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Text Commentary

On genres of documentary rhetoric
by Critical Commons Manager `

An understanding of the rhetorics of documentary draws on some of the most basic principles of literary rhetoric. Specifically, the following forms of rhetoric may be usefully deployed:

    1. Logos: the appeal to reason
    2. Pathos: the appeal to emotion
    3. Ethos: the appeal to character or ethics

It is useful to note that argumentative documentary may effectively make use of any or all of the forms of appeal described above and indeed the most powerful arguments may well be achieved by proficiently combining all three.

For the purposes of demonstrating these rhetorical characteristics within media (as opposed to written) form, a particularly useful text may be found in the film by Davis Guggenheim, which documents and embellishes upon former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to raise public awareness about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. This film, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2006, is exemplary in its use of virtually all of the rhetorical strategies outlined above. A close structural analysis of this film has proven to be extremely effective as a means of revealing the functioning of argumentative rhetoric.

An Inconvenient Truth offers a stark contrast with other documentary genres due to its aggressive use of information graphics, visualizations, charts, statistics, etc. Because it is goal-oriented – explicitly seeking to provoke active responses from viewers – the Argumentative documentary may be more productively analyzed in terms of the factors above, rather than the formal properties that primarily motivated Nichols’ venerable documentary modes, first articulated in 1991. Because of their shared characteristics with the expository essay, argumentative multimedia lends itself to familiar forms of evaluation.

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Information visualization and appeal to emotion in An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim (2006) What rhetorical devices are used in the construction of a documentary argument?
Appeal to reason and ethics in An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim (2006) Al Gore appeals to reason and ethics using a combination of statistical evidence and moral imperatives in An Inconvenient Truth
Appeal to emotion in An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim (2006) The real world consequences of global warming are expressed through heartbreaking computer generated images of a polar bear