Rhetorical Velocity: Redo, Reuse, Recycle

“Rhetorical velocity” is a nonsensical term that means ‘the theory of how rhetoric/art/object are remixed, reconstituted, changed in physical and digital spaces over time and distance’. Reading about this concept made me think about memes. Memes are spread quickly, build meaning off of each successive variation and are themselves creates by “cutting and pasting” elements of rhetoric remixed with culture. While a meme itself is usually created to be repurposed and circulated, the original rhetoric may have not been made with those intensions. One meme that has been popular is “Brace Yourself Winter is Coming”. According to “Know Your Meme”, a website that tracks the history and usage of memes, “Brace Yourself Winter is Coming” originated from Game of Thrones from Ned Stark’s family saying, “Winter is Coming”. The image is a screenshot from a scene in the show in which Sean Bean is holding a sword. It is usually changed to “Brace Yourself X is coming” and commonly used for something cyclical in nature going to occur again, such as “Brace Yourself, Pumpkin Spice Season is Coming”, but can also be used in derivative ways. Due to the show’s popularity and easily recognizable, somewhat catchy quotes, and the meme’s ease of mutability, this meme has been popular for a number of years. Memes are built from popular or recognizable objects and transformed into “in-jokes”, social commentary, building relationships, etc. Memes are quick to share, easy to digest and don’t require the attention something like an article would need.

While “Brace Yourself Winter is Coming” has had mostly neutral usage, one meme made national headlines for it’s use by “Alt-right” media and has often been pegged as a racist symbol, Pepe the frog. The creator denounced it’s use and even due a funeral cartoon to “kill” the character. I’ll attach an opinion piece of the use of Pepe and the changing nature of memes at the end of this comment.

I think memes are a useful way to think about “rhetorical velocity” but they are certainly not the only object that is similar. In my poetry classes, we were often assigned to write a poem in response to a painting, sculpture, etc. The poem itself had to stand on it’s own, without relying on it’s inspiration for meaning and context. I think this assignment is a good example of “rhetorical velocity” in action. We remixed an emotive response into a different artwork. The audience was small because the class was small, but shared on a different media, it could have reached a larger audience.

Audience matters when we discuss “rhetorical velocity”. Medium also matters. In the age of the internet, asking the right question opens the right doors. Sometimes a turn of phrase can yield vastly different results on a Google search. I think that one of the lessons that we can glean from this reading is that information on the internet often can take on a life of it’s own.

The materials that we produce from this class, may be found be other individuals or groups. We can harken back to our perusal of the NASA website to find lessons about how information gets re-used, re-mixed and re-package. We theorized that NASA produced the climate change page as a resource for teachers, or students, or curious minds. NASA has a widely-known, reputable name, so the information on their website is assumed by the audience to be scientific, well researched, fact-checked and easy accessible for the audience to digest and repurpose the information.

The documents that we produce for this class do not benefit from name recognition and threrefore, must rely on the audience’s perception of the material. Did we use credible sources to establish ethos? Is our language biased? Is the point of our material coming across to the audience? Does the document have easily accessible “facts” that can be pulled out by an audience member?

I pulled the following passages from our reading, because I believe they hold some “bigger picture” value:

“The medium, or process, of our time—electric technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life… Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication”


“delivery can no longer be thought of simply as a technical aspect of public discourse. It must be seen also as ethical and political—a democratic aspiration to devise delivery systems that circulate ideas, information, opinions and knowledge and thereby expand the public forums in which people deliberate on the issues of the day”


These remind me of social media, particularly of Facebook, and the importance of ‘sharing’ content in a responsible manner. Facebook has evolved from simply a way to connect with friends to the newest iteration, a more news-focused social sharing site. If we share our class materials, we have the responsibility to check our content for culturally insensitive material or language, be inclusive of people directly impacted by our social justice issues and to accurately portray the issue without relying on stereotypes or misinformation. It is our responsibility to consume media that also meets those standards. With the incessant, addictive nature of social media, it is easy to share content, react to the content produced by others and consume content without digesting it or contextualizing it.

Social media content is important, but our social media use is also important as well. Smart phones bring us immediate validation, every ‘ping’ of a notification makes us more reliant on the next notification. We rely on technology in every aspect of our days and it becomes a funnel for how we consume new information. While we must be cognizant of what we share on social media, we must also be aware of how much we rely on it to find new information.

The content we produce may have a life of it’s own on the internet, or it may never see the light of day. We have a responsibility to produce quality documents and share them wisely. As we’ve seen with memes, we don’t always know where our content will go.