotham to stop the corruption. He states, “I’m going to show the people of Gotham that the city doesn’t belong to the criminals and the corrupt” (Franco & Nolan, 2005). In this declaration, he grabs Alfred’s attention, declaring he will stop the corruption, and verbalizes his internal turmoil as a witness to the death of his parents and the downfall of Gotham. While his credibility is established, he cements the exordium by declaring
to change a situation that the audience is aware of, but may not consider immediately.
Using Alfred’s own story of the corruption of Gotham and the work that Wayne’s father did to draw attention to the poor, Wayne states that he must become a symbol. His language during this declaration emphasizes his skill as a rhetor because he achieves confirmation when he states he will stop the corruption. Wayne reaches refutation when he uses Alfred’s concern for the future of the industry and his own health. Wayne effectively utilizes his audience’s concern for safety to encourage thought on the real life consequences of becoming a symbol.
Through his frequent referrals to his introduction and motivation for his actions, he manipulates rhetoric and achieves his goals since his conclusion is successfully met with Alfred’s acceptance and help throughout the rest of the film.
Memory and Delivery
Memory and delivery are also canons that apply to the definition of rhetoric. Wayne relies on the memories of his parents being good role models as justification for vengeance. He selectively recalled positive memories of his parents’ humanitarian lifestyle and negative memories of Joe Chill’s criminal lifestyle. He also relies on memory when he recalls what Rachel told him during a hotel dinner party. Rachel asks for Batman’s identity after he saves her, and Batman hints at it through the recollected phrase “It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you” (Franco & Nolan, 2005). Instead of plainly stating his inner thoughts, Wayne replies within the context of his external situation, so that his identity is only revealed to a specific audience. From that recalled phrase, Rachel deduces that Batman is Bruce Wayne.
Delivery refers to a rhetor’s voice and body as vessels to persuade their audience. Rhetors capture their audience’s attention through the tone of their voice, and impacts their audience through their attire, expressions, and gestures. During Wayne’s birthday party, Ra’s al Ghul plans to murder the innocent guests, and Wayne takes it upon himself to run everyone out of the house. Dressed in an expensive tuxedo, Wayne calls for a toast, slurs his words, uses a negative tone, and calls his guests “phony, (…) freeloaders, (…) two-faced friends, (and) sycophantic suck-ups” (Franco & Nolan, 2005). He hides his inner personality and externally uses his powerful delivery to appall his guests, drive them out of his home, and save them from Ra’s al Ghul’s murderous intentions.
In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne uses the rhetorical canon of invention when he experiences kairos, reaches multiple levels of stasis, and makes use of the rhetorical triangle, common topics, commonplaces, imitation, and ideology. He relies on invention, as well as the canons of arrangement, memory, and delivery to use all methods of communication to apply his internal beliefs to external situations and convey particular messages to both the criminals and the citizens of Gotham City. Rhetors, like Bruce Wayne, develop effective arguments through their understanding of rhetoric which occurs when they deliberately apply internal thoughts and beliefs to everyday situations through their understanding of their issue, audience, timing and setting.
Special thanks to co-authors: Erica A., Jaclyn B., Paul B., Alexandra C., Gemma L. Katherine M., George M. Claire S., Amanda T., and Ian V.
Crowley, S. & Hawhee, D. (2012). Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Nolan, C. (Director), Nolan, C., & Goyer, D. S. (Writers), & Franco, L. J. (Producer). (2005). Batman begins [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Warner Brothers.