Rhetorical Analysis Essay
The argument of the three op-eds is that e-commerce has changed the way we live and shop. However, not all the articles agree on the effect of e-commerce. They range in terms of how retail has changed and whatâ€™s on the horizon. Amy Koss writing for the LA Times likens Amazon.com to Satan. The Editorial Board of the New York Times takes a more measured approach but still puts forward a doom-and-gloom perspective. Daniel Freedman of the Wall Street Journal is the only one of the three to recognize that Amazon has not killed off the human desire for contact and sociality and that retail is not dead but only changing the way it thinks of itself and the manner in which it caters to consumers: retail is no longer just about offering a product but rather about offering an experienceâ€”something that cannot be purchased online. This paper will perform a rhetorical analysis of the three op-eds to show how they differ and which is the most effective.
Koss and the LA Times
The tone of Kossâ€™s piece is gothic and romantic. It begins by describing a mall as a deserted structure like an old ruined castle where â€œlost soulsâ€ wander and over which Satan (Amazon) has cast his pall. The evidence that Koss presents is entirely anecdotalâ€”all of it is witnessed first-hand. She provides no hyperlinks to other web pages or sources of information to support her claims. She is simply telling what she sees and how she perceives it. She tells of visiting the mall, seeing all the closed shops, and talking briefly to a sales woman who sales that everything must go because they too are closing soon. The metaphor that Koss employs is that Amazon is the Devil that has given people everything they want with just the click of a button: the price is that retailers are dying. Book sellers are losing hope. Everyone is shopping online and losing their humanity. The author does not supply much ethos but instead jumps into pathos and uses imagery to appeal to the readerâ€™s emotions. The trick does not always work and the piece sometimes stumbles into bathos as she returns to the theme of Amazon being Satan and the e-commerce shopper being in the grip of the devil.
The central argument of the op-ed is that Amazon is bad because it has ruined malls, driving book sellers and other retailers out of business, and assumed near total control over peopleâ€™s shopping habits through the use of â€œBig Dataâ€ (Koss). It sees and knows all and anticipates every consumerâ€™s next move. The argument is couched in Kossâ€™s narrative of visiting the mall and talking to book sellers. Their experiences are used to support her own. She provides background information along the way when it is needed to help her flesh out a point. The argument is not so much proven as reiterated, like a theme, in variations throughout the piece. It is assumed that the reader of the piece will be sympathetic to what Koss is describingâ€”but Kossâ€™s take is somewhat glib and superficial: it is too easy to describe Amazon as Satan, and a thinking person will not subscribe to Kossâ€™s depiction. Koss uses colloquialisms like â€œwe recite the roll of the deadâ€ when describing the long list of retailers that have expired. But her use of terms like â€œsinister,â€ â€œhell,â€ â€œlost souls,â€ â€œSatan,â€ and â€œthe damnedâ€ just indicates that she is looking to make more of a dramatic or visceral effect than a literal or logical one. The op-ed is written like an essay and contains no bullet points.
The Editorial Board of the New York Times
The tone of the New York Times piece is less dramatic and more informational, though it also adopts a pessimistic tone to convey the urgency of the situationâ€”namely that the new President (Trump) must do something to save workers from Amazonâ€™s takeover. The narrative is evidential, meaning that every claim or statement is supported by a factâ€”and the facts are given via hyperlinks, so the reader can click on the link and see where the authors of the op-ed have gotten their information. It is a very useful way to convey ethos: the authorsâ€™ assert their credibility by supplying so many links that surely the reader will agree that the piece is well-researched and full of facts that cannot be dismissed or argued.
The authors do not make use of metaphor except when they state that todayâ€™s workers need a â€œstrong safety netâ€ (Editorial Board)â€”they are referring to government assistance to keep them afloat during hard times as they look for new work, having lost their retail space jobs to e-commerce businesses. The article uses ethos to command its own credibility; it also uses logos by indicating that e-commerce will not put people out of work for long: there will always be new jobs to come along. The article states that what is needed is short-term assistance, which appeals to pathos and the emotional side of the reader who wants to help.
