The election season is always a terrific time to teach rhetoric. We know this, right? And this season has been a harvest of topics to choose from, whether it be speechwriting, racism, sexism, and so on.
In my freshman comp class, in preparation for the students' first essay, we've spent the week reading and analyzing op-ed columns about Sarah Palin, examining the focus, the arguments, and the references writers from different political persuasions and parts of the globe use to discuss the Alaska governor's candidacy.
As we've cyberwalked through the minefields and forests of political-speak this week, we've been able to watch, nearly daily, how a writer's work can be misinterpreted even while it has been argued, used as a "true fact," and even laughed at. This serendipitous experience wasn't planned, and perhaps that's part of what is making it so successful--instead of tracing backwards and forwards in time, our reference is the immediate past, and concerns our class and our country. This past week, we've come to class to check out who has referred (directly or indirectly) to "Fake Governor Sarah Palin Quotes," written by Washington (state) blogger, Bob Salsbury, whose post of August 30 is reproduced below, for your reading pleasure:
Fake Governor Sarah Palin Quotes
Gov. Palin and her Eskimo husband enjoying some lean and healthy moose bacon.
How in the hell did Sarah Palin ever pass the vetting by McCain's people? This is unreal. Below are some fake quotes of Governor Palin I made up just for fun:
yet elegantly awkward moose proves God's creation and not evolution is
the source of all life. How could something as oddly shaped and silly
looking as a moose evolve through so-called "natural selection?" Is
evolution a committee? There is nothing natural about a dorky moose!
Only God could have made a moose and given it huge antlers to fight off
his predatory enemies. God has a well known sense of humor, I mean He
made the platypus too.
On oil exploration and drilling in the ANWR:
made dinosaurs 4,000 years ago as ultimately flawed creatures, lizards
of Satan really, so when they died and became petroleum products we,
made in his perfect image, could use them in our pickup trucks, snow
machines and fishing boats. Now, as to the ANWR, Todd and I often
enjoying caribou hunting and one year we shot up a herd big time, I
mean I personally slaughtered around 40 of them with my new, at the
time, custom Austrian hunting rifle. And guess what? That caribou herd
is still around and even bigger than ever. Caribou herds actually need
culling, be it by rifles or wolves, or Exxon-Mobil oil rigs, they do
On Alaskans serving overseas in Iraq:
Well, God bless them, and I mean God and Jesus because without Jesus we'd be Muslims too or Jewish, which would be a little better because of the superior Israeli Air Force.
Disclaimer: She didn't actually say these things - I made them up. But thanks for all the visits.
Okay. Here's what you have to know about Bob: his writing is wild, funny, satirical, clever, and did I mention--satirical? So when you read that Governor Palin thinks:
God made dinosaurs 4,000 years ago as ultimately flawed creatures, lizards of Satan really, so when they died and became petroleum products we, made in his perfect image, could use them in our pickup trucks, snow machines and fishing boats,
You have to understand that Bob, not the Governor, wrote it (as many of my astute students have pointed out, the post is titled "Fake Governor Sarah Palin Quotes.").
Of course, you don't have to understand anything, and therein lies the fun. Bob's original post was on August 30, and by the next day, he wrote that discussion boards at MSNBC and Yahoo had picked up on it.
And then, by September fifth, there was a domain created with the moniker "Lizards of Satan," and mention of the dinosaurs on a comicforum. The next day brought links from Hullabaloo and Rapture Ready. Fortunately, Snopes swooped in to affirm that the post was a JOKE.
It was at this point that I began showing the blog to my class. I thought it would be an interesting tidbit on watching how language can miscommunicate when misread--no matter how hard the writer may strive not to be misunderstood. And that would be that.
But,no. The next day Anderson Cooper and CNN intervened, interviewing Bob and showing screenshots of his blog. However modest the real Bob is in person, he bravely posted a clip of his interview--which I shared with my students. A bonus was watching another clip of Matt Damon referencing the idea that S.P. believed that dinosaurs existed 4,000 years ago. "He went to Harvard," I pointed out to my students.
On Friday we read Bob's post about the article by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times as well as the clip of the Breitbart TV piece on "A Blogger Named Bob." Much of the Breitbart piece was a summary of what had already happened, which provided my students the opportunity to watch the trail that the rumor had taken throughout the week, and to see how each day, different media, different writers, in oh-so-many contexts were using the information.
Although the school week was over, the rumor's shelf life wasn't, and on the opening sequence of Saturday Night Live, a program that doesn't shy away from satire, actresses Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did an opening bit on Governer Palin and Senator Clinton sharing a podium. "Please, ask this one about dinosaurs," Poehler-as-Clinton smirks towards the end.
So we'll be watching and problematizing the references to Bob's post for as long as the semester lasts, I suppose. I'd like for us return to the rumor train at the end of the semester and really critique, via writing and research, all of the places that this rumor has gone, all of the places it hasn't as well as reasons why this is so--what does it suggest about the transmission of ideas/rumors and about reading and reacting and so on and how does this fit into our larger purpose as writers in terms of using other writers' words responsibly?
We just might ask Bob.