Mariella eyes to a new perspective. Smith highlights

Mariella Garcia

Professor Cochran

ComS 100B

Mon. 6:00 PM- 8:50 PM

Final paper: Cluster
Criticism

 

Introduction

 

The
artifact I have chosen is a TED talk given by poet Clint Smith on July 15th,
2014 in the heart of New York.  Smith is
not only a writer, but also a teacher and doctoral student at Harvard
University. Before Smith began to study education, incarceration and
inequality, he was teaching high school English in Maryland. In 2013, he had
the honor to be named the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the
Maryland Humanities Council. Smith’s eloquence has made him a National Poetry
Slam champion and has earned appearances in The New Yorker, The Guardian,
Boston Review, American Poetry Review, and the
Harvard Educational Review. The way in which
Smith preforms is one of a kind; he uses humor, humanity and humility, touching
on themes like poverty, social justice and the pains of being a kid.

(www.ted.com/clint_smith)

 

His
TED talk. “The danger of silence” has made a significant contribution to
rhetorical theory by opening up our eyes to a new perspective. Smith highlights
many linked terms throughout his speech, which is why the methodology that I
have chosen to use is Cluster Criticism. This method of rhetorical criticism is
what I will use to evaluate his perspective and worldview on the danger of
silence. The term “cluster” is used because we can learn a lot about what
someone is thinking (even subconsciously) by “clustering” key words and symbols
that are used in proximity or relation to the key words. This method is
attributed to late rhetorician Kenneth Burke, who sought to understand how people think and what motivated them to action. Burke used the
concept of terministic screens
to describe the terms, vocabulary, symbols, and other communication devices
that people use to describe a concept. Therefore, as I describe, analyze, and evaluate
the word choice, symbolism, colors, and other communicative devices in this
artifact, I can take a closer look at a filtered group of terms to better understand
Smith’s worldview when communicating. This paper will depict how Smith, a poet,
educator and writer, brings an entirely new meaning to the word silence.

 

Description

 

At this
very moment, this talk has 3,901,739 views on www.ted.com and 852,927 views on YouTube. This was an independently
organized TED event that took place on July 15th, 2014 in New York,
New York, United States. The TED talk was filmed and presented at an official
TED conference, [email protected] Other speakers such as Sally Kohn, Daniel Barasch, and
Molmol Kuo were also present this day. The title of Smith’s TED talk is “The
danger of silence” and it is presented with a very professional demeanor. Smith
portrays himself as a very passionate person in the way he goes about conveying
his point of view to the audience. His presentation is given to a relatively
small group of people, which allows him to be extremely personable. The way he
carries himself, the way he’s dressed, and how he speaks at this event, shows
how close he holds this topic to his heart.  

 

His attire
consists of a white button up shirt under a black sweater, khaki pants, and
shiny black shoes. The sleeves on his white button up are rolled around the
sleeves of his sweater. A black belt, a silver watch on his left hand, and a
wireless, beige, microphone-mouth piece, also accompanies Smith’s look. His
tone of voice fluctuates depending on what he’s saying, and his volume of voice
remains loud and clear the entire time. His speech is free of filler words such
as “uh” and “um”, and he uses many hand gestures to interact with the audience.
He presents this in the English language, although subtitles are available in
40 different languages for anyone that wants to see it online. This artifact is
4 minutes and 18 seconds in length, or 258 seconds long. By pasting each
individual paragraph with a space between each one on Microsoft Word, it is
equivalent to roughly about 1.86 printed pages using Times New Roman and size
12 font. This artifact translated into words equates to 6 paragraphs, 40 sentences,
and 745 words.

 

The
context of this speech uses a total of 3,206 letters, and 3,319 characters. The
letters, numbers, spaces, and punctuation marks make up approximately 120
prepositions, 16 contractions, 124 pronouns, and 1,101 syllables. Being used
411 times, the letter “E” is the most frequently used, while letters “X” and
“Z” are only use once. The sentences in this speech have an average of about
18.63 words, 27.52 syllables, and 80.15 letters. Words on the other hand, have
an average of approximately 1.48 syllables and 4.31 letters. Smith only asks
one question throughout his speech, creating a 0.0250 question: sentence ratio.
There’s an average of 124 words per paragraph with the longest sentence having
71 words. He uses the words “the”, “I” and “to” more than any other word; “the”
being used 34 times, “I” 28 times, and “to” 25 times. Together those three
words add up to 87 words, roughly 11% of the entire TED talk. Additionally, he
uses words like “ignorance”, “validation” and “discrimination” only once,
although they are directly linked to one another. He speaks at approximately
186 words per minute with pauses in between paragraphs. In total, he pauses 50
times; averaging about 14.61 words and 21.59 syllables between pauses, and
about 1.25 pauses per sentence. Smith speaks in third person 31% of the time,
in second person 14% of the time, and in first 55% of the time.

