How This Must End—Constitutive Rhetoric and Oppositional Video Practice

Curator's Note

Introducing students to rhetorical approaches to television criticism, I typically make use of commercial messages. Advertisements are ideally suited to this task: students have intimate knowledge of the form and can readily identify persuasive techniques common to TV commercials. This semester, I took a different tack. As we marked the fourth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, I screened this clip produced by self-styled anti-war activist Ava Lowery. Lowery’s weblog “Peace Takes Courage,” has received some coverage in the mainstream media, as well as the alternative press. And yet, Lowery’s work, like this clip commissioned by United for Peace & Justice promoting the January 27, 2007 antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., was new to undergraduates. Students ably discussed the rhetorical techniques and appeals employed throughout the video. For instance, Lowery’s constitutive rhetoric, as evidenced by the racial, ethnic, gender and generational diversity of grieving families at military funerals, figured prominently in our discussions, as did the haunting music track by Devotchka. Lowery’s work also prompted students to consider the dynamics of cultural production in the digital era. Video work of this sort—produced and distributed using a laptop computer, consumer-grade video editing software, and an internet connection—underscores the potential for oppositional discourse in an emerging participatory culture. Finally, and most important, students applauded Ava Lowery’s efforts to “break the silence” regarding the war and its consequences. In this way, “How This Must End” reaffirms the value of alternative media for opening up discursive spaces, challenging dominant media practices and pointing the way toward a prefigurative (media) politics.


I've shown one of Lowery's other videos, "What Would Jesus Do?", and both videos are very effective in conveying--as you point out--the importance of alternative media, especially as Lowery uses her videos to challenge normal representative practices. In WWJD, the stark contrast between Bush's reference to a "mission from God" and the images of wounded Iraqi children is utterly compelling.

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