I never knew who Mary Tyler Moore was until she died this past January. As the world continued to grieve over Moore and other such celebrities who tragically passed away in the last twelve months, I found myself surreptitiously Googling her to get some context for all the accolades people gave in memoriam. I had never heard of her solo show, or how groundbreaking it was for feminism, but when my Entertainment Weekly magazine came in the mail, I got a further glimpse into television history.
As Dan Snierson observes in his article “Mary Tyler Moore, 1936 – 2017”, that beyond any other role Moore played, “it was her seven-season turn (1970 – 1977) as spunky TV producer Mary Richards on CBS’ The Mary Tyler Moore Show that Moore burned brightest, winning four Emmys as a single woman who defied traditional archetypes, charted her own course in the workforce, and became a feminist icon. ” In making this statement, Snierson makes a broad claim about Moore’s political importance. While I was initially intrigued, there were many issues with Snierson’s rhetoric that made it hard to follow.
Specifically, the interaction with and use of audience, rhetorical situation, and genre. Snierson does not set forth a clear genre, which confuses readers who expected something different from the initial article summary. His audience is supposedly readers of Entertainment Weekly, but he does not write in a way that is inclusive to them, assuming that many of them are younger and probably haven’t seen The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Finally, his rhetorical situation is heavily unbalanced by his neglect of Logos, or practical information about the show, which would help his goal of drawing in new fans of Moore.
These issues became more noticeable to me after having studied audience, genre, and rhetorical situation in class. I used my own understanding of the three topics to analyze why I disliked Snierson’s article so much, and defined the terms according to other readings from class. My favorite description of audience comes from Andrea Lunsford’s piece “Writing Addresses, Invokes, and/or Creates Audiences”. Lunsford, the director of Stanford University’s Writing and Rhetoric Department, believes that writing is best described as “an ongoing conversation” because it “ is both relational and responsive.
This definition asserts that writing is not a one-way street, but rather an interaction between writer and reader. Continuing in this train of thought, she argues that “the advent of digital and online literacies has blurred the boundaries between writer and audience significantly. ” Reading and writing have become a collaborative experience on the internet. Someone writes something, others read it, post their own opinion, and create an open dialogue, or “ongoing conversation” in which the writer and audience directly interact.
After all, there are many open forums online where emerging novelists can post their work and receive feedback from enthusiastic, albeit unofficial, peer-reviewers. Therefore, in the current Information Age, an interactive model of audience is the most relevant and accurate definition possible. Additionally, in Lunsford’s view, “[this responsive] characteristic of writing is captured in what is referred to as the classic rhetorical triangle,” which explains the relationship between writer, audience, and subject matter. The balance between the three points of the triangle can be defined as the rhetorical situation.
Lunsford and Wayne Booth, a George M. Pullman Distinguished Professor Emeritus in English and Writing award recipient, both describe rhetorical situation as a balance. Lunsford explains the rhetorical triangle as the audience, writer, and subject material, which are all “dynamically related in a particular context,” meaning that triangular harmony is essential and changes for every different piece of writing. In his book The Rhetorical Stance, Wayne Booth further illustrates this point by describing three bad, or out-of-balance stances: Pedant, Advertiser, and Entertainer.
Relating back to our in-class discussion, the Pedant is too focused on the Logos aspect of writing, the Advertiser on Pathos, and the Entertainer on Ethos. These “corruptions” are not purely balanced and while they may be successful in certain situations, they will not achieve what Booth calls the ultimate goal of rhetoric: changing someone’s mind. In Booth’s view “[the author] can do so only if he knows more about the subject than we do, and if he engages us in the process of thinking – and feeling – it through. ” Again, this concept applies directly to the use of Logos, Pathos, and Ethos in the rhetorical triangle.
By saying that the author “knows more about the subject than we do” Booth verifies that they must have established credibility, or Ethos. Engaging the reader “in the process of thinking – and feeling” refers to Logos, and the application of facts and logic to an argument, and Pathos, the utilization of emotions in persuasion respectively. In their textbook Writing about Writing: A College Reader, Wardle and Downs describe broadly rhetorical situation as “anything that has to do with the way people interact, communicate, and persuade each other. This wider description encompasses all of writing as something to be examined through the lens of the balance that Booth and Lunsford outline.
In further defining writing, Wardle and Downs also interpret genres of writing and what that means for both writer and reader. According to them, genres are simply “recurring kinds of texts”. This simple explanation applies to things like parking tickets, book summaries, gossip magazines, news headlines, and so much more. As a writer, a genre outlines a general template to follow. For instance, writing a resume for a job application, or a lab report in Biology 101.
