|An argument based on brutal-ness?|
First off, we've got the song. Oh man. That song has been pulling my heartstrings since I was a disaffected and angst-ridden teenager. I can still remember the terrible tragedies of teenagerdom, against the background of Sara McLachlan's crazy pretty voice. The moment I hear that song, I am immediately transported to every bad breakup I experienced from 1994 to the day I met my husband roughly 10 years later. Suffice it to say that I'm now receptive to the content of the ad.
|My heart hurts.|
This is pathos being used to its most perfect extension. Aristotle wasn't a huge fan of the technique, saying that, "The arousing of prejudice, pity, anger, and similar emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts," but he nonetheless devoted a large part of Book II of his Rhetoric to a detailed analysis of the different types of emotion - a kind of color wheel of human feelings.
Why did he bother? Aristotle is endearing to me for a number of reasons, one of which being that he was eminently logical, so why would a guy whose entire life's work was approaching the world with a rational curiosity spend all this time figuring out how people feel and why?
Because it works.
As an experiment, think about what a completely logical ad for animal shelters would look like. Then think about how you'd respond to it. Not so much, right? If you did respond at all, it would be with emotions - we're just too emotionally connected to animals in Western culture to be completely rational about the idea of animal abuse.
|This hen does not need a flag.|
Dang. Think about that for a second. Here I sit, writing a blog about rhetoric, and the pathos in this commercial is so powerful that it's working on me in spite of what I laughingly call my "academic detachment."
|These bad dogs do not need a sibling.|
|Hello there, German guy.|
Then we come to this.
|Whoa, wait, not cool.|
And make no mistake. The power of the Third Reich was due in large part to the effectiveness of rhetorical arguments based in pathos just like these. Having cast themselves rhetorically as the "heroes," the only thing they needed to do was find a "villain." And when they did, they murdered millions of innocent people.
Let me be clear. Sara McLachlan is not a Nazi. Like, not even a little bit. And there are really good reasons to use arguments based in pathos. If it gets abandoned, neglected, and abused dogs into safe, loving homes, I'm all for it. Easily 95% of the pathos-based arguments out there fall somewhere between the two extremes of animal lover and Hitler, more if you're not particularly political.
But all of them have one thing in common: they want you to feel and not think. As an advocate of thinking myself, I have to be a little wary of that.