(http://countwordsworth.com)

 

Smith
gives his speech on a relatively small stage, on a little circular red carpet mat.
There is a purple, pink, and blue texturized wall in the background, which
seems to produce some sort of light. The room is noticeably bright and there is
no direct spotlight on him, but on the entire stage itself. What appears to be
a wall in the background is about 18 feet wide, 12 feet tall, and has a “spiky”
look.  Smith is about eight feet away
from the front row of the audience, and about 15 feet away from the furthest
row that I can visually see. There is a projection screen behind him that says
[email protected]” in red and white letters. The word “TED” is in red, capitalized
letters, and in the traditional block letter font. The “@” sign and “NYC” are
also capitalized and in the same font, but the letters are white and a bit
thinner. The placement of “[email protected]” is right below the middle of a black
background and relatively small compared to the size of the projection screen.
The bottom of the projection screen is taller than the speaker by about one
foot, and never gets used for a PowerPoint, like you typically see accompanied
by speeches. Two feet to his right, there is a small round table with a black
tablecloth and 1X1 three-dimensional letters sitting on top. There are three
block letters, and they spell out “TED” on the table. The letters are red, and
have dim light coming from them. A few feet further down, you can see a black
opening, where speakers walk out. The opening is approximately six feet to his
right, and it isn’t extremely tiny, but it does look like he would have to duck
a bit.

 

At 12
seconds, Smith opens his presentation with “In the end, we will remember not
the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”, a quote by Martin
Luther King Jr.  This is where he
introduces the first key term, silence, the most significant word
used in his speech. At 27 seconds, he explains how he’s internalized King’s
message by seeing the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form
of discrimination, violence, genocide, and war. At 55 seconds, Smith rubs his
hands as he shares that he encourages his students to explore the silences in
their own lives through poetry as he
has; In effort to create a culture
within his classroom where students feel safe sharing their deepest thoughts
and intimacies, he has four core principles that everyone has to follow. He
says that he posts these four principles on his board, and that every student
is required to sign it at the beginning of the school year. Smith counts to four with his fingers as he states the principles
are read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, and tell your truth. He
admits that in order for him to expect his students to tell their truth, he
must be honest with his. At 1:28, Smith tells us how growing up in a catholic
family, he was taught that the most meaningful thing you could do during lent
is give something up. He had given up things like French fries and soda, but
decided to do something a little different one year. He figured that the most
valuable thing he could give up… was his voice. He continues by explaining how
it did not take long for him to realize that he had given that up a long time
ago.  

 

At
1:56, he emphasizes the second key term, ignorance.  Smith spent part of his life telling himself
that he did not need to be other people’s conscience, so he remained silent and
simply did not say anything. At 2:10 Smith shares his first experience, when
Christian was beat up for being gay all he did was put his hands in his pockets
and kept walking as if he didn’t notice. While licking his lips at 2:20, he
brings up another time when he failed to acknowledge a homeless man, as if he
was not worth seeing. Smith failed to give the homeless man some sort of
affirmation that he was seen because touching the screen on his Apple was more
important than actually feeding him one. At 2:32 he brings up the timed when
the lady at the fundraising Gala congratulated him for being able to teach
“those poor, unintelligent kids” and he didn’t say anything back. Then, he
introduces the last three key words; fear, privilege, and pain.

 

At 2:53,
he says that silence is the residue of fear. He uses examples like “Silence is
Rwandan genocide. Silence is Katrina. It is what you hear when there aren’t
enough body bags left”. Smith makes a point that it is both privilege and pain,
and that you don’t have time to choose your battles when they have already
chosen you. He said that he would not let silence take over In a loud, powerful
voice he said that he would tell Christian that he is a LION. He will ask the
homeless man what his name is because everyone deserves be treated like a human
being. His voice got louder and firmer when he said that he will defend his
kids and he will not let silence win because of ignorance, fear, privilege or
pain. At this point (3:56), Smith has used hand gestures with every word that
came out of his mouth. He has stayed in the same spot with a few occasional
foot motions, but has kept eye contact the entire time. At 2:18 and 2:28, he makes
direct eye contact with the camera and speaks directly to it for a few seconds
before scanning the audience again. He highlights the words silence, ignorance,
fear, privilege and pain, which are linked terms. At 3:58 Smith begins to
conclude his speech by asking “Because who has to have a soapbox when all
you’ve ever needed is your voice?” The TED talk ends at 4:10 when Smith says,
“Thank you.” bows down and the audience gives him a round of applause two
seconds later at 4:12.