As a reader, genres tell the reader what to expect from the writing in front of them. In other words, people who read mystery novels don’t want a non-fiction essay all about the secret life of butterflies. Wardle and Downs also draw parallels between genres and maps, calling genres “maps to new situations”, since both help people navigate in a new situation, whether being lost on the road or reading through new text. Additionally, they state that maps change based on new knowledge or technology, and similarly, genres are “maps that you should not rely on rigidly without thinking for yourself about what to do in any writing situation.
I find this advice particularly helpful, because similarly to the templates available in “They Say/I Say”, genres are general guides but not absolute rules. It is because of this depiction of genre that I became so frustrated with the Mary Tyler Moore article. The short description in the table of contents specified the type of genre that I expected from Snierson’s writing. The blurb states that Moore “changed television, and America, forever. ” This teaser sets up an expectation of an article that focuses on the political impact of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but instead it brushes how great Moore was, without giving any specifics.
Other pieces of writing in memoriam I have read go into much greater detail and really try to explain how important the memorialized person is to history or culture. By setting up a genre of memorial writing that he failed to follow, Snierson essentially wrote disappointing clickbait. For example, his introductory blurb about how Moore “changed America” set a high bar which the miniscule paragraph on Moore’s role in feminism failed to reach.
While Snierson does discuss Season Three’s controversial workplace gender nequality plotline, he simply states that “Mary evolved into a more vocal advocate for herself” but fails to explain how that affected the women who watched the show. Suffice to say, when I picked up that magazine expecting to learn all about Mary Tyler Moore, I was very disappointed. In addition to his confusing use of genre, Snierson fumbles with delineating a specific audience. I assumed before reading that Snierson would mostly try to pitch his article to viewers of the show. However, when I thought more on it, I realized that this assumption was likely false. The Mary Tyler Moore show aired from 1970 – 1977.
I asked my fencing coach, who was born in the 40s, about the type of people who watched the show. He told me that mostly adults watched, which includes an approximate age range of 20 – 50 year old people. Those same viewers would be in their 60s nowadays. Entertainment Weekly is not a magazine that most older adults read, as it focuses a lot on new and upcoming TV shows, movies, and current actors/actresses. As an illustration, this issue’s other articles feature new Netflix series, a Rihanna cameo in The Bates Motel TV show, Stranger Things, and the LEGO Batman movie, all of which are things I do not generally associate with the elderly.
Therefore, with possibly a few exceptions, the people who watched Mary Tyler Moore on TV do not read Entertainment Weekly. His article would be more understandable to past viewers, but Snierson fails to grasp the audience set before him by the magazine. Though I concede that his introductory paragraph gives a brief overview of the show to bridge the gap, I still insist that it is not enough to draw people in to read the article regardless of previous viewership. For instance, Snierson mentions a moment when “Chuckles the Clown bites the dust” to express Moore’s versatility as an actress.
But the point falls flat as the reference to Chuckles is not explained sufficiently. Despite his weak attempts to introduce a new audience to Mary Tyler Moore, Snierson fails to connect with Entertainment Weekly’s readers. Besides failing to connect with the audience, Snierson does not establish a balanced rhetorical situation. Assuming the goal of the article is to convince new viewers to more greatly appreciate Mary Tyler Moore and watch her show, he does not include enough Logos to back up his writing.
He does increase his credibility, or Ethos by using commentary from another of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s stars, Ed Asner, who plays Moore’s boss, Lou Grant. Having a primary source for information on Moore is certainly appealing, but unfortunately, Asner did not have anything of substance to say. Asner’s main comment is that “there wasn’t a person Mary was unkind to. There wasn’t an animal she didn’t love. ” Although the glimpse into Moore’s compassion is heartwarming, and an excellent manipulation of Pathos, it hardly delves into Moore’s impact on America.
Instead of recounting how funny or relatable the show was (more Logos, or logical pieces of information to convince people to watch it), Snierson devotes an entire page to the casting process for Asner and the live audience test pilot gone wrong. While these are interesting factoids, they aren’t going to convince anyone to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Admittedly, Snierson does make a serious effort to incorporate Ethos and Pathos in his writing, but the complete lack of Logos makes the rhetoric seem disorganized, and consequently, the writing is clumsy and unclear in its intent.
In short, while Dan Snierson tries to pay homage to Mary Tyler Moore and the important impact she had on feminism and television, he fails to adhere to a recognizable genre or audience, and can’t use rhetoric successfully enough to entice new viewers. His writing is not compelling enough to prompt people to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Personally, I did not find his expose detailed enough to satisfy my curiosity, and certainly did not feel interested in watching the series.