The contemporary pacifist rhetorical artifact I have chosen to critique is Common and John Legend’s epideictic oscar-winning song ‘Glory’, links below. I would like to deconstruct the rhetoric of this piece through the use of Neo-Aristotelian criticism, focusing on the impact it had on audiences, the appeals made by the composers, and the techniques employed to enhance their message
Written for the screen to be released alongside Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay, the song’s central message is one of peaceful retaliation, non-violent revolution, and civil disobedience, three themes that are highly relevant to my discourse community. The reason I have selected this piece in particular is because it represents the state of modern pacifist rhetoric. We no longer have a Vietnam or Korea to write songs about; the War on Terror is too convoluted and unpoetic. Therefore, our anti-war rhetoric lately has focused more inward, addressing the ridiculous and harmful persistence of racial inequality and sexism in Western culture. Through this song, John Legend and Common have drawn parallels from modern POC equality marches to the civil rights movement of the mid 20th century through the linguistic use of logos intermingled with pathos, as well as an appeal to the ethos and sense of morality in their audience.
Because this song was composed for a film, the intended audience is immense and broad in scope. Due to advancements in cinematic distribution, Selma was available in theaters around the world, a level of circulation that was previously unprecedented. Thus, it would be challenging to critique the effect the song had on its audiences, due to the sheer number and range of potential viewers. However, regardless of the viewer, the song was composed to be an appeal to their ethos and sense of right and wrong. This is achieved in several passages, such as “Selma’s now for every man, woman and child”. This excerpt reveals the symbolism of Selma, an event that witnessed civil rights activists crossing a guarded bridge in defiance of their opposition’s armament and power.
To highlight the song’s pacifist messages, Legend writes “Hands to the Heavens, no man, no weapon, formed against, yes glory is destined, every day women and men become legends.” The emphasis on the lack of weapons involved in their movement highlights their peaceful intentions. Further examples of peaceful rhetoric appear further in the song, when the composter writes “That’s why Rosa sat on the bus, that’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.” The iconic imagery of people walking with their hands up in complete innocence captures the innate brutality and barbarity of America’s over-militarized police force. In recent years, America has witnessed a horrific increase in shootings of young black men and women at the hands of our police force, reigniting the desire for social egalitarianism through peaceful demonstration. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter illuminates the message of this movement.
Finally, John Legend makes use of terministic screens within this piece; terms which are meant to identify or create deeper meaning. Specifically, I’m referring to the term “glory”, a very epic, dramatistic term with scientistic elements. When one hears the term ‘glory’, images of faith, gospel, and worship are conjured, in spite of one’s religious beliefs. In a secular sense, glory also implies victory, a symbol of triumph over an enemy, and the fulfillment that emerges from achieving that success. In the context of this song, Legend and Common highlight the glory of the movement by the use of repetition. An example of this is found within each of the choruses of the song: “One day, when the glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours”. This rhetoric functions as an appeal to pathos, as it rallies diasporic support for the movement for equal rights for all humans.
Overall, this rhetoric is highly effective, not only due to its stirring content, but its ability to influence significant figures and celebrities. When this piece was performed at the Oscars, its overwhelming and emotional performance brought much of the audience to tears and standing ovations. The rhetoric espoused in this song signifies a new era of social justice and equality. Its words rouse listeners, and its simple yet profound message of peaceful resistance to oppression and discrimination resonates with audiences the world.