March 13 2014 – Think Piece Paper Two
Critical thinking is a term invoked frequently in college classrooms; I’d go so far to say every professor I’ve ever had has used the term in some capacity during my time at Buffalo State. The problem is that many people use this term without actually understanding what it means. According to the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (19887) the term is defined as follows.
“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”
In layman’s terms critical thinking is a set of skills that uses reliable evidence and reason to make conclusions. The second component of critical thinking is that once you learn critical thinking skills you should be able to apply them consistently. Some of my professors who preach critical thinking and use it in their lectures also express believing in conspiracy theories and other false ideologies. Critical thinking is not just seeking evidence to support our beliefs, it requires recognizing our own biases we may carry from culture and upbringing so that we do not ignore the facts, even when they fail to support our cherished beliefs and intuitions. Critical thinking isn’t something that comes naturally; the concept of suspending judgment about claims long enough to use critical thinking requires us to never accept claims based on emotion or social pressure. When we consume media most of our beliefs and ideas come from personal biases such as emotion, social pressure and culture. The lack of critical thinking skills in our society is what makes reinforcement theory so effective. Reinforcement theory is the media theory that the media does not so much persuade us but rather it reinforces our existing beliefs and perceptions, as we tend to have a confirmation bias towards anything that doesn’t agree with our cherished beliefs. The artifact, or media message, that I’ve selected to analyze is a persuasive, informative and entertaining video entitled “Storm” by comedian and skeptic Tim Minchin. I chose this video because it may be one of the few media messages that truly challenges reinforcement theory and persuades people to think critically about a wide-array of common fallacies. My analysis consists of not only the value of the content (message for the audience) but also the many ways the artifact encompasses all three components of the information, persuasion, entertainment trilogy.
This artifact is a ten-minute video in which Tim Minchin tells the story of an argument he had at a London dinner party with a hippy named Storm. Minchin argues many of the values and principles of critical thinking and while his opponent Storm seems unmoved by his word play, millions have been converted to his way of thinking.
“Storm” is available on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U and currently has over 2,800,000 views. The genre of the video is a beat poem combined with animation. This is a more unique form of narrative, which makes it all the more important for considering the power of its delivery. As genre theory tells us, classifying messages and putting them in categories allows us to compare and contrast them with other media messages. There are likely few other beat poems of this subject matter but nonetheless it’s evident that the delivery of the rhetoric, or persuasive language, appears highly effective compared to typical lectures and talks about critical thinking. This may be in part because the beat poem not only has clever pacing but it also has a tremendous amount of verbal and visual imagery that accompanies it. Verbal and visual imagery are words and pictures that support analysis and “Storm” does this rather creatively. Many of the verbal points are quite literally animated into word imagery to better articulate the important parts of the message. Some of the imagery is so fluently animated that it’s impossible to capture frame by frame, however I’ve included a flow chart to give an idea of its unique power.
The word play that Minchin highlights through imagery leaves the viewer entertained and impressed yet all he’s doing at the core of the message is explaining and defining terms. The wordplay in combination with the beat poem puts emphasis on all the right points and holds onto the viewers attention as they hold out for the end of every sentence he speaks at the anticipated beat. These aesthetics or style of the visual and verbal imagery, combined with valuable critical thinking information, are both aspects that lend this artifact to being all three elements of the media trilogy; however there is so much more that goes into the persuasion component
It’s also important to acknowledge that Storm, the character Minchin is debating, has polar opposite views from him and represents someone who is not easily persuaded. This makes it very easy to make Minchin’s views appear the most correct, further accomplishing the persuasion aspect of the trilogy. Storm is overly dramatized and stereotypical hippy. This isn’t unfair trickery; rather it’s an important element of the video and is arguably apart of Minchin’s dramatic license. Dramatic license allows content creators to distort facts and sensationalize components of their material to make a statement and portray their point of view. There’s no way to know for certain if Storm was a real person that Minchin met at a real dinner party; or that she appeared as dim witted as he made her sound. Regardless, Minchin did this to generalize a style of thinking many people adhere to without realizing how miss guided it is The picture bellow is one brief example of dramatic license as the animation clearly depicts Storm as having a highly emotional and unintelligible reaction to medical science.
Her audio for the above frame is also unintelligible and out of place in the conversation “Storm suddenly insists, but the human body is a mystery science just falls in a hole when it tries to understand the mystery of the soul”. Storms facial expressions are more than just dramatic license they’re also an example of auteur theory, because as the theory states that a director’s creative vision is evident. While Minchin wrote and performed the audio he did not actually animate the piece; it was directed and animated by DC Turner. Based on auteur theory it’s safe to assume some of the animations that are less flattering of Storm may be from the bias and creative message of the director as well as Minchin himself.
Looking at Storm from a critical framework point of view she is merely a character. Image or character analysis as a critical framework, is when we look at characters and talk about what they represent in society. Although Minchin’s portrayal of storm may at times seem unfair it’s important to remember the context, or time and place, it was written in. The video was posted in April of 2011 so fairly present times and while the story specifically takes place in London but it was made for the western world as a whole. The second aspect of understanding context is looking at the climate of opinion. Climate of opinion reflects the opinions of what’s happening culturally politically or economically in that contextual time or place. The cultural opinion of our society is one that often believes science and critical thinking is the enemy of belief, and if not seen as an enemy it’s often seen as a belief itself. Dramatic license and climate of opinion in combination with context, character analysis and auteur theory, allow us to access that the framework of ethicality is seemingly permissible. The ethicality framework looks at the credibility of where the content of the message is coming from. Minchin has a right to stereotype characters not only to express a point of view but he also has the ethos of being a professional comedian making it that much more acceptable.
In my opinion this media message is highly effective at accomplishing all three components of trilogy: Information, persuasion and entertainment. The reason I find the message effective is because this video is the video that taught me to value critical thinking. Before watching it I had a mild interest science and critical thinking but I also had a lot of less dramatized components of Storm’s open mindedness to various opinions as a means of measuring knowledge. I had already heard some of Tim Minchin’s other comedy routines before I watched “Storm” but the combination of his humor with the beat poem and visual imagery had me sold from every angle that the values of critical thinking and reason he was describing were the best ways to understand the world. With nearly 3 million views and a 99 percent approval vote it appears as though the video is well received. I only have the anecdotal evidence of my own personal experience to testify to it’s persuasive ability but looking at the various critical frameworks and theories discussed I assume it’s highly likely that many other had a similar experience.
What I learned the most from writing this paper is that one of the most persuasive components of argumentation comes from ones ability to express and dismantle opposing views of the argument. I re-watched “Storm” for the first time in years to write this paper. While I did so I tried to numb myself of reinforcement theory and picture what my objections would have been as my younger self. I found that Minchin makes up for his overly critical generalized interpretation of Storm by deconstructing some of her more valid points. The flow chart bellow demonstrates Minchin’s use of humor as well as visual and audio ascetics. These elements combined with the deconstruction of Storms point make a very persuasive story narration.
The idea that science is somehow like a religion or belief is a common misconception in our society. Minchin’s ability to pick up on this concern and humorously tear it apart allows the viewer to laugh at storm and walk away with a better understanding of how to think critically. Understanding the complexity of what goes into effective persuasion is a major element of understanding human behavior and how they react to media. I will try to continue to use these various elements of persuasion discussed in this thought paper to further help people understand what thinking critically really means. I also have realized that persuasion really can’t exist powerfully without information and entertainment. The easiest way to persuade someone is to have information that proves what you’re saying is true and entertainment to engage your viewer into listening. Fortunately Storm has all three components of the trilogy and has effectively made a persuasive message about the value of science and critical thinking.