Workshop Recap: Visualizing Rhetoric with Emojis and GIFs

Mac Scott

Events, Multimodal Writing

In the DWRL’s most recent workshop, staff members looked at two of the most apparent–but perhaps most easily dismissed–exemplifications of visual rhetoric: emojis and GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format). Although we’ve all likely interacted with both emojis and GIFs before–whether you see them as a mildly amusing (or annoying) novelty or an essential part of how you communicate with others–we wanted to do more than glance at these visual vehicles of expression, and instead explore their affordances and limitations.

Splitting the workshop into halves, during the first hour, staffers worked on translating the Richard Brautigan poem “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” into emojis. Afterwards, we discussed our different approaches, with the staff, for the most part, attempting to write based on syllables, by adhering to (and perhaps forcing) a one-to-one word-to-symbol ratio, or conveying the general sense of particular lines in the poem.

This poem is written as emojis. Commas separate the emojis that are in the same line. Verse one: a cartoon baby wrapped in a blanket, a thought bubble / the head of a cow looking straight forward, a metallic lock, a desktop computer, and four green stems / a tidal wave, a thought bubble, a tidal wave, a thought bubble, a tidal wave, a thought bubble, a tidal wave. Second Verse: a cartoon baby wrapped in a blanket, a thought bubble / a desktop computer, a pine tree, a desktop computer, a pine tree, a horse, a pine tree, a desktop computer, a pine tree / a sunflower, a pine tree, a sunflower, a pine tree, a horse, a pine tree, a sunflower, a pine tree. Third verse: There are emojis of the desktop computer making a square around the emojis of the baby wrapped in a blanket and the thought bubble. There are four desktop computers on the top and bottom rows, and three on the left and right columns. An emoji that reads “End” with an arrow pointing toward the bottom, right desktop computer.

An emoji version of “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” by Richard Brautigan.

Rather than trying to identify what method was “correct,” we instead considered how emojis are different than words, but not necessarily lesser than them, as the emoji poems were evocative in their own right. As such, incorporating emojis into the classroom might be a productive way for students to recognize and build upon the rhetorical savvy they already possess.

During the second portion of our workshop, we created GIFs through the website GIPHY and considered how creating GIFs that cohere with a less-than-exciting piece of text might be a productive way for individuals (students, teachers, and…DWRL staffers alike) to read, process, and then express that information. Specifically, staffers took instructions from the DWRL’s Web Publishing Guidelines and created GIFs that we thought would best encapsulate and add to the guidelines, foregrounding the text as captions. Below are a few examples:

The GIF is on a couple second loop. It's a cartoon of a variety of different animals, including a bunny, a family of pigs, dogs, and cats, riding in a bus. The animals appear to be anthropomorphized, as one of the pigs is wearing glasses, and one of the animals is wearing a baseball hat. They're riding in the vehicle as a rudimentary drawing of the sun hangs in the blue sky. There's also a single cloud above the vehicle. The animals are all singing along as they drive. The caption reads: "First and foremost, use plain English. That doesn’t mean you can’t use technical terms when they’re necessary and appropriate, but it does mean you shouldn’t drown your reader in jargon. You can write informally and personally, but your prose should still be polished."

This GIF is from the movie The Godfather. It's a close up on Michael Corleone speaking to his brother. His brother is looking at him intently. The men are wearing shirts, ties, and overcoats. The two men are standing in a crowd at a funeral. Behind the two men, and between their two faces, you can see a woman and a child who look solemn. The caption reads: “Keep your paragraphs short and snappy. An average of two sentences is ideal; three or four is the upper limit. Don’t game the system with ten-clause sentences!

This GIF is from the TV show South Park. It features Eric Cartman sitting in the classroom speaking to his teacher. He's wearing a blue stocking cap with a yellow ball on top. Two students sitting behind him are also in the shot. The three boys are wide-eyed. After talking for a second, Eric uses a megaphone to address his teacher. The shot briefly turns to his teacher, who is standing in front of the classroom visibly upset. He's standing next to a desk and infront of a black chalkboard. There's a bookcase to the left side of the chalkboard, a poster on the wall to the right of the board, and an alphabet scroll above it. The caption reads: "Likewise, keep your overall discussion clear and concise. Your posts to the DWRL website should average around 300 words. (Yes, we know that’s how long a paragraph is when you write an essay. You’re writing for the web now. It’s a brave new world.) Posts on the long end of that spectrum should be broken up with subheadings."

This GIF is of Santa Claus sitting in front of a rustic bookshelf. There are a few candles on the bookshelf behind him. He's wearing the floppy red hat, and he's reading a list written on parchment. He appears to be speaking to the camera before noticing something written on the list that catches his attention. The caption reads: “If you have a lot of material to cover, and especially if it’s closely connected, consider making a list. There’s a reason Buzzfeed more or less is the internet these days: lists distill a lot of information into a small space and allow readers to skim a large volume of content rapidly.”

Link to other material on the web that extends or supports your discussion, and tell your audience where they’re going when they click a link. Pick a phrase in your sentence that describes the linked page and make that the hyperlink — don’t write something like “For more detail, click here”.

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