In this Rhetorical Theory and Practice assignment, independently we were told to pick a text and analyze why it works, or doesn’t work. I choose small excerpts from the music video accompanying Formation by Beyonce’.
(Link to Video)
(Clips of reference occur at 03:44-03:47, 04:03-04:06, and 04:21-04:25)
On Saturday, February 6, 2016, world renowned singer, songwriter, and actress Beyoncé Knowles released her newest music video entitled “Formation” with no prior warning. Although filmed in Los Angeles, this video was staged as filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana post Hurricane Katrina. “Formation” and its accompanying music video explores several themes relevant to the African American community. Including Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, Southern culture, dominating physical features found most often in African Americans: such as untamed natural hair and larger facial features, and police violence against blacks. Since being released, this monument has received both overwhelming amounts of praise and protest. For this paper, I will focus on a segment of the video used to represent the Black Lives Matter campaign. In this segment, Beyoncé uses the three modes of persuasion, as well as elements of Kairos, to send the message that police brutality among blacks is an issue which needs constant attention.
The portion of the music video that I will be analyzing focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement was created after the high profile case in which a mixed race, non-black George Zimmerman was tried and acquitted for the murder of a black, 17-year old Trayvon Martin in July of 2013. Although the Black Lives Matter movement supports females, the queer community, and the disabled, it is most known for its support for Blacks whose lives have been ended unjustly at the hands of white and non-black police officers.
Towards the end of the video, there are three short clips of a boy dancing. He is very young, about 6 or 7 years old, he is African American, and he is wearing all black with a red undershirt. He is dancing in what appears to be an abandoned street. In front of him are about ten white men dressed in full, all black police riot gear. Including bullet proof vests, leg guards, and helmets with full face masks. In the first clip the lyrics being sung are:
“Sometimes I go off (I go off)
I go hard (I go hard)”
The lyrics in the second clip of the boy dancing are:
“I slay (okay)
I slay (okay)
The lyrics in the third clip of the boy dancing are:
“Slay trick, or you get eliminated”
As these final lyrics are being sung, the young boy throws both of his hands up in the air in surrender. All of the “police” follow him in doing the same. Immediately after, the camera cuts to a white wall spray painted with the words “Stop shooting us” in black.
To many viewers, the young boy dancing is simply a young boy dancing. Rhetorically, this young boy represents Trayvon Martin. As mentioned earlier, he was killed unjustly at the hands of an overzealous vigilante. Although Martin was about 10 years older than the boy depicted in the video, this was done as an appeal to pathos. Knowles could’ve easily used someone the same age as Martin. However, she chose to use a much younger boy to say that at the time of his murder Martin was just as innocent and unthreatening as this young child. The young boy was not bothering the police. He was minding his own self, just as Martin was speculated to have been doing as he was returning home from a trip to the convenience store. As the young boy was dancing, the police were watching him, just as Zimmerman was watching Martin before the shooting. All of these elements were utilized to re-ignite the passion and emotion of the African American community especially, and any other audience attached to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The next important aspect of this clip of the music video to note is what the young boy was wearing. A black hoodie, dark colored jeans, dark colored shoes, and a red undershirt. This was done as an appeal to logos and pathos. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, he was wearing a dark hoodie. This one article of clothing played a great deal in his untimely death. It led George Zimmerman to deem him suspicious and worth watching. After Martin’s death, many individuals and communities used the black hoodie as a way to pay homage to Martin and to go about bringing change. When Zimmerman murdered Martin, the top he was wearing was predominately red. The young boy’s outfit was specifically chosen to further represent the Trayvon Martin murder, and to remind the African American community of what started the Black Lives Matter Movement.
When the young boy finishes dancing, he throws his hands up, after him the police do the same. This was done as an appeal to logos and pathos. The use of the young boy throwing up his hands relates to the Michael Brown shooting in August of 2014. This shooting was a murder of a black, 18 year old, male by a white police officer. It gained national attention because Brown was reported to have had his hands up in the air when he was murdered. This sparked the creation of the rally cry “Hands up, Don’t shoot”, similar to Trayvon Martin’s hoodie. This shooting also created fuel for the Black Lives Matter movement. What’s interesting in the video clip is that the “police officers” threw their hands up like the boy did, instead of replicating what has happened so many times in real life. They also put their hands up after the boy did, not before, and they didn’t have to direct him to perform this action. All of this was an appeal to logos and pathos. It was done in this way to send the message that there should be a reform in police protocol when approaching a suspect. So that when a suspect is not an immediate and imminent threat, excessive force on the part of the officer shouldn’t be the immediate response.
After the clips of the boy dancing are done, the words “Stop shooting us” are briefly seen spray painted in black on a white wall. This is done as an appeal to logos. There is no doubt that there have been a number of cases in the previous years, that have involved Blacks being killed by white police officers, with some type of suspicion of wrongdoing on the white officer’s behalf. The purpose of the “Stop shooting us” was to say just this. That there is in fact a problem, and it needs to stop. The fact that the words were in black and written on a white wall logically represents blacks talking to whites. This could not only be blacks talking to the white police officers, but all whites who still have a racist mentality.
Kairos was also a rhetorical element used in these clippings. The Merriam-Webster definition of Kairos is “a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action; the opportune and decisive moment”. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the “Formation” music video and song were released on Saturday, February 6, 2016. The month of February is Black History Month. Trayvon Martin was born on February 5, 1995, he was killed on the 26th of February in 2012. Sandra Bland, who was believed to be a victim of racial profiling and excessive police force, among other things was born on February 7, 1987. Beyoncé Knowles was scheduled to, and did, perform at the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl on February 7, 2016. The year 2016 will also marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Black Panther Party. As we can see, so many important events to the African American community occur in the month of February. This specific time was chosen to release this video and song with such powerful messages because Knowles knew she would have the whole nation’s attention.
No matter where you go, what color skin you have, how old you are, or what language you speak, there is an overwhelming chance you have heard of Beyoncé Knowles. Her countless album sales, record sales, world tours, movies, music videos, award nominations, and award wins make her one of the most successful faces in the music industry. She is a role model to women and men alike, and she has become a voice to the voiceless. If there is something to say, she says it through her artistry. This is exactly what she did with her latest single. She used her credentials to paint a vivid portrait on the Black Lives Matter movement, and she did it at a time when she knew the nation would be watching. Her use of various rhetorical strategies to address problems faced in the African American community is what makes “Formation” an effective rally cry for change.