 

 

Analysis

 

To better understand how and what Smith
feels, I used Cluster analysis/criticism to find words that were linked to one
another. According to our book, Cluster analysis,
as a method of rhetorical criticism, is a process critics can use to evaluate
the perspectives and worldviews of a person communicating something. The term
“cluster” is used because we can learn a lot about what someone is thinking by
“clustering” emphasized words with other key words in the same proximity. Smith
begins
by using a quote by MLK to get the attention of the audience, as silence is
sometimes seen as a way to avoid a problem, when really you are contributing to
it. He uses vivid, concrete language to convey his powerful message, and
although his presence is strong, he takes a very direct, yet empathetic
approach. His decision to approach this topic in the way that he did was to
make it known that this something he highly values. Smith makes it obvious when he alters his tone and volume,
so that it is clear when he places emphasis on certain words that are linked to
silence. The verbiage he uses in this
poetic artifact portrays him like an intelligent, knowledgeable individual who
is worth listening to. Furthermore, the
way that he reenacts his own personal experiences, helps the audience feel deeply
connected to the issues silence has caused.  

 

When people hear
the word, “silence”, they most likely think of it as the absence of sound. They
are not wrong, but Smith’s message is much deeper than the literal meaning.
When we think of the word “ignorance”, many thoughts might come to mind. It
could be how you define a person, or their actions that are harmful and destructive.
However, the literal definition is as simple as, “the lack of knowledge or
information.” (dictionary.com) Smith believes that that the simple act of
silence that is perceived as peaceful causes more harm than good. He explains
that when dealing with controversial issues that require action, we tend to
keep quiet to avoid the problem. Smith believes that is ignorance, staying silent
against wrongs when it is easier for us. He points out that we tell people what
they want to hear instead of telling them what they need to hear. He uses a
time when ignorance, fear, privilege, and pain all revolved around silence. He
highlights the same issues that are happening today by quoting a remarkable
figure of the past, known for his ability to use words instead of violence to
stick up for others, Martin Luther King Jr. Smith quoted, “In the end, we will
remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” to
display how silence has had a long history of causing more damage than what is
perceived by society. Smith speaks not only to the people in the room, but to
anyone in the world. He declares that now is more important than ever to speak
up for what we believe in, and not only that, but to speak up for those who
need a voice when theirs cannot be heard. He shares how he encouraged his
students to tell their truth, but realized that he
couldn’t ask his students to speak up without being honest about the times he
failed to do so.

 

Growing up in a
catholic family, he was told that the most meaningful thing you could give up
during lent is something that you love. He said that all the things he gave up
in the past were just so typical and superficial. That year, he
tried something new; instead of giving something up, he decided to live every
day as if there were “a microphone tucked under his tongue”. He figured that the ultimate sacrifice would be to give up his own
voice, not realizing that he actually had given that up a long time ago. He
first recalls a moment in his life where he had failed to speak up, when
walking past his friend Christian who was beaten up for being gay. He didn’t
say a word, but not saying anything at all, was saying something. He stood by ignorance with his silence, although he had just walked by with his eyes on the floor
and his hands in his pockets. He now wishes that he could have told Christian he
was a LION. Smith did not mean an actual lion, but how a lion represents
qualities like strength, bravery, and brilliance. Silence and ignorance, words with completely
different meanings were linked to the
fear of speaking up. Smith relates the time when he ignored the homeless
man, as if a “hello” was out of reach. He
indulged in ignorance with his silence and did not acknowledge that
validation does not need words to justify its existence. Smith realized how privilege played a huge role in the silence he had been living in. He was
more concerned with touching the apple on his screen, than actually feeding him
one. Smith diplomatically pointed out something that I know many have heard
before; he implied that we are so privileged, that we don’t experience the pain others do. He did not have to stand outside, hungry and cold, because of the privilege he had. He was ignorant to
the pain because it was not
something that he could ever relate to. He remembered when the lady at the
fundraising gala talked down to his students by calling them poor and
unintelligent, and all he did was bite his lip. Smith feels the pain and
regret of staying silent, as if they needed her money more than his students
needed their dignity. He relates
silence to gut-wrenching events like hurricane Katrina and the Rwandan genocide
to display how “silence is the
residue of fear”. Silence is the result of fear because we spend so much time
listening to the things people are saying, that we rarely pay attention to the
things they don’t. He portrays that we should all take
what he said into consideration because you don’t need a large audience to
speak up for others, all you need is your voice.

