The prescribed question for this written task is “How and why is a social group represented in a particular way?” and it explores the persuasive techniques being employed in Michelle Obama’s Convention Speech. The task refers to part 1 (language and power) of the course.
In this task, the representation of different social groups mentioned in Obama’s
speech and the effects achieved by representing the social groups in certain ways will be examined. The task will focus on exploring four key points: the first one is representation of US military men and women, which are the people being mentioned in Obama’s speech, referred as her inspirations. Then it is going to discuss the way American women are being represented in the speech through the recount of Obama’s grandmother’s experience, and the impact it has on female voters. Furthermore, the representation of American parents in the speech, mainly highlighting their selflessness toward their children. It must be noted that Ohm-la’s main purpose of representing these social groups in a positive light is to increase her popularity among the people and this consequently helps to increase Obama’s votes. The speech was given 2 months prior to the actual presidential election; one can therefore argue that it primarily aimed to attract votes and support for her husband’s campaign.
Throughout the analysis, it will also identify the persuasive techniques being
employed throughout the speech, such as anecdotes, pathos and more, but more
importantly reviewing the effects they have on the speech’s persuasiveness. The
language of the speech will be deconstructed to allow a thorough analysis of the text, and the reason for its success as a persuasive speech.
1. How and why is a social group represented in a particular way? Analysis of Michelle Obama’s Convention Speech 2012
Throughout the United States presidential election of 2012, one of the speeches that impressed the public greatly was one given by the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, at the Democratic National Convention. The speech received astonishing amount of positive feedback across social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, praising the way Michelle Obama tied personal history to political policy in a seamless and masterful way; along with her thoughtful portrayal towards these social groups in America: soldiers who came back from war wounded, women at workplace and parents who are of working class. The speech was given 2 months prior to the actual presidential election; one can therefore argue that these social groups are represented positively to attract votes for Obama’s campaign.
In Obama’s speech, the US soldiers who came back from war is presented positively by the use of hyperbolic statements, repetition and parallelism to emphasise on their courage and selflessness.
the loss of the soldiers are being emphasised using words that have connotations of sacrifice and selflessness, such as “wounded” and “blinded”. The physical losses of the soldiers are marked to highlight their altruistic behaviour of fighting for their county despite their own safety. Hyperbolic statements such as “I’d give my eyes a thousand times again” are used to convey a sense of selflessness by showing their willingness to contribute to the country explicitly with the use of exaggeration. Aside from that, Obama discloses how the wounded soldiers react to their losses and that they are her “inspiration”: “they’re not just going to walk again, they’re going to run, and they’re going to run marathons”. The use of parallel construction reinforces the soldiers’ perseverance and determination; since they are strong enough to go on and live their lives as energetic as before despite the disabilities they may have now. Furthermore, the word “inspirations” carries the connotations of motivation and enlightenment; it suggests that the soldiers are the people who influence Obama’s thoughts and actions. This contributes to her image as being down-to-earth since she communicates her admiration towards the ‘ordinary’ people in the country, moreover states that they are in fact her inspiration, regardless of her status as the First Lady of the country. This establishes the bond between her and the audience at the beginning of the speech, so that they are more likely to accept her words and empathise with her experiences as the speech proceeds. The reason for the US soldiers to be represented in a positively way is because by acknowledging the sacrifice made by the military, it is more likely to win votes from not only the soldiers, but also the retired military people and their families. Moreover, approximately 4% of the United States’ GDP is spent on military, it is evident that the role of military is significant; therefore, it is crucial to gain the support from one of the most powerful groups in the country.
American women at workplace are another social group that is represented positively, by integrating anecdotes into the speech and evoking empathy, it shows the diligence and patience of women. Obama portrays women favourably by recounting his husband’s grandmother’s experience of hitting “the glass ceiling”, “like so many women”. By emphasising “so many women” hit the glass ceiling, Obama evokes empathy in the audience; and by acknowledges this issue publicly it also reassures the women experiencing the same problem that their voices have not gone unheard. Obama is tying an issue that is experienced by thousands of women to someone close to Obama, it again reminds the audience that although her family is living in the White House, they still face similar problems as everyone else. Obama also mentions the way her grandmother coped with the issue: she still kept on “waking up at dawn to catch the bus”, “arriving at work before anyone else”, and “giving her best without complaint or regret.”
2In this particular anecdote, women are portrayed as persistent and tough instead of resentful toward the inequalities. This allows women out there who are experiencing this problem to resonate, as well as feeling that their effort is recognised. Moreover, by constantly linking the anecdotes to bigger issues in the society, it assures the public that these issues are just as personal to the Obama family as they are to every other family in the United States, therefore they will not disappoint them when they are creating policies to help. These impacts on the audience ultimately achieve the purpose of urging them to vote for Obama.
Lastly, parents who are working to support their children is another social group being represented positively throughout Michelle Obama’s speech by the use of personal anecdotes and anaphora. Many personal anecdotes are featured to portray this social group; for example, Obama reveals that she was worried about her daughters if her husband becomes the president, she questioned “How would we keep them grounded under the glare of the national spotlight?”, “How would they feel
being uprooted from their school, their friends, and the only home they’d ever
known?” Anaphora is used to emphasise her role as a mother who prioritise her
Children before anything else; although she is the First Lady, but just like all the other mothers, she is constantly worrying about their children; this allows all the parents to resonate with her. Obama also narrates how her father “hardly ever missed a day of work” despite the pain he was in due to Multiple Sclerosis, so that he could support Obama and her brother to go to college, because for him, “that’s what it meant to be a man”. The reason for parents to be represented favourably is because it can remind
them of their parents’ unconditional love for them, or their devotion toward their
children; and by evoking an emotion that is shared by so many people, it allows them to connect to her and vote for Obama, because people are more likely to prefer and vote for someone they can resonate with.
In conclusion, Michelle Obama’s Convention speech is able to win popularity due to her skilfulness in representing several social groups positively while maintains a sense of sincerity through integrating anecdotes and the depictions of her own life in the speech. It also ensures the audience who are of those social groups to empathise and resonate with the speech. This consequently allows bond to be established between Obama and the audience, thus leaving a strong impression in the audiences’ mind and possibly, gaining more votes for her husband’s campaign.
Word Count: 999
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