The structure of the editorial is simple: it begins with a depiction of the average worker and how jobs are being lost. It then discusses the impact that e-commerce has hand on retail. The argument is that while technology is not bad in and of itself, things are changing and that is causing a lot of workers to be un-employed for the moment. The argument is repeated throughout the piece. The writers assume the readers will be reading the article and agreeing with their logic and argument, clicking on links to see the supporting facts, and ending the piece with a feeling that they must put pressure on Trump to ensure that American workers are not left in the cold. The op-ed does not use colloquialisms or bullet points; the piece is fairly formal and direct.
Freedman of the WSJ
Freedmanâ€™s tone is upbeat and bright. He thinks the reading level of the audience is high and will appreciate wit, reason and logic. He writes at a quick clip; sentences vary in terms of length and structure, so the writing is interesting. Evidence is supplied by way of anecdotes and facts that are provided to support the analysis but there are no hyperlinks given or references for the reader to check. So unless we Google the facts ourselves, we must take the authorâ€™s word for it.
The author uses metaphors like â€œterms and conditionsâ€ (Freedman) to describe how retailers must adapt to the world that Amazon has changed (Amazon is in control and has stipulated the new terms for the other players). The writer uses ethos to establish his credentials early on making assertions that he backs up with quick one-two punches of facts. His use of logos is equally effective, as the entire piece is logical from start to finish and he uses pathos in a way that is surprising because the op-ed goes to an unexpected placeâ€”the fact that people are still people and e-commerce hasnâ€™t changed that: all retailers have to do is work on provided consumers with an experience because people are still going to want to get out and socialize. There is not much evidence beyond this understanding of human nature to suggest that retailers can provide the types of experiences described in the piece, which is why the argument turn at the end is rooted more in pathos than in logos. Nonetheless, it is effective in dispelling the doom-and-gloom that appears in the other two op-eds already described above.
The structure of the piece is basic: it begins by announcing that the retail scare has been overblownâ€”that Amazon is not going to put everyone out of business. It proceeds to suggest that retailers must simply adapt to the needs of the consumer. It explains how this can be accomplished. It uses colloquial phrases consistently like â€œcracking smilesâ€ and â€œflipped the scriptâ€ (Freedman). These make the piece easy and fun to read because they are sprinkled in with more factual statementsâ€”so there is a lot of variation.
There is clearly more than one way to write an op-ed about this subject. Each piece is different. The first is more dramatic; the second is more factual; the third is more forward-looking. None of them have the same tone, nor do any of them make use of the same evidence. Their structures are similar (all are short, start off by introducing a theme and build on that), and the language of each is basic enough that there are not too many differences here. Each piece makes different observations: the Koss piece acts like a dirge and is a lament for our lost humanity; the New York Times piece aims for the reader to want to hold Trump accountable (the real aim behind the op-ed); the WSJ piece is optimistic and embraces the changes brought about by Amazon, celebrating the innovation that retailers must adopt in order to provide consumers with the human experience they will still always pursue.
The most persuasive piece is the Freedman piece: it is upbeat, witty, and fun to read. It varies its sentence structure and approach by mixing facts with colloquialisms and taking a contrary position to the present crisis. It uses anecdotes and colorful imagery to ease the fears and concerns of the reader and provide a more uplifting sense of the future that is rooted ultimately in the facts.
Editorial Board, â€œAs Retail Goes, So Goes the Nation.â€ New York Times, 21 Apr 2017.
Freedman, Daniel. â€œBricks, Mortarâ€”and Experiences.â€ Wall Street Journal, 20 Aug
Koss, Amy. â€œAmazon.com is a 21st century deal with the devil.â€ LA Times, 5 Jun 2017.
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