Visual Rhetoric Run Amok

Visual rhetoric is everywhere.  Under constant bombardment from various modes of media, we are continually encouraged to buy a certain product or believe a company’s claim.  These ploys, while often annoying, are more or less innocuous.  Sometimes, however, it goes too far.

In his essay, “Envisioning Justice: Racial Metaphors, Political Movements, and Critical Pedagogy,” C. Richard King explores the use of visual rhetoric through what he terms “racial metaphors.”  Presenting two racially or culturally charged images alongside one another in order to make a statement about their relationship is the general idea behind racial metaphor.  For instance, he refers to a disturbing photo that portrays Nazi soldiers executing Jews printed next to U.S. soldiers burying Native Americans at Wounded Knee.  The photograph is clearly drawing parallels between both tragedies, forcing American viewers to examine their own histories with a more critical eye.  Indeed, quite a provocative use of visual rhetoric.

King introduces his topic by way of reference to a 2003 PETA campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate.”  The animal rights group created an exhibition that conspicuously drew comparisons between Holocaust genocide and factory farming.  While the exhibition was created by Matt Prescott, an individual who lost relatives in the Holocaust, it was met with considerable outrage and disgust.

This is a case of visual rhetoric going too far and dishonoring the memories of those killed in the Holocaust in order to push a social agenda.  There is a serious disconnect in this country between the food we eat and where it comes from.  Drawing people’s attention to the sources of their food is quite important, but doing so by alluding to genocide is beyond hyperbole.


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