 

Evaluation

 

There
are many variables that go into creating a good speech, and Smith exceeded my
expectations. To begin with, I think the first that you need to do is analyze
the audience. Audience awareness is crucial for an eloquent presentation
because it’s what influences how the speakers socially construct themselves. Smith
was able to read nonverbal communication quite well, and did an amazing at
incorporating poetry while speaking on such a serious subject. I believe that
his poetry and how he used his voice to express different emotions, established
his credibility to the audience. The audience seemed intrigued, touched and
humbled by what he was saying. It was evident that Smith is undoubtedly
passionate about what he was talking about, and he makes sure to reiterate his
point consistently throughout the speech.

 

            I think Smith’s delivery represented exactly what I look
for in a strong speaker. His excellent eye contact undoubtedly helped him make
a connection with the audience, as well as show that he was devoted to them.
Good eye contact with the person you’re talking to indicate that you are
focused and paying attention. If he were to have had note cards that he
constantly referred to, I probably would have wondered how long he had to
prepare. I could tell that he was well practiced and that the “danger of
silence” hit close to home. Throughout his entire speech, his poetry was full
of emotion, making it easy to emphasize with him. He had great facial
expressions, which were accompanied by good hand gestures that were inline with
what he was saying. I felt that he was immersing himself so much in his poetry,
that it almost felt like I was there too. He remained consistent when it came
down to his tone of voice and the volume that he spoke at. The pitch he used
was appropriate for the situation, and not once did he sound monotoned. I feel
that the timing in which he took pauses, went perfectly with his poetic
approach to sharing his worldview. Additionally, his timing was effective in
preventing vocal fillers such as “um” and “uh”. These short pauses gave the
audience a few seconds to think and react on the importance of speaking up. I didn’t notice any issues transitioning into new ideas,
but I do believe that he could have used his space a little better. Although
his biggest weakness was standing in the same spot for most of the speech, he
made up for his lack of body movement by having excellent posture, and an
abundance of hand gestures.

 

            The
content of his presentation was simple and free of jargon, allowing the
audience to grasp the purpose of his speech. He places emphasis on words like
silence, fear, pain, and privilege, which helped him in getting reactions from
the audience. He uses poetry to build atmosphere for his narrative through
words, body, and voice. His thoughts were powerful, concise and each sentence
was aimed towards the goal of inspiring the audience to tell their truth. I
feel that Smith’s final thoughts not only provided closure, but also most
definitely left a lasting impact on the audience. The struggles he faced while growing up are very relatable; therefore,
people who also went through similar events as he did are able to identify with
him, which causes them to be easily persuaded by the messages he is giving.
Although people who go through these types of situations in life have the
ability to relate to him, Smith’s ultimate goal was to not discuss the reason’s
why we have chosen to stay silent in the past. His point was to discuss the
importance of our actions and how we should express what we believe is right.  Smith clustered words that were correlated to
each other because like Burke once said, “A person’s worldview is shaped by the particular
terms they use to see the world, and that therefore much of what we take as
observations about reality may be but the spinning out of possibilities
implicit in our particular choice of term”

 

Conclusion

 

            In conclusion, I think Clint Smith did an excellent job.
I have seen varies videos of him speaking about several topics, and he’s never
failed to open my eyes to a new perspective. It is obvious from the start that
he is a “seasoned” speaker and is passionate about what he’s talking about. I
think this presentation can be beneficial to anyone because it is applicable to
real-life situations, like the examples he used from his own experiences. As
cliché as it sounds, ignorance is bliss. Silence is bliss. That’s something we
have been told our entire lives, and sure silence
can be a much needed break from this crazy world…it can be just what we need to
rejuvenate ourselves, but silence is not always the solution. This TED talk by Clint Smith has most definitely
inspired me to think about the danger of letting
silence run rampant in our lives. I think we have all been guilty of this
because we may have heard or seen something that we know wasn’t right, but our
lips were sealed shut. Maybe we heard or saw a classmate being disrespected and
we chose to ignore it, or maybe we too, ignored the homeless man on the corner
who was just trying to get a smile out of us. This is obviously dangerous,
because what we keep quite about today, can have a very real ripple effect
tomorrow. Although confrontation may seem so uncomfortable that you just want
the awkward moment to pass quickly, it is necessary. Our voice is powerful and
it is vital that we use it. I strongly recommend watching this TED talk, as it will make you think
twice about the effect your voice, or better said, the effect your silence
could have on the world. I took his powerful message on board, and now I will not
feel scared to talk against wrongs.