October 26, 2012

Public Secrets- Genre and Heteroglossia

The Public Secrets case study for today was an interesting case to look at through the lens of genre. When we discussed genre before, we came to the conclusion that genre was closely related to the recurring rhetorical situations that Burke and other theorists have written about. So the way that is case simultaneously subverts and reinforces certain genre conventions made for an engrossing read. This case largely succeeds because of the way that it subverts the expectations of the audience who are reading a prison memoir. Popular culture has portrayed prison, even women's prison, as a brutal and unforgiving place where you are likely to get maimed and dehumanized at every turn. The Public Secrets memoir-documentary (memoirentary?) subverts these expectations by selecting quotes from inmates' interviews that paint the California prison system in a different light. According to the inmates, you're more likely to be subject to dehumanizing treatment from the prison staff and virtual slave labor than you are to getting shanked in the shower.

This piece also is interesting in the ways that it blends the genres of memoir and documentary. By keeping the focus on the inmates' personal anecdotes and experiences, and avoiding authorial interruption of the text, the piece is able to create a cohesive narrative to serve the director's aims while never showing their hand. The personal stories, that you can hear in the inmate's voice, may make it seem as if you are being presented the unbiased truth, but in actuality, the way that the memoirentary groups these interviews together in thematically similar groups, reveals that the makers of this had a clear agenda to fulfill with this work.

While experiencing the Public Secrets case, I was reminded that this was probably the closest literal example of heteroglossia that we have seen so far in this unit. By having the women remain faceless but have their voices literally emanate from the page, it was the closest definition of the "multiple voices" dynamic that is so key to the understanding of heteroglossia. We hear multiple dialects and cadences from the inmates, but all their interviews go towards serving the purposes of the overall whole.  It is in this way, that we look at the piece as a whole instead of a collection of parts.


Natalie Andrade said...

I am glad you brought the bias of the piece to light. We heard from inmates and the accounts might be true but the lack of the opposition is the reason this becomes bias. Multiple voices are present but multiple angles are not. the genre, and your use of memoir-documentary is critical in Kinneavy's uneasiness in genre mixing. They exist and we see these combinations all the time but the credibility that each of these deserves is yet to be determined. A documentary on fact but a memoir on personal account leaves a large gray area for bias and omission of critical opposition.

Nicola Wood said...

I like your idea of "memoirentary" as a new kind of genre, and I think it is particularly fitting for this piece by Daniel. By blending a memoir and a documentary, how do you think this enhances/lessens the affect that the message has on the reader? I think that by incorporating specific memoirs of actual prisoners, Daniel does a great job of bringing pathos into her work, which makes the message much stronger than if it had just been a traditional documentary style.

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